the indirect trauma of children of victims and survivors

This Monday, one of the themes that lawyers have raised for the civil parties will be the consequences of the attacks on children. Children of victims or survivors who live, despite themselves, with this trauma.

“They are rotten like a rotten banana. They killed my father.” These childish words are Etiennes *. On May 19, his letter was read out to the special court that judges the November 13 attacks. Etienne never knew her father, Antoine, one of the 90 victims of Bataclan.

Gary was three years old when his father Mathieu was murdered by the terrorists who entered the theater. At 9, he “anxiety” when his mother goes out at night, as she said last October.

Bertrand’s children, young teenagers, “always see the emergency exits” when they arrive at a public place after their father survived the terrorist attacks.

Maxime *, almost 6 years old, still goes to a psychologist twice a week. He did not lose a parent on the evening of November 13th. But this little boy, who was 11 months old in November 2015, developed post-traumatic stress, as his father Guillaume, a survivor of Bataclan, recounted on May 17th.

“Our child is a victim,” Guillaume lamented during his testimony. “I accept the consequences of the attacks for me, but the consequences for my son, as if it were his or my fault, I can not accept.”

Indirect victims

One of the topics discussed this Monday in this second week of the civil parties’ speeches will be the consequences of the November 13 attacks on children. The children of the victims who had to learn to live without their parent who died under the bullets of the terrorists, but also the children of the survivors, many of whom also got into trouble after the tragedy that befell their family. .

“We’ve encountered this situation in almost every family,” Me Helena Christidis, one of the attorneys who will be advocating for the subject, explains to

The court, composed specifically to adjudicate the November 13 attacks, at the beginning of the trial, accepted the request of the lawyers and the families who wanted the children of the victims to be able to form civil parties in this trial. Children of deceased persons, survivors and those who were in their mother’s womb at the time of the attacks are now considered indirect victims.

“There are those who were not present, but who feel the anguish of their loved ones,” says Me Christidis. “they are fungi. These children live with anxiety, have nightmares”.

“A mother explained to me that when her son was born, he was anxious. For example, he cried when he heard certain sounds,” she recalls.

A multifactorial phenomenon

Specialists are familiar with this phenomenon of transmission of post-traumatic symptoms called “secondary” in the case of transmission from relatives. “Some children may develop depressive, anxiety symptoms, emotional difficulties and even a cross-border personality or post-traumatic stress disorder,” explains Bérengère Guillery, neuropsychologist and lecturer at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.

“These symptoms are not specific to the trauma, but may be the consequence of a particular parental behavior after the trauma,” she explains.

These changes in family relationships can lead to an adjustment of the child, “a mastery”, the researcher continues. The scientist insists: “The phenomenon of transmission of trauma is complex and multifactorial, its understanding requires connecting the history of previous generations, especially the psychological profile of parents, parents’ psychological state and the child’s psychological condition. .

Bérengère Guillery cites among the factors to be considered, “the psychological factors concerning the parent (does he have depression? Anxiety disorders? Post-traumatic stress?), But also the style of attachment or emotional ties. There is also the parent’s style., The communication style about the traumatic event, ranging from complete silence in contrast to an implicit communication of the parents’ experience, to a style of ‘modulated detection’, which would be characterized by communication adapted to the level of the child’s psycho-affective development, emotional needs and cognitive abilities. There are also physiological factors such as the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol. “

The example of the Holocaust

This transmission of post-traumatic stress disorder can affect children of all ages, even those who were in their mother’s womb during the traumatic event. However, this transmission is not automatic and above all does not necessarily lead to the development of pathologies. Bérengère Guillery urges “not to stigmatize the parents who have already been tested by the traumas they have experienced”, reminds Bérengère Guillery that not all children of victims show mental fragility as a result of this trauma, and some have when they adapts to the situation, even developed “an extremely positive resilience”.

Yet Me Christidis wonders about the future. “The whole issue is aftermath,” said the civil lawyer. “Will this trauma be passed on to future generations?” We then speak of “‘intergenerational transmission’ when it comes to the first generation of descendants and of ‘transgenerational transmission’ for several generations”, states Bérengère Guillery. In a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, in 2015, American researchers examined the thesis of “epigenetic heredity” by finding that the traumas experienced by Holocaust survivors left a biological imprint, a mark on the next generation of DNA, and especially on cortisol levels. .

“The transmission of trauma also incorporates epigenetic markers. Epigenetics refers to a set of potentially inherited elements of changes in the expression of the genome or ‘epigenome’ that can be induced by the environment,” the neuropsychologist concludes.

* Names have been changed

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