Inherited Stress from Our Historical Past

Have the world wars of the past led to such stress that we now feel the effects?

In a 2015 article in Scientific Americanit was reported that Holocaust survivors from World War II have compromised levels of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, which helps a person emotionally regulate after trauma. Important to us in this essay is yet another finding reported in the same article: The children of Holocaust survivors have even more compromise in their stress-related hormones, making them particularly vulnerable to anxiety.

Originally posted July 26, 2018

These results made me wonder. Could such findings be even more general than people connected to the Holocaust? High stress during World Wars I and II likely visited many millions of people who either fought in these wars, or were at home awaiting the return of loved ones, or who received word of the death of loved ones. Might their bodies have been more primed for stress? If so, then might their children, such as the Baby Boomers, have been primed for greater stress?

Is each subsequent generation, as a whole and on the average, becoming more stressed than the previous one?

This made me wonder even further: What about those who were slaves during the time of the Civil War in the mid 19th century. Might they have had internal, hormonal challenges that were passed to their children and might the soldiers on either side of the Civil War conflict have produced compromised stress-related hormones that were passed to their children?

Might people of today be more stressed than they should be because of these historical events in their own families from generations past? After all, many millions of people were directly or indirectly involved in the major Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

Think about this pattern within only one family (which could extend back in time for centuries):

  1. Suppose Martha was 6-years-old in 1864 when an army, fighting in the Civil War, invaded her town. She became very stressed, as explained in the Scientific American article referenced above.
  2. At age 22, she gave birth to a son, James, in 1880. James not only inherited Martha’s compromised stress-related hormonal pattern but actually became even more compromised than Martha in his ability to recover from any trauma he may face.
  3. Now the compromised James, at age 24, becomes a father to Sarah, in 1904. Sarah is even more compromised than James and she, at age 13, experiences World War I with an absent father and the threat of war in her country. Her cortisol levels become even more compromised.
  4. At age 19, Sarah gives birth to Joseph in 1923. He is more compromised than his mother Sarah for the same reasons as above. At age 20, with his already compromised hormonal system, Joseph is drafted into the army and fights fiercely in Europe during World War II with the result of even lower levels of cortisol produced in his body.
  5. After the war, Joseph marries Louisa, whose father died in the war. She, like Joseph, has a compromised hormonal system and they have a daughter, Octavia, in 1950, a Baby Boomer.
  6. Octavia is even more compromised than Martha (born in 1858), James (born in 1880), Sarah (born in 1904), or Joseph (born in 1923).
  7. Octavia begets Samuel who begets Rachael who currently is 25 years old. She exhibits anxiety, occasional panic attacks, and is now showing signs of depression.

When Rachael visits her mental health professional the discussions center on her childhood upbringing and her stresses in raising her own family as well as problems at work. Notice that the perspective goes back only 25 years rather than to 1864 with Rachael’s own great-great-great-great grandmother, Martha, because no one has any information about Martha who has long been forgotten in the family.

My point is this: Stresses today could be caused, at least in part, by the stresses handed down to this particular person from one generation after another, two or more centuries before….and we are not aware of this. Even if cortisol and related hormonal levels are not reduced in each subsequent generation, psychological compromise still may be increasing as stress accumulates and is passed on.

Might the stresses on high school and college students today be greater than was the case for their grandparents? If so, this, in part, might be caused by this accumulation of unrelieved stresses passed through the generations. There are many articles written on current college students’ rather surprising inability to cope with the challenges of higher education study.

One example, in Psychology Today, is from 2015, in Dr. Peter Gray’s blog, with the title,Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges.” Are we witnessing accumulated generational stresses all the way back to Martha in 1858 (and even farther back as Martha may have been compromised by her great-great-great-great grandparents)?

Suicides and suicide attempts are increasing in the United States and some are referring to this as a crisis. The term “crisis” is being used as well to describe the recent opioid overuse.  Psychological depression is rising, especially among young teenagers. Anxiety, too, is rising, with some pointing to the economic recession which started in 2007 as a cause for the increases in suicides, depression, and anxiety. While the relatively recent economic downturn may be contributing to these mental health increases, perhaps some of the cause is the hidden accumulation of stress across centuries. This is not being addressed at all from what I can tell.

