If children of collaborators approach a social worker for help, they will seldom say that their problem has anything to do with what they went through during and after the war. They generally speak in terms of:
- Mistrusting other people, the inability to trust anyone, to give them warmth and friendship.
This is an extremely sweeping statement. As soon as a relationship is entered into, or contact is established, children of collaborators become confronted with the question (either consciously or subconsciously): will I be accepted, even if they ‘know’; and if I am accepted, will I be understood?
This is something which is a cause of constant concern in all their relationships: with their partners, their own children, and with social workers! Most other problems are connected with this item, in some way or another:
- Relationship problems: marriage problems and sexual difficulties, impotence;
- Anxiety, the fear of life itself, depression;
- Inhibitions, the inability to deal with emotions;
- A feeling of inferiority: the inability to do anything properly; a feeling of not really belonging;
- A strange sort of gratitude to everyone who pays attention to them. This implies the risk of clamping on to any relationship in which the other person is allowed to ‘misuse’ their ‘submassiveness’;
- Aggression, particularly in situations where either they themselves or others are done an injustice;
- A sense of guilt towards their parents, and also towards their partner who is expected to ‘absorb’ so much in the relationship;
- Physical complaints, a stiff neck or backache for instance; the burden of tension plus the ‘secret’ become virtually unbearable;
- Nervous complaints like insomnia and nightmares;
- Alcoholism; heavy smoking and an obsessive addiction to work.
The anxiety these people have to live with, day and night, is often immense. Many of them push themselves to the absolute limit, working hard in order to forget, always wanting to do more than is physically and emotionally possible. When circumstances (unemployment, incapacity for work, divorce, a death in the family, ageing) make them less resilient, both physically and mentally, it takes very little else to make them stressed. The problems they have tried to escape for many years then become unavoidable.