NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Intergenerational Family Dynamics

Intergenerational family dynamics is an important factor in understanding yourself as well as understanding your family.  This includes developing an appreciation for intergenerational trauma in your family and how it affects you (see my articles:  Psychotherapy and Intergenerational Trauma and Overcoming Dysfunctional Ways of Relating in Your Family).

Intergenerational Family Dynamics

What is a Genogram?
One of the best ways for seeing and understanding intergenerational family dynamics is to draw a genogram.

A genogram is a diagram of your family for at least three generations.  It is a graphic representation with symbols for repetitive intergenerational dynamics in your family.

A Genogram is a Family Tree Where Repetitive Intergenerational Dynamics Are Added 

The diagram above shows an ordinary family tree.  To make a family tree into a genogram, symbols are added to reveal repetitive intergenerational dynamics (see below: Drawing Your Own Genogram).

One of the best books for understanding genograms is Genograms in Family Assessment by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson.  This book is often used in social work graduate programs when graduate students study family dynamics.

This book also provides the symbols most used for showing family dynamics like estrangement, divorce, death, suicides, fused relationships, conflictual relationships and so on (due to the limitations of this blog, I'm unable to provide these symbols, but they are readily available online).  But you can make up your own symbols.

Understanding Intergenerational Family Dynamics From Genograms
A genogram is a useful tool when clients come to therapy to change longstanding dynamics that have played out in their family.

Genograms capture dysfunctional patterns, life changes, trauma and family triangles as well as successful and positive patterns for multigenerational families.

In Genograms in Family Assessment, one of the examples used to show intergenerational family dynamics is a genogram for Eugene O'Neill's family (see my article about O'Neill's play: Denial and Illusions in the Iceman Cometh).

These dynamics are also captured in O'Neill's most autobiographical play, Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The genogram for the O'Neill family is a graphic representation of repetitive intergenerational patterns, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse and other destructive patterns.

It also reveals a generational pattern of marital instability.  In addition, there is an intergenerational pattern of the oldest sons dying young in that family, which is depicted in that genogram.

There was also an intergenerational pattern of estrangement between fathers and sons in the O'Neill family as revealed in the book's genogram for the O'Neills, which is also captured in Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Why Use Genograms to Understand Intergenerational Family Dynamics?
As mentioned earlier, genograms are graphic representations of a family tree for at least three generations.  They include symbols between generations to show intergenerational patterns.

One of the values of using genograms in psychotherapy is that they provide a succinct picture which reveals how complex repetitive patterns evolve in a family over time.  This provides a more in-depth appreciation of why some individual and family patterns are so entrenched and difficult to change.

Drawing Your Own Genogram
A genogram is a tool.  There is no agreed-upon method for drawing a genogram.

You can start by drawing a family tree of both sides of your family and then choosing your own symbols to mark intergenerational patterns for major life events, behavioral patterns and other repetitive patterns.

You can also look at the book, Genograms For Family Assessment, where, aside from the O'Neill family, the authors provide genograms for other well-known families like the Roosevelts, Gandhi's family, Freud's family, Katherine Hepburn's family, the Bronte sisters, the Kennedy family and many others.

There are also some online programs that allow you to draw genograms.

When you have marked the intergenerational patterns in your genogram, you will have a better understanding of your family, a new appreciation of how these repetitive patterns occur over time, and why these patterns might be so difficult to overcome.

If you're in therapy or you're thinking about starting psychotherapy, bringing in your genogram to your psychotherapist will serve as a valuable shorthand to illustrate the dynamics in your family.

There are also some therapists who will draw a genogram in your therapy sessions, based on the information that you provide, to help both you and her to understand your own and your family's history.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you use a genogram or not, if you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a skilled psychotherapist (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

When you have worked through the problems that are holding you back, you can live a more fulfilling life unburdened by your history.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.