Multigenerational transmission processes

Multi-general transmission processes are the ways in which families pass on their cultures across and down generations. They describe the formation of trends in families of patterns, roles, rules, beliefs, rituals and routines, behaviors, strengths, abilities, weaknesses, ways of being, ideas, and any other socially transferable phenomenon.

Most people realize that they have a lot in common with their family members, (although some would deny having anything in common, if they are not proud of their families of origin). However, even those of us who pride ourselves on having separated or evolved from our families, tend to greatly underestimate the extent to which our family’s history and culture is a part of us.  Because most of us have never had the opportunity to really sit down and get to know our great-grandparents, we do not fully appreciate just how much we have in common with them. Because family therapists work with many different families, we have the opportunity to see just how different family cultures are. Just as we will experience a new culture every time we travel to a different country, I similarly expect to be immersed in a new culture every time I begin work with a new family. Like ethnic and international cultures, most of the traditions, rituals, celebrations, strengths, pastimes, and ideas are adaptive and beautiful. However, just as problems and bad ideas can spread within cultures (e.g., Nazism, eugenics, fractional reserve banking, etc.), so too can problems and maladaptive beliefs arise within families.  Such problems could include emotional or physical abuse, substance dependency, intense conflict, or emotional coldness. Even problems that are normally considered to be individual problems, such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, are related to the problems that exist in families and are transmitted from individual to individual within families, through the lens of intergenerational family therapy.

It is commonly believed in Native American philosophy that the choices we make now will affect the next seven generations.  I believe that affects from today’s events and decisions can actually reverberate and ripple across far more than seven generations, even if the patterns are not fully predictable. Looking back over family histories, there are inevitable links between problems that are going on in the present and problems that were going on with grandparents over 50 years ago. I believe that if we had more information dated farther back, there would be apparent and traceable patterns that date back through families for hundreds of years.

Multigenerational transmission processes are related to differentiation in that highly differentiated individuals are better protected and buffered against inheriting or “catching” problems that spread within families. Because highly differentiated people are able to experience themselves as separate, they are able to coexist in the same space while not taking on each other’s pathology.  This is similar to how illness cannot easily spread in a social group in which the individuals have healthy immune systems.

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