War-Related Intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What does it mean to you?

What does war-related intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) mean to you?  Click the Comments link below for thoughts from our readers, and feel free to post your own.

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25 Responses to War-Related Intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What does it mean to you?

  1. Susan says:

    Intergenerational PTSD means that the trauma a veteran is suffering with is experienced second hand by his or her children. The children have to deal with abandonment, isolation, rage in the home, sadness at a time when their sense of self is being formed. They don’t learn how it is to feel safe and treated with respect, only to survive, on guard. And yet, most times, they are not told there is something wrong with their parent because of war and they think there is something wrong with them. They wonder how a parent could go away and not care about them. And the other parent they are left with is depressed and upset. There are not alot of other children dealing with the same thing that would understand so they have to deal with it internally, alone. This is not a short term thing, it goes on for years.

  2. Katie says:

    I’ve only recently begun to learn about intergenerational PTSD because of someone I know who has dealt with it for years. Most of us are familiar with PTSD and the effects that trauma has on those who experience it first hand. We sometimes forget that every person has a circle, and those people are also greatly affected, and have their own experience of their loved one’s trauma. I’m just starting to learn what it means for those in that circle, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it through sites like this one.

  3. Angela Pierce says:

    When the term PTSD first surfaced in the early 1990s, I couldn’t read the research fast enough. I felt as if a complete stranger had been a fly on the wall of my childhood living room and recorded all that occurred, only to turn it into scientific language two decades later. In the past year, I haven’t been able to read enough about war-related intergenerational PTSD. Ultimately, it means that who I am and what I’ve felt for 40+ years ISN’T crazy, ISN’T abnormal, ISN’T alone. This research is therapeutic, and the community developing around it is unique. I’m so excited to be a part of it and can’t wait to see what comes of it in the future.

  4. Ansley says:

    I don’t know much about Intergenerational PTSD, but I know that just like with any mental disorder, those who are close to someone with a mental disorder can suffer just as much as the person with the disorder. There is so much discrimination and stigmatization against mental health problems, and I think this site is so important for helping to raise awareness and understanding. I look forward to learning more!

  5. Scott Brooks says:

    In 1979, I was nine years old. My father had been back from Vietnam for four years by this time and he took me to see a movie for the only time I’ve ever watched a movie in a theater with him. Apocalypse Now. Now, obviously, a nine year old shouldn’t be watching a movie so violent and over the top. But, I wasn’t watching the movie. I watched my father’s tears stream down his face during the entire movie. I watched him relive his time in Vietnam with every frame of the movie. He flinched at shots fired and gritted his teeth at the on-screen injuries.

    By this time in his life, he was a functioning alcoholic and drug addict making a living as a weed and hash dealer. But for those three hours in that movie theater, he was a teenager watching his friends die, screaming as bullets ripped through flesh. I wasn’t his son, I was a buddy in his platoon trying to stay alive, just like him. He was coated in sweat and smelled like gas station hot dogs with onions. And I sat there, mesmerized.

    Looking back, I believe I learned how not to cry that day. I learned how to be strong for myself. I turned ten that summer, an adult long before I should have been. And my father, it took him another fifteen years before he ever became an adult again, finding a new path to saving himself by saving others.

    • CR says:

      Scott, this is an intensely powerful testimony. I applaud you for your courage and skill in writing it.

    • Elizabeth Turner Lunghi says:

      Scott, so much to say to you……..but must know. When you were sitting next to dad watching him, was all of the above processing in your mind? The fact that you WERE his buddy in a platoon and his son, not present. At 9???? Enlightened child if you were. RESPECT GIVEN.
      ‘Apocalypse Now’ was a ‘cake walk’ compared to Vietnam. The smell of death, every day, all day.
      Dad was at theater looking for his brothers and grieving for the ones he watched die a NEEDLESS death.
      Hopefully that theater was his final cleanse of the horror he had lived.
      Your last line tells me he did not waste the life he was spared and did GOOD with it. VERY difficult for many Vietnam vets so called ‘Welcomed Homed’ but spit on.

      I have NO respect for Government but the UTMOST respect for ALL our Military personnel, active or not.
      Their misuse and mistreatment by our Government is sickening. When do we get a leader and not a politician??? Our Military alone deserves one….they sign a blank check.

