Multigenerational Transmission

Multigenerational Transmission: Understanding One’s Heritage to Understand Oneself

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Observing the generations is a fascinating pastime. The multigenerational transmission process describes the tendency of the generations to repeat patterns of impaired or graduated behavior. Many persons have found fulfillment in this investment of time and energy. Can you?

Ancestry, Assessment, and Anxiety

In Bowen family systems theory, one of the main reasons for researching one’s family of origin and multigenerational patterns is to inform one’s own behavior. How people manage their anxiety is reflected in generational patterns. Serious research is usually recorded on a family diagram. The diagram gives the researcher a basis for assessment. Physicians, therapists, teachers, clergy, business leaders, and others utilize the family diagram—sometimes referred to as a genogram—to get a picture of a person’s behavior patterns. These patterns are a record, so to speak, of his or her emotional reactivity.

Families, Organizations, and Churches

The family of origin is not the only group that benefits from a study of multigenerational patterns of behavior. Churches are especially fertile ground for capturing a picture of how members interact and why certain ones do the things they do. The workplace is another good example. Anytime one decides to think about the family, one can get an idea of how to think systems. In churches and synagogues, the nuclear family emotional process can be observed in both the short and long term. The study of family process brings clarity to the minister, rabbi, or counselor in understanding where a given family is on their journey. Bowen and Kerr write: “The less adaptive an individual or a family to stress, the more likely that potentially stressful events encountered early in life will exceed that individual or family’s ability to adapt.”

Climb Your Family Tree

The detail of the process exceeds the bounds of this article. But talking to any known living relatives capable and willing to respond is a good start. Ancestry.com is another place to look. The more information you have about your ancestors, the more you ultimately have about yourself. Murray Bowen wrote: “The multigenerational process provides a base from which to make predictions in the present generation and gives an overview of what to expect in coming generations.” Ultimately, it’s about individuation—learning to separate self from family yet stay appropriately connected. Both can be lifelong endeavors. You can climb your family tree and count the bananas, but don’t forget to count yourself on the way down.

Genetic Tendencies and Taking Your Position

Genetics may determine some things about you, but even genetics—like multigenerational transmission—are propensity, not destiny. You have the capability to differentiate yourself from your family by taking what are sometimes called “I” positions. Being clear about what you will and will not do lets others know where you stand. It may cause temporary heightened anxiety in the system, but in the long term others will come to respect you as a person of integrity and maturity. What members in your family tree have demonstrated this quality?