What if we, in our current global community, became aware of this possibility of passing stress through the generations? What if we started inoculating the current generation of children and adolescents with the stress-buffer of forgiveness through sound forgiveness education? They can begin by forgiving parents for their excessive anger, which might be historically-inherited, for example. Those who forgive now likely need not forgive all who came before them. Forgiving those now who are behaviorally-demonstrating the stress through unjust actions or maladaptive behavior (such as second-hand cigarette smoke or too much sugar in the diet to appease the stressed parent) may be sufficient for restoring psychological health to those in the current generation.

Might the compromised cortisol level (and other hormonal stress indicators) begin to self-correct, lowering stress reactions, and helping people adapt to stressful injustices, and particularly the stressful effects caused by those injustices? Might this then have a positive effect on the next generation, as the children and the children’s children are not overwhelmed by the effects of parental anguish, excessive anger, or other inappropriate behaviors?

.

Might forgiveness education in general, within regular classrooms or families, be one answer to reversing the accumulated stress–with its inherited psychological effects that might be increasing through the generations? Learning to forgive may be the untried way of reversing the negative psychological effects of injustices that have marched across the centuries. Research consistently shows that both Forgiveness Therapy and Forgiveness Education can statistically significantly reduce anger, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

A final point is this: Forgiveness education now may be a gift to subsequent generations of children who then may inherit far less stress than seems to be the case to date. This may occur if the children and adolescents of today can reduce stress through learning to forgive and thus prepare a way for greater thriving for their own children and grandchildren.

Unless we see the problem, we may be indifferent to the cure. Future generations’ mental health may depend, in part, on how we respond to these ideas.

Robert

After Nine Agonizing Months of Captivity, Elizabeth Smart is Freed, Forgives Her Kidnappers

The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com – You’ve probably read or heard the story, but it’s worth repeating with a final twist.

In the early morning hours of June 5, 2002 — the day after she received awards for excellence in physical fitness and academics at Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah — 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home at knifepoint.  The next day, the FBI told her parents, “If she’s not home in the first 48 hours, she’s probably not coming home.”

Smart did not return home quickly despite a massive regional search effort involving up to 2,000 volunteers each day, as well as dogs and planes. The search continued for weeks.

Her abductors, homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, held her at encampments in the woods 18 miles from her home and in San Diego County, CA.  They kept her shackled to a tree with a metal cable to keep her from escaping.

Nine agonizing months of captivity

Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart during her captivity, sometimes multiple times daily, told her she would never see her family again if she tried to escape, and regularly threatened to kill her. He often forced her to drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance, and he both starved her and fed her garbage. 

Elizabeth Smart (left) and her captors.

Smart endured the unimaginable for nine agonizing months before she was spotted with Mitchell and Barzee in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, 2003 by a couple who had seen Mitchell’s photos on the news. Smart – disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil – was recognized by officers during questioning, and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.

After years of delays and mental evaluations, Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. On December 11, 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For her role, Barzee eventually was sentenced to concurrent terms of fifteen years in state and federal prison.

Forgiveness is not acceptance

For Smart, the ordeal carried a heavy price tag but she says she has long since forgiven her captors and has not allowed it to define her life. During a recent presentation at Indiana University Kokomo, she explained it this way:

“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a victim anymore. I see an activist, I see a wife, I see a mother, I see a friend, I see someone I’m proud to be. 

It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we decide to do next, how we move forward, how we pursue our lives.

It’s not the acceptance of the action done against you. I don’t think forgiveness is saying, ‘It’s OK that you raped me.’ It’s not saying, ‘We’re going to be friends now.’

I will never be OK with the act of rape. There is no circumstance on earth in which I will say rape is OK.

It is not that you accepted the evil that was done to you. It is an acknowledgment that it has happened, and that you have dealt with your anger, your grief, and your pain, and you are able to then move on.

It’s loving yourself enough to let go of your pain and move forward.

If I get to the end of my life, if I die, and I find out religion is one big lie, I still won’t regret it because it’s helped me to live a better life, to be a better person, to care about people, to believe in forgiveness, to believe in hope.”

Since her abduction, Smart has gone on to become an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault. With encouragement from her family, Smart has stepped into the public eye, writing two best-selling books, and lobbying with her father for laws to protect children including the Protect Act of 2003.