      My name is Elizabeth, I was married to a Vietnam vet that served at age 19, during ’68 and ’69…….a Forward Observer in Marine Corps.
      Left with PTSD and has been self medicating with booze to present day.He is now 66.
      Out of control mania is what he is now and I am his 48 year old ex wife with PTSD from a VICIOUS, DRUNKEN VERBAL ABUSER……………..because he went through 116 degree heated, Napalm HELL, without a clean shower or knowing if he’d be alive five seconds from the next.

  6. jessica says:

    Further damaging repercussions of war, beyond combat and service, involving not only the soldier but his or her loved ones, creating trauma, sorrow, alienation, and regret.

  7. Michelle Hiskey says:

    I know about this through Christal’s story. I see cataclysmic events such as war and natural disasters having effects that ripple through generations. This is one effect.

  8. Jessica says:

    Having grown up in a house with a father with ptsd from being a Vietnam veteran. Watching what he went through day in and day out and thinking that was the “norm”. Now having kids of my own I realize how your actions can effect them and I understand why I am usually socially awkward or feel a great sense of anxiety even if I am watching violence on tv. I was always made to believe when I was a child everything was ok but knowing inside that it was not. My mom tried to protect me the best she could and even when my dad was having a good day I still feared him a little because I was always unsure of when he was going to lash out. Although my dad never laid a hand on me or said anything abusive to me I could always feel the tension in the house. I prayed sometimes that my mom would just leave him so we didnt have to tip toe around him constantly. He slept alot mosty because of his medication but looking back it makes me so sad that to escape the terrors of what he had to face in Vietnam he had to be so medicated. Not getting along with my father when he was here because I didnt understand why he was the way he was. I know now it had a great effect on me because I have to work really hard at being social or not being a nervous person. I have to be really careful to try not to keep passing this thing on to my kids because whether you have been in an actual war or lived with someone that has been at war…the war is always there and it never leaves.

  9. Jan R says:

    Isolation. Loneliness. Fractured world and identity. That’s what PTSD has meant to me. I was 16 by the time someone (a Vietnam Vet) told me “Those feelings make sense, because you have PTSD just like you’re dad”. No one had ever told me that was possible. I had always heard the opposite from counselors & healthcare providers: you can’t have PTSD if you didn’t have the war experience; you’re just sensitive; you’re worried about your dad; you just have to let go of his problems. That was a turning point in my life, to learn it WAS possible, that I WASN’T defective or making things up. One counselor had even told me I was just acting like my dad so I could feel closer to him. I dreamed his dreams of war as a small child; battle scenes unfamiliar to me but very familiar to him. That’s not a conscious choice to be closer to him.
    Today I still struggle with social anxiety, physical symptoms of extreme stress, restless sleep, anger, depression and the occasional nightmare resurfacing. My husband has to learn how to deal with me, has had to figure out on his own what is happening when I am wide awake and screaming at the top of my lungs from a deep sleep.
    Recently I went with my parents to the VA to get some answers for my dad’s Parkinson’s like symptoms. It was grueling, infuriating and pointless as usual. That night, I had a dream that I was back at the VA, watching vets lying on conveyer belts, being examined for 10 seconds by docs, then passed through a curtain out of sight. In my dream I tried to grab docs and nurses saying, “I need some help, too; I have PTSD, too”. When no one stopped or acknowledged I existed, I lay on the floor and screamed at the top of my lungs: “I HAVE PTSD TOO!!! HELP ME!” A few stopped and looked at me; one doc came over and asked what war I was in. I said I wasn’t in the war, my dad is Viet Vet and I got it from him. The doc said “If you don’t have a document that proves you were in the war, then you don’t have PTSD and we won’t help you.”
    Then I woke up. That’s my experience of intergenerational PTSD. Every daily choice I make has to be compatible with PTSD. I’ve chosen not to have children because 1) I don’t want to pass this and any AO defects on; 2) Because I know I’m not capable of being a positive parent in my condition. It’s not a part of my life – it is my life.

    • robert swart says:

      my father was in korean war and i know what your talking about.even as i sit here this morning i notice i hold my left shoulder very tight.like clentched unable to relax it.isolated and different i understand.i struggle with trusting God.i asked my dad when i was six or seven if he believed in God.he said he was in korea there is no God because he saw little childeren frozen to death in a snowbank.as i look back now i see the ptsd in hlm and im able to forgive and truly feel for him.his anger when dealing with stress i understand.

