I was brought up in an ordinary house in a suburb of Leicester. However, my memories of being in this house are far from ordinary. I remember feeling a shadow like presence in the house. I remember being afraid, as though something had happened there at some point in time. I remember even running out of the house as a teenager because I believed there was something or somebody in the attic.
Looking back through the perspectives of time, healing and psychotherapeutic training, I see that my feelings and perceptions constitute intergenerational trauma.
My mother was three years old when the Russian army arrived at her house in the early hours of a cold February morning. They ordered my mother, her brother and her parents to leave the house and to walk to a nearby train station where they were pushed into cattle trucks and taken on a long journey to a labour camp in Siberia. This was in 1939. Many of my relatives spent over two years in labour camps across Siberia, many died, but some managed to survive hunger, disease and trauma. Eventually a political truce allowed my family to leave the camps, but it was still the kindness of strangers and my family’s determination that allowed them to be able to truly escape. After Siberia my relatives were in refugee camps in Palestine and in Africa before they eventually settled in the UK many years later.
Partly why I became a therapist was this clear message that I believe I inherited from my family – never give up and it's possible to even have laughter and joy within a world of uncertainty and cruelty. During my encounters with clients, I see their resilience, their personal growth, their determination not to give up trying to experience compassion, kindness and joy. These are the very things that I've written about in my recent book, Therapy Diaries: how we can thrive in an uncertain world (2021). I provide stories of how clients I have worked with have responded to common challenging experiences, through self-knowledge, self-compassion and self-empowerment.
These reflect my family’s stories: my father overcame abuse, loss and grief to be part of a Polish team called Cyclone, winning the British Volleyball Championships in 1965 and 1966; my mother survived being in a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis in Wales to be able to then fall in love with my father.
Given the tragedy of what's happening today in Ukraine, where we can all feel overwhelmed and disempowered, it's so important to draw on stories that inspire us so that we can act positively in the world. It's also important to see that people can overcome the most challenging of traumas.
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.