“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”  Victor Frankl

In the view of Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, survival in those horrific environs depended on the maintenance of hope, however vague, however unrealistic: hope that families would be together again, hope that the torment and suffering would end, hope that things would return to normal, anything, as long as it was genuine hope.  

This, and the acceptance of suffering as a pathway to eventual recovery, are the basis of Frankl’s wonderful philosophy. In this blog, I quote from a number of sources, sources that determine that the origin of our doubts and dysfunction are not always from within ourselves and that recovery is dependent on our acceptance that dysfunction is inevitable and reversible.    

Modern studies have found that hope is positively correlated with life satisfaction and serves as a buffer against the impact of negative and stressful life events. People with high levels of hope tend to show better athletic, academic, occupational, and health outcomes and recovery from the trauma of the past.

Epigenetics, the “hidden” influencer, modifies how genes are expressed, changing the way they are read without disturbing the underlying DNA sequence. This is the force that plays such a part in our daily lives, modifying our attitudes and responses to stress/trauma.

So, our view of trauma is changing – altering how we contextualise our present-day experiences, our mental health and how our lives relate to the legacy of our ancestors and the mysteries of human resilience.

Questions like:

  • Why do some children thrive and others don’t?
  • Why do certain groups of people experience higher mortality rates?
  • Are we irrevocably bound to the past?

can be explained by this phenomenon.

The concept of epigenetics allows scientists, clinicians, mental health practitioners and other specialists to reclassify genetic disorders and provide hope to a wide array of communities grappling with the baggage of the past. For instance, in my past blogs I have suggested that the difficulties faced by modern-day Australian aboriginal communities is likely inextricably bound to the trauma of the past: invasion, imprisonment, massacre etc.

Current thinking however, removes the idea of finality or inevitability. Researchers believe that the epigenetic effect can be undone through the process of desensitization ie studies involving mice show how “fearful” epigenetic signatures can be erased.

So, it is likely that epigenetic trauma in humans can be reversed with compassionate mental health care and I believe, the reintroduction of resilient hope in the lives of those afflicted by epigenetic dysfunction.

Viktor Frankl saw, with the loss of hope, the swift demise of death-camp inmates. We now have a way of combating the legacy of the past. Let’s use it and build a more cohesive and inclusive world.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”  Viktor E. Frankl

Useful References:

Is there intergenerational transmission of trauma? The case of combat veterans’ children R Dekel, H Goldblatt – American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2008 – Wiley Online Library

Shadows of the Past: Epigenetics and Patterns of Inherited Trauma iCAAD August 2019