Our world today appears locked in the iron grip of what many refer to as generational trauma. I wonder if a more apt and descriptive term might be unprocessed and unintegrated loss. A psychoanalyst colleague often said, “All emotional suffering is about loss, and all healing is about mourning.” The Persian poet Rumi expressed a similar sentiment in the aphorism "The cure for the pain is the pain."
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While I hadn't yet mentioned the movie, my father told me of the radio announcers' frequent refrain of "all quiet on the Western front" while "hundreds young men were slaughtered every day." His voice trembled: his face contorted in an effort to contain the flood of emotion. He repeated the phrase in the original German."Im Westen Nichts Neues" or "Nothing new in the West." When I shared that we had just seen the movie, tears ran down his cheek. He opened himself to expression of feelings so deeply hidden for so long.
Practicing in the time before hospitalists, my on-call duties included examining all babies shortly after birth. In the room with parents and their newborn time melted away: all the outside routine pressures of my life disappeared. The inconvenience of sleep disruption when called to a middle-of-the night c-section paled in comparison to the power of riding the elevator from the first floor OR of our small hospital to the third-floor nursery with a new father gazing in wonder at his baby in the isolette. I saw again and again how a newborn baby brings us into the present moment like nothing else. For them there is only “now.”
Guilt can be a normal and healthy emotional experience. “I’m guilty” can also mean “I’m responsible.” Shame, in contrast is always pathological, and can have destructive effects on emotional development. But without an opportunity to hear the family story, it is impossible to distinguish between the two. Knowing Paul’s story, we can understand it as a kind of intergenerational transmission of shame. Isabel’s sad feelings and expressions of low self-esteem were a communication of distress at an environment of rage, directed both at her and between her parents. One can understand her behavior not as an illness but as an adaptive effort to change the situation.
of 2020, we were all collectively faced with an invisible yet terrifying threat. The group including fellows, faculty, and luminaries held each other over countless messy moments of uncertainty and loss. The result was a profound sense of connection and trust that fueled the explosion of creativity brought forth in their work. The impact will change the lives of infants and families throughout the world for years to come.
Nelson Mandela famously said, “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats Its children.” A more accurate revision might read: “how it treats its parents and other caregivers of infants.” As Winnicott wisely observed, "It should be noted that [caregivers] who have it in themselves to provide good-enough care can be enabled to do better by being cared for themselves in a way that acknowledges the essential nature of their task."