past · world

What is psychogenealogy?

Psychogenealogy which allies genealogy and psychology is a therapeutic frame which seeks to identify and treat the effects of transgenerational transmission in an person’s life.

This approach is based on the observation that transmission within family groups occurs across generations in different and sometimes curious ways.  Some of these are quite obvious, and in some cases highly formalized, as in the drawing up of wills and testaments.  In other cases, the modes of transmission are quite subtle and even invisible, such as naming a child after a secret lover or a deceased relative.  Yes, people do these kinds of things! Just as an example, I was myself named after a dead child (my aunt´s two babies were born and died within some weeks in extremely dramatic/weird/unknown conditions – the first one was a baby girl Patricia born in 1960 and the baby boy 1 year later was named Philippe – my cousin got the name!). In certain family groups, the modes of transmission are quite specific and culturally bound. It seems that what all family groups share is an inherent tendency to transmit those elements necessary for the continued survival of the group.

This underlines one of the premises of the psychogenealogy frame: the group is more important than the individual.  A group mobilizes its individual members to satisfy group needs first before satisfying individual ones.  This is most powerful when the individual is not even aware they are fulfilling a group function.  Taking over the family business from his father, a son might believe this is the most natural thing to do, as everyone else in the family does.  In a way, he gets groomed for the part.  And this son may well be fulfilling a group need to ensure economic and social survival way beyond his own individual need!! To the point where his health might suffer or his marriage could fall apart and when he starts to ask, what’s going on here, nobody knows how to answer, or where to turn for answers.

Another premise in this approach is that when a child is born, the child has no personal memory of itself.  That is what a child develops over time as it grows into an adult.  But just as he is being doted in his DNA with an immunity system inherited from parents, grand parents and all those who came before, a child is also doted – and this is NOT known – with an emotional and psychological “DNA” chain from its parents and family which enables the child to function in a particular family context or malfunction in another.  These layers of memory which have been transmitted to the child are the invisible foundations on which the child then goes on to construct its own individual memory itself.   

When all goes well, no one asks any questions. But when something feels wrong or people feel hindered in their life, psychogenealogy is an amazing tool to attempt to find workable answers. Specially when the elements embedded in the family memory are limiting the individual in their path.

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