  10. Pat P says:

    I am the daughter of a Korean War veteran who killed himself while he was home on leave in 1960. This was before PTSD. I remember him coming home two times from the war prior to his death and that he was mean and unpredictable. I remember being very afraid of him. I suffered from depression and was often times suicidal and was finally diagnosed with PTSD as a young adult. I had such mixed feelings about this man who brought me into the world, vacilating from sheer hatred, to idolization. I had an intense fear of abandonment. I grew up with shame, and felt different and isolated. I wasted 35 years of my life blaming him for all my problems. I self medicated with alcohol, drugs and relationships, going from one bad relationship to another. I finally was able to get the help I needed to work through these feelings, to forgive and reconcile this tragic loss of live, and to find my sanity and salvation in helping others.

    • robert swart says:

      i think about my dad often.he was korean war vet.he always seemed distanced. he would sit at table and drink beer and stare into space.he worked and was responsible in that way but he was always on edge.i know the one story where a soldier fell asleep on guard duty and when he woke him up his helmet rolled down the hill .my father sent another soldier down to to retrieve it and was killed.that must have haunted him forever.i war physically and emotionally abused by him as a child.as i became sober and looked at my life.im able to understand him and forgive him.i see the stress he lived with.i think people should be made aware of what these men go through and what it does to them and thier families.and if thier is war it better be and absolute neccesity,not some political chess playing.

  11. Skya Richardson says:

    I like how Susan said it. Intergenerational PTSD to me means that the parent has experienced a horrible trauma, such as the acts of war. So, while that service member is dealing with the aftermath of that and trying to get his head together and be able to function normally in society and not be completely consumed by the memories from that event, he’s withdrawn and neglecting his family, or even having anger and yelling and violence in the home. So young children, not understanding what Daddy went through or why he’s acting like that, think that he doesn’t want them around, that they’re not important to him, that they’ve done something wrong, that there’s something wrong with them; and so creating a childhood of traumatic memories, a trauma of their own, making a chain of PTSD. One person’s PTSD caused at least some form of it in his children.

  12. Being the son of a WW II vet, and a Viet Nam vet (1968-69), I can attest to Inter-generational as a real experience. I have worked in the field of vet services and education for a long time…my whole life, it seems. For one thing, I feel the term PTSD is a misnomer, as it might be more of an identity disorder than a stressor disorder as it’s presently diagnosed. See War and the Soul by Ed Tick for further clarification.

    In 1979, I helped establish the Denver Vietnam Vet Outreach Program, a one-stop shop for vets, and one of six pilot cities sponsored by the National DAV. In 1980, PTSD was recognized in the DSM III, and the VA could treat it instead of giving meds for misdiagnosed bi-polar, schizophrenia, etc. Whether it was “Soldier’s Heart” in the Civil War, “shell-shock” in WW I, “combat fatigue” in WW II and Korea, the experience has been around as long as trauma.

    Reading the previous comments, it seems we all seem to have a lot of identity issues: abandonment, loss, anger, fear, etc.; all real and verifiable. Noises from bombs and bullets don’t cause those feelings. As some mentioned, you certainly don’t have to go to Viet Nam (or Iraq) to get “PTSD.” Being dependent on a parent creates a vulnerability that sets you up for various issues of trust, abandonment, etc.

    Similar to learned helplessness, I learned at an early age to perceive my fathers’ every mood and move for fear of getting backhanded, kicked, slapped, or verbally attacked. Mom and sis (two years younger) were mainly verbally abused. Being alert to his eye movements, tone of voice, and body posture, even as an adult my emotions rise immediately when I perceive any “trouble.” I’m always at some stage of alert.

    During a short marriage of a few years, I was a stepparent to two wonderful girls, now grown with children. Many times I could see and hear my father’s voice when I reacted to the girls. My dysfunctional marriage required me to be the sick Viet Nam vet. The only way to get emotionally healthy was to leave and work on myself. It was a painful experience to leave the kids, but I hopped in time they would understand it was better for them and myself if I left.

    WW II veteran and author (On Being Wounded, Beyond the Weapons of Our Fathers, and Worshiping the Myths of WW II) Ed Wood, an eleventh generation soldier to carry a weapon in war, has said, “It is a sin to kill a child.” To me that means emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Ed knows about Intergenerational “PTSD.”

