“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela

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Lynne Kaplan Artography

Having been second-generation American-born on both sides of my family, I have felt the effects of religio-political persecution on a psychological and genetic (DNA) level. The trauma gets filtered down through enculturation; the effects being both from nature and nurture. Children experience their parent’s trauma through a process not unlike osmosis. Having been an immigrant and an orphan, my paternal grandmother was a domestic worker when she came to my home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania as a young adult. Knowing that my grandfather was single, her family offered him $500 to marry her. Regardless of the unconventional beginning, they had a strong marriage that lasted nearly sixty years. I come from a family of survivors.

Having been the sixth of eleven grandchildren, I have few personal memories of my grandparents’ younger years. Much of my information is secondhand or intuited. When my father witnessed his mother refusing food during the Great Depression in order for her children to eat, I can imagine that this created a significant imprint in my father. As soon as he was old enough, he went to work at his father’s used furniture store in order to support his family. College was not a consideration, as he was on a mission. I can honestly say that with my father’s support, I never went hungry nor did I ever want for anything material.

My father would have saved the first nickel he made it weren’t for my mother. With her progressive tendencies, she was the one who taught him to relax and spend his money. The one quality my mother possessed was unequivocal generosity. Not only did she teach my father to enjoy the fruits of his hard work, but she was also a well-known philanthropist in the community.

I’m not sure when my feelings of what would be something like “survivor’s guilt” began, but from an early age I felt uncomfortable with the level of financial abundance in my family. Perhaps my oversensitivity to the struggles of others stimulated this response. After all, one of my closest friends in early childhood lived over a dilapidated garage. The disparity of peoples’ living situations affected me deeply as a young child.

Owning a furniture store in the community, my family had a ritual of bringing visitors on a tour to show off our home furnishings. I acquired this practice of showing my friends around the house after observing my parents. I can remember the feelings of pride mixed with shame and unworthiness as I mechanistically carried out this ritual.

Ironically, I resented my parents’ wealth because my emotional needs were sacrificed by my father’s “mission” which would later be called workaholism. As much material abundance there was in my family, there was equally as much emotional deprivation. Perhaps the generations of struggle in Eastern Europe had a cumulative effect that would take generations to clear. The way I have come to look at it, the task of my parent’s generation was to assure physical survival and it was my generation’s task and privilege to improve that quality of life by finding ways to meet our emotional needs.

As I matured, I’ve developed more appreciation for the financial stability afforded by my father’s hard work. Being the youngest of my siblings carried with it a sense of dependency and inadequacy common to most “babies” of the family. After acquiring a Masters degree in a field which I felt great passion, I was faced with not just a fear of survival, but a virtual certainty of my likely failure. Perhaps if I had worked earlier in my life,  this passage may have been easier. Once I secured a job in my field, I began to feel more adequate. As I began to excel, the previous inadequacies slowly faded. Over time I began to feel more independent as my financial solvency became more reliable. After passing my state licensure exam and beginning a private practice, I visited a new challenge; I needed to charge clients what I believed my work was worth. This created a new crisis/challenge of evaluating my own self-worth  while having to go public. As my self-esteem increased, the people with whom I associated reflected that quality. We do attract what we believe internally about ourselves.

While growing externally by learning to maintain my own and my family’s physical survival that had been established by my parents generation and growing internally through psychotherapy and breath work, I was carrying the mantle to begin meeting the emotional needs of our generation. We survived generations of pogroms in Russia and concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Children of our generation have carried the “gifts and the curses” of the unresolved issues of the previous generations. We survived immobilizing feelings of inadequacy, physical illnesses, and potentially debilitating addictions.

I believe present and future generations will carry less and less of the trauma as they are imbued with greater skills to meet the challenges they face. Seeing my children and my grandchildren, I have much hope for our future.

As I said previously, I come from a family of survivors. My family has been privileged, because of those who came before us, to be able to do our share to heal our collective humanity.
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