A study of interpersonal adjustment in children of Holocaust survivors / by Ray Gertler.
This study investigated the interpersonal problems encountered by children of survivors (COS) of the Holocaust. Previous studies of the effect of the Holocaust on the second generation focused primarily on clinical populations and revealed that COS experience a variety of psychological difficulties. This study examined the implications of growing up with survivor parents on the manifestation of interpersonal problems in COS. The experience of COS who grew up as a "replacement" for parents who experienced the loss of a spouse and child during the Holocaust was also examined and contrasted with that of COS whose parents did not experience such a severe loss. This study differed from others in that it contrasted a non-clinical sample of COS with adult children of Jewish immigrants and with adults whose parents were American-born Jews. A total of 182 adults aged 25-40 participated in this study. All subjects completed a personal information form, a questionnaire designed to assess characteristics of the subject's family environment when the subject was an adolescent, and two questionnaires that sought to identify interpersonal attitudes and problems. Participants were also requested to report a "critical incident" illustrating the most prominent recurring interpersonal problem encountered. These incidents were categorized by judges to assess whether the type of problems presented differed significantly among the groups studied. Results of the study indicated non-significant differences between COS and the two comparison groups on the various interpersonal problem areas examined. However, significant differences were discovered between replacement COS and COS whose parents did not lose a spouse and child. Replacement COS reported more problems with aggression, intimacy, and excessive dependency than the other group of COS. The results suggest that the parents' preoccupation with their previous losses compromises their emotional availability to their children. This unavailability in turn reduces the child's opportunities to experience and ultimately to tolerate affects. The parents' need to repress memories and affects associated with the Holocaust and the child's perception of the parents as vulnerable and fragile contribute to the offspring's own avoidance and intolerance of certain affects and to subsequent interpersonal problems.
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