    Coupled with constant moving and lack of personal identity (always the new kid on the block) this created an overly emotionally sensitive individual; a feature I feel creates a more susceptible personality for “PTSD.” It seems to me, sociopathic and psychopathic personalities (luckily?) have an emotional block preventing them from feeling empathy and having their identity challenged, hence, little if any “PTSD.”

    This may be too long, and I hope not too presumptuous. My goal is to help address issues of “PTSD” and find peace in life. To that end, I offer my web site, http://www.tedengelmann.com as a place to find pictures and ideas about these issues. Thanks to all for sharing, and I hope we can help each other and ourselves in a positive way.

  13. Sharon Perry says:

    I leave for you the poem my daughter wrote. I think you will get a very clear picture of what War-Related Intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) means to her :

    I see that faraway thousand mile stare in your eyes
    the intensity
    the craziness
    that lies within
    I want to run
    I want to hide
    I’m scared for my life
    in the blink of an eye
    the person I know is gone
    filled with rage
    you scream
    you cry
    you get angry
    and at the moment I don’t know why
    I don’t understand
    I cannot comprehend
    the tormented hell that you have been in
    for I am only a child
    “WHERE ARE MY GUNS!!” you scream
    you cannot find them
    I try not to blink an eye
    so you will not suspect
    I took them
    to protect us all
    to save your life
    the relentless search continues
    then you realize
    I took them
    you turn to me filled with this rage
    that is now directed at me
    the interrogation begins
    to no avail
    I will not give in
    you’ve not broken me
    I am already broken
    I shut down
    I want to cry
    at moments I wish I would die
    I can not endure another moment
    in this hell
    this horror that I was born into
    this is my existence
    this is my hell
    By Danielle Reyes
    copyright 2008

    As for myself, the mother of children exposed & forever effected, to be constantly pulled between your children & your husband – their father – who suffers from PTSD creates a wound in the heart that can never be completely repaired. Otherwise here is what I have written about my personal experience with PTSD:

    I am the widow of a Vietnam Veteran. We were married 27 years and had 2 (two) children. We knew each other for 31 years. During that time I witnessed my husband’s mental (emotional) and physical (he also suffered from illnesses linked to agent orange) state deteriorate dramatically. I have fought alongside my husband and struggled to survive the roller coaster that we came to know as our very existence: PTSD.

    Our family was profoundly affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). We all suffered. We experienced my husband’s trauma all the time, it never stopped happening.

    Our family lived in an environment which was always UNCERTAIN. We never knew what would happen next, never knew what to expect because we could not anticipate his actions. We had to be prepared at all times for the worst. Our lives were hell and our home was a war zone, always fearing the unexpected, never an opportunity to escape.

    PTSD is the worst kind of torture. It’s horror. Slowly wearing you down day in and day out until it has control and becomes unleashed. It ripped a hole in my husband’s soul and it took us, his family with him. It’s like being on an out of control roller coaster ride that will never be over.

    • Steve Sparks says:

      The above poem brought back my own fears from childhood living in a home with a father who came home with severe “battle fatigue” PTSD at the end of WWII. The image of my own father, Vernon’s, anger and rage, came to me immediately, but does have healing value. We need to go back and remember and reach out as children and families who served too. My father did not get adequate treatment for his condition until later in his life, long after each of his children and spouse acquired their own symptoms of PTSD. All of us without exception believed our baggage from living in a toxic home was somehow our fault for so many years until we became aware of PTSD and begin seeking clinical treatment, including prescribed medications.

  14. CR says:

    It means that no one is better equipped to help the growing numbers of little ones in this world who are staying up tonight, clueless and hurting because of a problem that is much bigger than they can handle alone. Intergenerational means not only that the pain can be passed down but that the healing can be passed on.

  15. Sheri Highfield says:

    Intergenerational PTSD to me, means that since my dad suffered PTSD from Vietnam, I too suffered. My dad was in the USMC and was in Vietnam from 67-68 and was a ground solider. He suffered from PTSD bad. I was born in 69 while my dad was still in the Marines. I don’t want to make this posting long, as I could really write and tell what it was like growing up with my dad suffering from PTSD and what it was like for me. Was not fun. These days, I understand why he was/is still like that. My dad has received a lot of help and is so much better these days. I’ve heard lots of Vietnam stories now. When I was young, he never talked about it.