Smart also founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to raise awareness of predatory child crimes. She is now married to Matthew Gilmour; the couple has two young children.


Read more:

Kidnapped at 14, held captive and raped, Elizabeth Smart says now: I was lucky – The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com

Elizabeth Smart shares story of hope, triumph, forgiveness – Indiana University Kokomo 

Elizabeth Smart Biography – BIOGRAPHY.COM


Send us your comments. Tell us what you think of the Elizabeth Smart saga. Enter your comment below under “Leave a Reply.”

Teen with Terminal Cancer Responds to Cyberbullies with Forgiveness

The Daily Signal, Waco, Texas – Jeremiah Thomas—a 16-year-old all-star, state champion football player from Waco, TX—was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive bone cancer just four months ago. Since  then, he has battled chemotherapy, radiation, a collapsed lung, and paralysis from the waist down. 

Cancer-fighter Jeremiah Thomas

Unfortunately, Jeremiah has also had to endure despicable scorn and  taunts from many  social media trolls. With perhaps only weeks left to live, Jeremiah has been accosted numerous times on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with some deplorable messages:

“Jeremiah … You aren’t dead yet? God, do your job!” taunted one anonymous writer.

“Good Riddance,” another posted to Jeremiah’s prayer group page on Facebook.

And Jeremiah’s mother, Kendra Thomas, quoted one person as saying Jeremiah has “a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic], hateful” agenda, and another as saying “He’s garbage and is suffering as he deserves.”

All that hate and vitriol was generated because Jeremiah made a “legacy wish” through the 38-year-old Make-A-Wish Foundation that some social media respondents apparently found offensive. As his final wish, Jeremiah dared to call for the abolition of abortion in Texas.

When that wish circulated around to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, he called Jeremiah and spoke with him in his hospital bed in June about passing a bill to abolish abortion in the state in order to make Jeremiah’s “legacy wish” a reality.

The teen made his reasoning for that request public on June 24 by posting “A Letter to My Generation,” describing his Christian faith and writing in part:

We have grown up in a culture of death, sexual confusion, immorality and fatherlessness. This culture of death I speak of consists of abortion, homosexuality and suicide. One-third of our generation has been wiped out due to  abortion; 60 million babies have been murdered. Over 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS. We have been handed a bill of goods that has completely destroyed us. In our nation, we have chosen death and received the curse.

While struggling with his terminal illness–known as osteoblastic osteosarcoma–would certainly be enough suffering for most people, Jeremiah has been handling the hate mail gracefully.

“Its kind of sickening,” Jeremiah says.  “I pray for them…What has happened to people to make them think like that?”

Jeremiah’s mother adds, “Jesus has given him a special grace to forgive. He tells his siblings, ‘Just forgive. We can’t return evil for evil.’”

Jeremiah’s family had set up a GoFundMe page three months ago to help raise money for surgery. It had reached $118,659 as of Aug. 11.


Read more: 

‘Just forgive’: Pro-life teen with cancer responds to pro-choice hate

Teen With Terminal Cancer Forgives Cyberbullies as He Fights ‘Culture of Death’


 

 I have reached the part in my forgiveness journey where, according to the Fourfold Path of Forgiveness (cf Tutu: “the Book of Forgiving”) I have to “tell my story”.  How can I tell a story that encompasses 25+ years of abuse? The only theory that I have at the moment that wouldn’t take 25+ years, is to break it down into themes: Manipulative Lying; Anger and emotional abuse; Financial irresponsibility that put me and my kids into poverty. There are of course sub-sets and crossovers. There is also the way my children and my now deceased parents suffered (I know I need to ask for forgiveness myself here).

You make a good point that to tell your story may be difficult because you have had 25 years of abuse.  Perhaps this may help:  Think about your story in relative terms with regard to the length of your narrative.  People can tell their stories in a paragraph, or in a page, or in a couple of pages, or in a chapter, or in an entire book.  Of course, if you tell your story only in a paragraph or a page, then your story will show only general statements rather than specific, detailed descriptions.  So that you are not overwhelmed in this process of telling your story, may I recommend that you try to summarize your story in no more than two pages?

People in Chicago again are protesting the gun violence there. Would implementing IFI’s Forgiveness curriculum into all schools & Forgiveness Therapy into prison, anger management, drug and marriage programs help with lowering the violence there? If so what else would this help in Chicago for instance lower bullying, cyberbullying, suicides, etc?

