Cultural PTSD: How Societal Trauma Drastically Changed Older Generations

By | April 10, 2020

Every generation has its defining moments. It can be war, famine, illness, or a combination of these things that shocks a group of people and drastically changes an entire generation. Even if most of the population escapes this cultural shift physically unscathed, they’re forever changed inside by what they've been through. Although there will always be gaps between the generations, our cultural pain makes us more similar than we realize.

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(Dorothea Lange)

The Ramifications Of Mass Grief

Whether it's the survivor's guilt of returning from war or simply the memory of being hungry for weeks at a time, the suffering of millions of people affects everyone in society. Even if they were too young or unfit to serve in Vietnam in '60s, the people of that time still understood what was happening and felt how the war was negatively affecting the people around them. Emotional pain has a way passing through osmosis in the same way that an underdog team winning the World Series makes everyone in the country feel good. Some generations have to live through a barrage of bad news: The "silent generation" lived through a World War, a pandemic, and the Great Depression, while boomers lived through a different World War and Vietnam. These kinds of things weigh on us as a group, and that changes all of us—including millennials and gen Z.  

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Rebuilding After A Plague

Cultural PTSD isn't a new concept. In 1400, following one of the most deadly waves of the Plague, Europe was exhausted by the sorrow of mass death. So much of their culture had fallen apart, and they'd witnessed their population halved. According to historian Barbara W. Tuchman, cultural ambitions were at an all-time low following this era of mass death. Nihilism had grasped Europe by the neck and made everyone wonder if there was a point in enduring. Obviously, culture changed and optimism returned to the world, but it took decades to rebuild. It makes sense that after such a devastating era, the immediate survivors wouldn't see a point in trying to bring civilization back to its previous state when there was a chance that everything could fall apart again.