  16. Cynthia says:

    I am the daughter of a Vietnam draftee and I concider myself a survivor of PTSD. I will never forget the day my father threatened to shoot me with a sawed-off shot gun just because I tried to voice my opinion against his verbal assaults. My father reminded me so many times that if I’d been born a boy he would have most likely killed me early on. The most difficult part of my childhood was being bullied by both the children at school and my own father as well. I imagined later in life that while most little girls were protected, loved, and adored by there father’s I on the otherhand was treated like a disease by my father, and invisable to the rest of the World. I never did anything harmful to anyone, and I was not a disruptive spoiled child either. I was not allowed to touch anything in my parents house outside of my own room, and most of my early childhood was spent in isolation in my bedroom. My mother never divorced my father, knowing how abusive he was to me and my younger sister. I am bitter because my mother didn’t protect me against my father but has the nerve to remind me that I should forget the past and learn to trust in God for Guidance. As an adult my father now claimes he called me names and beat me because he didn’t want me to grow up “weak.” His taunts and name calling were daily and repetative. The only time the name calling would stop was when I raised my voice to him, which always ended with a beating to my head. As a result of my childhood I have bouts of anxiety where I am terrified of people and social situations. I don’t trust anyone, and I feel like my father won, and I have become a complete failure in everything I dreamt to be in my life. I feel the Government owes me the same rights as what my father is given, as well as disability support!! Where do people like me go when we need Group Therapy, and not just drug handouts from pompous shrinks, but a geniune retreat where cries can be not just heart but “felt.” I am angry even as I type this because it is sad that this is the only website I can share my story with, my own monitor screen and a tone of rambling keystrokes for a random stranger to hear. I am enraged that the shrink I went to a year ago told me he didn’t know of any “Group Therapy” for the kind of therapy I was searching for and looked at me with narrow eyes as if I was making up all accounts of the abuse I survived. I am exhausted because roughly a week out of every month I become suicidal. I have been diagnosed bipolar, but I think it’s a mis diognosis because I feel I have all the symptoms of PTSD. I cannot find any information local in my area or service provided for Children of Vets. Can someone please send me a link so that I can gain the courage to share my story with others like myself.

    • Jan R. says:

      Cynthia, I hear you. I have yet to go to any counselor or practitioner who “gets” what we have been through and go through every day. And the thing that’s really “sweet”, is that they don’t seem to find it in their realm of responsibility to help us find or create something that works for us. Most aren’t even interested in investigating any further either. All I know to do is to keep talking. Keep posting on sites like this and daughtersofvietnamvets.ning.com. Keep not fitting in. Keep making anyone aware that we are the evidence of the injustice our country created as a result of the Vietnam War. In other words..keep speaking the truth. Hang in there…and so will I.

  17. Cynthia says:

    Thank-you Jan R for hearing my cry- and yes, I will continue to keep posting on sites like this. Truth is, I felt I was taking a chance by publically posting my thoughts over the internet. I did not mean to smear or disrespect Vietnam Veterans who have ever saught help for themself and for there families. Once more, I felt I was taking a big risk in describing a few incidents I suffered at the hands of my father’s “hate,” or should I say a hate created by the blackhole we refer to as War. By sharing just a few of my experiences of trauma with the World, I meant only to reach out to push away the hand of hate that haunts me every day of my life, to spit in the face of the fear that has chased me for as long as I can remember. I don’t want to be labeled as another broken case of bi-polar, or depression because those illnesses are only part of the equation, and non-specific to my condition. I do feel the VA Department should be required by Law to provide the Adult sons and daughters OF ANY AGE access to Group Meetings and or Therapy in the same manner in which the VA treats Veterans of War and Trauma. The day that I am able to sit quietly amongst other soul felt tears, amongst the tears and stories of the children who survived Vietnam War, will hopefully be the first day / beginning of my healing process. I am grateful that I stumbled apon this website, and Jan I cannot thank you enough for responding to my cry with words of truth and understanding. If you read this response please feel free to post me back a message. Hang in there, and know that you have been “heard.”

  18. Steve Sparks says:

    All of the comments, especially the beautiful but tragic poem by Danielle Reyes, reminded me of the constant fear in our home while growing up. No child should be afraid to go home, ever! I listed this link on my blog for others to reference, and borrowed the poem for my friends to read. My book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story,” will be published soon by http://www.signalmanpublishing.com. Writing our family story, including my Dad, Vernon’s combat experience, including severe “battle fatigue” during WWII and the suffering from symptoms of PTSD by family members had a most healing effect for me and our family. My hope and prayer is for this story to help countless others as well.

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