Date: July 22, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events


Combat veterans may not tell their children about their experiences, but they transmit them invisibly, almost imperceptibly, through deep channels of influence in the mind, body, and psyche. Author, artist, and son of Vietnam veteran Carl Sciacchitano joins us to talk about his family story as captured in his new graphic memoir, The Heart That Fed: A Father, A Son, and the Long Shadow of War.

Also joining the conversation is internationally recognized neuroscientist Dr. Nadia Rupniak, whose father served in the Polish Army in World War II and received his country’s highest military decoration for heroism. 

The stories we hear from Carl and Nadia inform a broader discussion on transgenerational trauma—how the traumatic experience of war can echo across generations.

Violence, uncertainty, and tension can bring heightened caution and fear to children and family members, long after the real danger has passed.

This phenomenon, where trauma impacts individuals beyond those directly affected, can effect descendants who may not have had any direct exposure to the traumatic events themselves.

As Dr. Kimberly Copeland, Military Behavioral Health Psychologist  at the Center for Deployment Psychology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, outlines, transgenerational trauma can be understood through three main mechanisms: nature, nurture, and narrative.

Nature: Trauma impacts the whole person—mind, body, and psyche. Research in epigenetics, such as studies on cortisol levels, suggests that the physiological impacts of trauma can be passed down from parents to children. Variations in cortisol levels, influenced by trauma, can predispose individuals to PTSD and other stress-related disorders.

Nurture: Socio-psychological impacts of trauma, such as stress, low self-esteem, and impaired functioning, can be transmitted through learned behaviors and psychological symptoms. Studies highlight the transmission of these effects from combat veterans to their children, indicating a pattern of secondary trauma that could lead to intergenerational impacts.

Narrative: Even when trauma survivors do not explicitly share their experiences, their behaviors and the silence around these topics can influence future generations. Cultural and communal stories, as seen in Holocaust survivor families, can perpetuate a latent form of trauma, influencing descendants through the collective memory and narratives of the community.

The narrative stresses the importance of recognizing and understanding transgenerational trauma to facilitate healing. Healing should focus on identifying risk and resiliency factors, adopting holistic approaches, and utilizing culturally and spiritually congruent practices. The author reflects on the growth and bonding experienced with their sister, Trinh, suggesting that understanding and shared experiences can aid in healing from transgenerational trauma.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!