Stories of transmission and gradual resolution of trauma-related shame in three generations of Slovenian families

Katarina Kompan Erzar

University of Ljubljana - Faculty of theology, Sigmund Freud University Wienna - Ljubljana

Erzsébet Fanni Tóth

Sigmund Freud University Vienna

Katarina Možina

Sigmund Freud University Vienna – Ljubljana


 In this paper, we will present a study into the dynamics of the transmission of emotional traumatic in three families of victims of World War II and post-war communist oppression. This study is taken from a broader research project in which we investigated the experiences of nonclinical families that managed to survive through three generation, and in which post-traumatic growth is present, i. e. the ability to integrate traumatic experiences and provide greater security for future generations.

The main focus will be on how emotional content is transmitted and transformed through generations and how to recognise it in various forms of behaviour, thinking and emotions, that appear in each of the generations. As we follow the transformation of traumatic content, we will also follow the the signs that show how traumatic content has integrated and begun to bring new, deeper emotional and mental insights.

The emotional depth of the traumatic experience is what burdens the victim the most and slows down the dynamics of trauma processing. It appears in the form of symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, insecurity and mistrust. This is found even in victims who have articulated the trauma sufficiently to rise above intimidation, managed to develop emotionally strong and connecting interpersonal relationships, maintain faith in the future, and form a coherent narrative of their traumatic past.

The most interesting result of the research was that all three families, regardless of their diversity, are similar in term of processing the trauma. They were all able to speak openly about their traumatic experiences. In all three families there there was a great deal of discussion and searching for the social framework and personal truth of historical events, and the desire to present and describe the events that left such deep wounds in such a way that they would be clear, reworked and accessible to future generations as a document of the reality of some tragic and difficult times.

Another source of trauma processing was religious faith, which allowed all the participants in this study to look at trauma and life more deeply, through relationships and connections between people and through a deeper understanding of human history embedded in a broader and deeper spiritual flow. Faith helped these families to find the courage to make decisions, to face life’s challenges, and to endure even the most severe of life's trials.

A third source that facilitates the processing and integration of a traumatic experience is secure interpersonal relationships and compassionate parenting. Despite the fact that the whole question of parenting was demanding and full of challenges for our interviewees, the quality of parenting has been improved from generation to generation, and sincere affection for children and gratitude for children were present everywhere. The ability to follow the new generation and its initiatives while maintaining a connection to its roots is a dynamic that characterises all three families. There is also a lot of thinking and conscious effort in establishing and maintaining good marital relationships in these families.

For the recovery from trauma this study shows the importance of talking about it and also talking about it in a safe relationship until it takes a form that is genuine and at the same time clear, coherent and thus suitable for the general public. That’s when the traumatic story ceases to be traumatizing and becomes a story of courage, perseverance, and truth.



trauma-related shame, generations, Slovenian families



Cited by

Kompan Erzar, K., Fanni Tóth, E., & Možina, K. (2022). Stories of transmission and gradual resolution of trauma-related shame in three generations of Slovenian families. Family Forum, 11, 229–251.


Katarina Kompan Erzar


Erzsébet Fanni Tóth 


Katarina Možina 



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