Intergenerational transmission of trauma in African immigrants
With increasing violence worldwide, questions regarding the impact of trauma on families emerge. In particular, the way in which trauma experienced by a parent impacts a child has significant implications in the field of clinical psychology. The concept of intergenerational transmission of trauma (ITT) is one that originated in literature describing the potential impact of the Holocaust on survivors and their families. This literature has offered mixed support for the concept of ITT, however, it provides the conceptual basis for the current study.
For the current study, the manifestation of ITT was operationalized as problem behaviors in children. Furthermore, the moderating impact of attachment style on parental distress and child problem behaviors was examined. This study used a community sample of African Immigrants residing in New York City metro area (N = 44). This sample was administered four measures, the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ; Mollica et al., 1992), the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI; Derogatis, 1993), the Experience in Close Relationships scale (ECR-R; Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983).
This study tested the hypothesis that children of traumatized parents would suffer from problem behaviors. Although no differences were found in terms of psychological distress between those parents who had experienced trauma and those who had not, differences in children of traumatized parents. Children of traumatized parents were found to evidence more anxious depression, withdrawn depression, social problems, symptoms of PTSD and internalization problems. The parent’s attachment style was not found to have a significant impact on the manifestation of child behavior problems, however, more recent trauma was associated with more behavior problems in children.
Overall, this study offered partial support for the concept of ITT. Results obtained during the course of the current study indicates that while there are differences between children of traumatized parents and those who have not been traumatized, the mechanism for transmitting this trauma remains unclear. Future directions for research would likely include a more effective way of examining this mechanism.