MR Byeenkoms: 1 Oktober 2017

As an introduction to his lecture, Professor Rataemane from the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, defines Intergenerational Trauma (IT) as unresolved or suppressed trauma caused to groups of people (i.e. in the history of nations, societies or family members) that consequently results in a cycle of psycho-biologically based stress syndromes being carried forward over generations.

Professor Rataemane explores possible methods of redressing the vicious nature of this disabling cycle.

Historical Trauma and Response
Historical Trauma response is a constellation of features in human behaviour as a reaction to unresolved trauma, including: self-destructive behaviour; suicidal thoughts and gestures; depression; anxiety; low self-esteem; anger; difficulty recognising and expressing emotions; and often substance abuse, to numb the pain associated with trauma.

Psychological Trauma
Psychological Trauma often also involves physical trauma that threatens one’s survival and sense of security (i.e. harassment, sexual abuse, employment discrimination, police brutality, bullying, domestic violence, indoctrination, dysfunctional parenting, witnessing of such events, natural disasters, wars and acts of terrorism), as well as unresolved grief associated with the trauma.

Treatment depends on understanding cultural diversity, history, culture and other realities the client may suffer. Hence, treatment can only be accessed through a ‘trauma lens’, taking a longitudinal view of the person’s current inability to cope with what may appear to be minor stressors.

Understanding the initial trauma
Intergenerational Trauma is mostly based on the violation of people’s human rights and the way they regard their familiar world. This usually generates a state of extreme confusion and insecurity, which is often worsened by a further violation of the self by societal institutions that are supposed to provide help and redress.

Professor Rataemane highlights differential responses that present among groups of people that had been exposed to the same stressful events. Due to past and repeated exposure people may show resilience or react differently to supportive networks, social status, wealth, or other protective factors such as education and religion.

In order to appreciate the relevancy and immediacy of trauma treatment, it is necessary to be aware of parents’ and elders’ typical responses to past trauma, and to note the signs of resulting stress and stress response syndromes that may be causing behaviour transmission.

He explains four mechanisms of trauma transmission (as proposed by Ancharoff et al: 1998) as working models: Silence; Over-disclosure; Identification and Re-enactment. He points out how important it is to differentiate between the modes of transmission in order to break the debilitating cycle.

In order to end the transmission of trauma across historical epochs, he stresses the relevance of specialised training in dealing with individual and collective trauma, especially in interviewing and counselling, identifying internal and external triggers in behavioural and physical symptoms and brain mechanisms that are involved, as well as in choosing appropriate, evidence-based therapies.

In conclusion
Professor Rataemane integrates the impact of Intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress with the perpetuation of stress cycles in South Africa and across our combined histories.

He uses CODESA as an example and refers to its lofty ideal (TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR CODESA): “…to bring about an undivided South Africa with one nation sharing a common citizenship, patriotism and loyalty, pursuing amidst our diversity, freedom, equality and security for all irrespective of race, colour, sex or creed; a country free from apartheid or any other form of discrimination or domination; to work to heal the divisions of the past, to secure the advancement of all, and to establish a free and open society based on democratic values where the dignity, worth and rights of every South African are protected by law; to strive to improve the quality of life of our people through policies that will promote economic growth and human development and ensure equal opportunities and social justice for all South Africans; to create a climate conducive to peaceful constitutional change by eliminating violence, intimidation and destabilisation and by promoting free political participation, discussion and debate; to set in motion the process of drawing up and establishing a constitution that will ensure, inter alia: that South Africa will be a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist state in which sovereign authority is exercised over the whole of its territory  ̶

  • that the Constitution will be the supreme law and that it will be guarded over by an independent, non-racial and impartial judiciary;
  • that there will be a multi-party democracy with the right to form and join political parties and with regular elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll; in general the basic electoral system, shall be that of proportional representation;
  • that there shall be a separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary with appropriate checks and balances;
  • that the diversity of languages, cultures and religions of the people of South Africa shall be acknowledged;
  • that all shall enjoy universally accepted human rights, freedoms and civil liberties including freedom of religion, speech and assembly protected by an entrenched and justiciable Bill of Rights and a legal system that guarantees equality of all before the law.

[Opsomming voorsien deur Babs Basson]