How traumatic family relationships affect mental health – 05/25/2023 – Mental Health
Family relationships and customs help to shape the personalities of the people who are part of this group.
From a family nucleus in which parents support and encourage their children, a new generation that is more self-confident and secure can develop. However, when there are traumas, stressful situations, many expectations and demands, descendants run the risk of becoming insecure adults and facing disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Transgenerational inheritance is studied by psychology and family psychoanalysis and has nothing to do with family constellation, which is considered pseudoscience.
“Identifying the factors from past generations that make up a person’s genealogy and psychic configuration, as well as acting in a comprehensive way to transform them, is a path that can prevent serious risks, often alcohol abuse, drugs and even suicide”, says Ana Gabriela Andriani, psychologist specialist in couple and family therapy, master and doctor from Unicamp (State University of Campinas) and member of the Brazilian Society of Psychoanalysis
In the following text, written for the Mental Health blog, how the psychologist explains how transgenerational inheritance affects mental health and what to do to break this cycle.
Transgenerational inheritance and its importance for mental health
By Ana Gabriela Andriani
The importance of being aware of the messages that are transmitted in the network of family relationships is still a little discussed topic, although it has already been extensively studied in family psychoanalysis by authors such as René Kaes, Pierre Benghozi and Alberto Eiguer.
These messages circulate and are reproduced both consciously and unconsciously from generation to generation and refer to ideas, values, ways of being, information on how we should see and defend ourselves from the world, anxieties, fears, secrets, guilt, shame, fantasies, myths, etc., present in the family group.
We are all somehow affected by this network of meanings reproduced in a veiled or explicit way in family speeches and speeches. Thus, a family that in the grandparents’ generation experienced a trauma related to the death of one of its members in a war, for example, can transmit to the descendants feelings of fear of loss, of separation, and a need to remain together in a symbiotic way, which often generates difficulties and guilt for younger people to become independent and make their own choices.
Therefore, we can say that we are constituted as subjects in and through the fabric of family relationships and discourses, discourses that come from transgenerational experiences of which we have become heirs. Such experiences and messages can contribute as much to our development and enrichment as to our imprisonment.
One of the forms of imprisonment can be, for example, when a person becomes a “depository” or guardian —through an unconscious identification process— of characteristics of a family member who died and, because of that, becomes responsible, to be his substitute (a son who feels unconsciously compelled to be equal and to occupy the same functions as his father after his death is one way this situation can happen).
Still complex when explored, the issue of transgenerational inheritance is of profound importance in analytical application (I am talking here about personal, couple and family analysis). Identifying the factors from past generations that make up the person’s genealogy and psychic configuration, as well as acting in a comprehensive way to transform them, is a path that can prevent serious risks, often alcohol abuse, drugs and even suicide. .
In general terms, the mode of transmission and reproduction of these messages happens through the identification process. Identification, for Freud, would be a mechanism for building our identity. Through the internalization or introjection of aspects or properties of the other, we constitute and differentiate ourselves psychically.
Bringing now another example, a granddaughter can identify in an undeveloped way with the story and feelings experienced by her grandmother for having been violated and, without being aware of it, have many difficulties in trusting her affective relationships, without knowing the reasons for this.
The importance of the analysis work in these cases refers to, through it, being possible to get in touch with such contents, digest them and elaborate them, in order to, unveiling them, give them form, meanings and thought. , constructing meanings about the messages that circulate in families from generation to generation.
All of this so that we can avoid becoming depositories and prisoners of stories and demands from others, which often causes the appearance of emotionally unhealthy symptoms and actions. We don’t realize it, but we are recipients of these messages more than we realize.
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