Coping and adaptation to massive psychic trauma : case studies of Nazi Holocaust survivors / by Sandy Rappaport.
This psychological study examines and analyzes coping and adaptation to massive psychic trauma of a randomly selected group of children and young adult survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. In-depth semi-structured psychological interviews were conducted with 28 Jewish survivors of Nazi-occupied Europe. These clinical interviews were formulated into three chronological time periods including: (a) pre-war years, (b) war years, (c) post-war years. This interview design was intended to facilitate the investigation of the hypothesis that coping with persecution, dehumanization, and multiple losses takes the form of adaptation and accommodation of preexisting personality structures, defense mechanisms, ego synthesis, gender differences, and their interaction with the immediate life-and-death struggle to survive in a constantly changing environment. Through a qualitative analysis of the interviews, this multidimensional approach to coping was analyzed from the sequential narrative of each survivor. In the aftermath of trauma, an experience that happened to an individual as a child or as a young adult is still part of the daily psychic experience of the individual. It affects memories, defenses, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, self-concept, fears, somatization, dreams, intrapsychic and interpersonal behavior, conscious and unconscious coping strategies. The most severe effect on the Holocaust survivors is that their worldview is shattered forever. Despite adjusting remarkably well, there is this impending fear that it will happen again. The use of an objective measure, SYMLOG (Systematic Multiple Level Observation of Groups), revealed an average survivor coping style based on his or her current personality. Survivors tend to cope best by uniting with others who have experienced a similar trauma. This study confirms that men and women cope differently in the extreme situation. Women tend to cope by emotionally bonding with other women, and men tend to be more task oriented. This does not mean that men did not get support from other men, or that women did not perform the necessary daily tasks for survival. However, in later life, this sample indicates that women became weaker emotionally due to a lack of task orientation in the outside world.
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