Your insights are very insightful and important.  Yes, we agree with you that IFI’s forgiveness curriculum in all or at least many schools would reduce student anger. Once in their mid-teens, many of the adolescents should have their anger reduced and not at a level that might lead to violence.  Forgiveness therapy in the prison system also should reduce anger so that it is not a motivator to hurt others.  Forgiveness therapy in drug rehabilitation programs and in marriage programs should help reduce stress in those who do this kind of work.

The key issue is not whether or not forgiveness education and forgiveness therapy would work.  Instead, that key issue is this: How can we get the attention of the decision makers in schools, prisons, drug rehabilitation units, and marriage counseling centers so that these forgiveness programs are given a chance to be implemented?  In our experience, leaders need to see the efficacy of forgiveness for it to move forward.  How can we get the attention of the leaders?

New Book Strives to “Make Forgiveness Easy”

“Forgiveness is like a superpower that hardly anyone ever uses.”

Forgiveness, once you know how to do it, is transformational. It will bring you a freedom and a peace that will make your whole life feel easier.”

“This book. . . is your opportunity to meet forgiveness afresh and learn how to use it to change your life, and your world, for the better.”

Barbara J. Hunt enthralls her readers with precious nuggets like those in the introduction to her new book Forgiveness Made Easy: The Revolutionary Guide to Moving Beyond Your Past and Truly Letting Go. 

Yes, those snippets are all from just the introduction. Wait until you read the gems in Chapter Two – Forgiveness Is For You; or those in Chapter Six – Resentment; or the seven-step forgiveness process she lays out in Chapter Nine – The Forgiveness Made Easy Process; or. . . well, I think you get the idea.

Barbara J. Hunt

Forgiveness Made Easy is crammed not only with real-life forgiveness guidance but also with real-life accounts of how Hunt has helped real people learn how to forgive and create a new life for themselves. Those stories come from Hunt’s more than 25 years of experience as an international mentor, life coach and facilitator.

“I wrote this book because I see forgiveness as a fundamental life skill that is rarely taught. Or, if it is, not taught at the necessary depth to be effective, let alone transformational,” Hunt explains. “I offer a forgiveness practice that is simple, effective, and easy.”

Hunt closes out the book with an invitation, as well as a challenge: to join her in connecting with the grandest vision for forgiveness–achieving global peace, one heart at a time.

“Forgiveness is the laying down of arms and defences,” she writes. “When you put aside your personal weapons and surrender the shield over your heart, your forgiveness becomes an act of amnesty for humanity. Together, we can be the (r)evolution of peace.”


Purchase the book at: Amazon.com
Read the book’s Table of Contents and Introduction
Learn more at the Forgiveness Made Easy official website
Visit the Barbara J. Hunt website Evolutionary Coaching


This book review was written by Dennis Blang, Director, International Forgiveness Institute.

Our Theory of Forgiveness

Our Theory of Forgiveness: Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Forgiving Life            (APA Books, 2012)

Our theory starts with the premise that all people need to both give and receive love to be healthy and to have psychologically healthy families and communities.  I am not alone in this view when we study the ancient literature, going back to the formation of the Hebrew nation, thousands of years ago, with the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  I am not alone when we turn to modern-day heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or Mother Teresa.  Unconditionally loving others, despite their blemishes and faults, was at the heart of their message.

I am not alone in this view when we consult modern philosophy, in which Gene Outka has shown the centrality of love for morally good human interaction.  I am not alone in this view of the primacy of love when we examine the earliest roots of psychology, going back over a century to the pioneering work of the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who made the famous statement that each person’s purpose is to work and to love if genuine mental health will result, a theme which continues to resonate with psychoanalysts in the 21st century.  Contemporary social scientists such as Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon make the compelling biological case that love is at the central core of who we are as humans.[1]  I continue not to be alone in this view when I ask people of good common sense about what is of the utmost importance to them.


All people require love, both the giving and the receiving of love; this is not an option.                                                                                                          Robert D. Enright


On this issue, people who use the method of religious faith to understand the world, some people who use the method of deductive logic and philosophical analysis, some people who use the method of psychoanalysis, and some people who use the method of modern biological and social science are in agreement—The essence of our humanity is to love and be loved.

Robert