Literature suggests that after the war many survivors quickly entered into loveless marriages in their desire to rebuild their family life as quickly as possible. And these survivors remained married even though the marriages may have lacked emotional intimacy. Children of these types of marriages may not have been given the nurturance needed to develop positive self-images.
Survivor-parents have also shown a tendency to be over involved in their childrens lives, even to the point of suffocation. Some researchers suggested that the reason for this over-involvement is the survivors feeling that their children exist to replace what was so traumatically lost. This over-involvement may exhibit itself in feeling overly sensitive and anxious about their childrens behavior, forcing their children to fulfill certain roles or pushing their children to be high achievers.
Similarly, many survivor-parents were over-protective of their children, and they transmitted their distrust of the external environment to their children. Consequently, some Second Gens have found it difficult to become autonomous and to trust people outside their family.
Another possible characteristic of Second Gens is difficulty with psychological separation-individuation from their parents. Often in families of survivors, "separation" becomes associated with death. A child who does manage to separate may be seen as betraying or abandoning the family. And anyone who encourages a child to separate may be seen as a threat, or even a persecutor.
A higher frequency of separation anxiety and guilt was found in children of survivors than in other children. It follows that many children of survivors have an intense need to act as protectors of their parents.
Some survivors did not talk to their children about their Holocaust experiences. These Second Gens were raised in homes of hidden mystery. This silence contributed to a culture of repression within these families.
Other survivors talked a great deal to their children about their Holocaust experiences. In some cases, the talk was too much, too soon, or too often.
In both cases, secondary traumatization may have occurred in Second Gens as a result of exposure to their traumatized parents. According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, children of Holocaust survivors may be at higher risk for psychiatric symptoms including depression, anxiety and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) due to this secondary traumatization.
There are four main types of PTSD symptoms, and a diagnosis of PTSD requires the presence of all four types of symptoms:
- re-experiencing the trauma (flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories, exaggerated emotional and physical reactions to things reminiscent of the trauma)
- emotional numbing
- avoidance of things reminiscent of the trauma
- increased arousal (irritability, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, difficulty sleeping).
While trauma can be transmitted across the generations, so can resilience. Resilient traits - such as adaptability, initiative, and tenacity - that enabled survivor-parents to survive the Holocaust may have been passed on to their children.
In addition, studies have shown that Holocaust survivors and their children have a tendency to be task-oriented and hard workers. They also know how to actively cope with and adapt to challenges. Strong family values is another positive characteristic displayed by many survivors and their children.
As a group, the survivor and children of survivor community has a tribal character in that membership in the group is based on shared injuries. Within this community, there is polarization. One the one hand, there is shame over being a victim, fear of being stigmatized, and the need to keep defense mechanisms on active alert. On the other hand, there is a need for understanding and recognition.