The Generational Impact of War

I am blessed and honored to live and work in a military community.  

I have the opportunity to care for our nation’s Warriors and their loved ones as a professional mental health provider.

While most of my clients in my private practice are affiliated with the military, I have some who are not…or perhaps, think they are not.

When you live in a community with 30,000 active duty Soldiers, and the city with the second largest population of Veterans in the United States, we are all impacted by war and deployments.

And we will be for generations…

I had a client a few years ago – a female professional in her late 50’s.  She came in with complaints of depressive symptoms.  Through multiple sessions, we unpacked her emotional baggage.  We saw hurt and anger for her father – emotions she had successfully tucked away for decades.

During a tough session, she shared a memory of her mother leaving for a church service and her father being left to care for the 8 children.  She said her father was always emotionally distant and cold.  She couldn’t recall a time when he was playful or fun.  On this particular evening, he had the client and her siblings line up, arms length apart, facing the wall…to stand in silence for hours until it was bedtime.  

With 8 children, I imagined they had been horse playing or arguing…yet, she said she clearly recalled he ordered them against the wall within minutes of her mother leaving…he did not speak to them again until he ordered them to bed.

I mentioned that her description reminded me of something from a book I’d recently read about a WWII Soldier who was a POW in the Pacific.  The guards at POW camps would contain and control large numbers of prisoners with those types of tactics.

My client’s eyes became large and filled with tears.  “My dad was a WWII veteran and was a guard at a holding camp for enemy prisoners…he never spoke of the war and I never thought of it…” 

She was living the residual effects of WWII in 2011.  

The impacts of war are generational.

Unfortunately, the children of these wars’ Veterans will live with wounds initially endured by their parents.  Injuries have frozen the emotional livelihood of their mother and/or father, preventing them from being engaged as children need their caregivers to be. 

So children, just as adults, seek to fulfill the emotional emptiness which oddly originated from a call to duty…a call to serve our nation and to protect her freedoms.

The emotional hollowness felt may be quickly congested with drugs or alcohol.  Teenagers may seek to satisfy their innate need for attention with promiscuity, cutting behaviors, or anger.

Younger children may withdraw and develop fears and anxiety, crippling their ability to socialize and enjoy age appropriate activities.

How do we stop this ripple effect?

We must encourage stories to be told…giving safe places for Warriors and their loved ones to be heard, to be encouraged to speak their truths.  

Children and teens need an arena space to draw their stories, play out their emotions, and share music that exposes their soul wounds. 

The space provided may not be in a counselor’s office, it could be at a kitchen table, in a support group, or around a camp fire.  

The key to loosening the shackles binding us to our pain is pure, uninterrupted attention and focus from another being.

While there is a need, at times even an urgency, for professional help, there is an obligation we, as a community, have to our Warriors and their loved ones.  That obligation is our time, our companionship, our gratitude. 

This is the ripple effect of healing…

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