Reading Notes: The Ancestor Syndrome

Reading Notes:  The Ancestor Syndrome:  Transgenerational psychotherapy and the hidden links in the family tree, by Anne Ancelin Schutzenberger (translated by Anne Trager).  Routledge, 1998.

Originally published in French in 1993, translated into English in 1998, this book is by an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Nice and co-founder of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy.  It is a very interesting look at how one’s ancestry affects daily life, health, and even death.  Her discussion of anniversary events goes beyond the usual discussions of the elderly dying around or just after birthday, anniversaries, etc., to include repeating health events across generations.  This might be events happening at the same age or on the same dates.  Some examples include people having accidents when they were the same age a parent, grandparent, or other ancestor, had similar accidents.  Schutzenberger takes it a bit farther than I am comfortable with by providing stories of people developing cancers at the same age that a parent died or had an accident.

Previously published studies (such as Josephine Hilgard, cited in this book) do document repeating events across generations, with a focus on health events.  Schutzenberger goes beyond events in individuals’ mundane lives to look into events endured during military service, and the European origin is very visible in the discussions of the First and Second World Wars.  (Yes, Americans fought in both wars but they were not fought, with notable exceptions like Pearl Harbor, on home soil.)  Intergenerational geographic ties are also presented.  The author refers to these connections as invisible loyalties, which can be understood and minimized through psychotherapy, and the author’s preference is for group psychotherapy.

She recommends using genosociograms (a more involved form of the genogram) to explore intergenerational events, identifying social patterns, repeating dates, or ages of events.  It is fascinating to think about the ties we are not fully aware of possibly having such an effect on our lives.

About juliemstill

Julie Still is working on a dissertation in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. She has a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Library Science from the University of Missouri, and an M.A. in History from the University of Richmond.  Librarian by trade, writer by choice, once (and future?) Girl Scout leader and community participant, she reads history (all kinds), science fiction / fantasy (ranges from Scalzi to McKillip), mysteries (varied), and more.
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