Over the generations, the family projection process selects certain children for greater involvement. This leaves the other people somewhat freer to develop a separate self. This is seen as emotional variation in the family members. Overall the emotional energy in the family is divided between the needs of the group and the energy needed for a vision and a life of one’s own.
In a careful family history, the strengths and the vulnerabilities in family members are clarified. The whole system comes alive and one can see how individuals manage a life time of tensions and differences. Each system is impacted by the ongoing emotional process in the society as a whole. The anxiety in society has an impact on the functioning of the families but in each family there will be some who are more capable and some who are less capable of managing the current set of challenges.
One takes a family history by asking factual questions: When were people born? When and under what circumstances did people move? What was the level of education? What kind of symptoms did people have? Did the oldest or the youngest have more challenges or more gifts?
Then there are specific questions that are more subjective but may given a flavor of how the family seems to operate. Are there trends for functional positions like the oldest looks after the mom, or the youngest stays home? If one is interested in particular functions then you can ask questions such as who was the family leader over the past three generations?
It is often easy for people to see the sensitivities and the strengths within certain functional position in the family over the generations. For example if a great grandfather was killed by lightening it may be that family members will show greater arousal and pass more fear about events on to the future generations. We often see the sensitivity to alcohol passed from one generation to another. One person will drink and the next generation will refrain followed by the next generation that drinks etc.
It is often difficult for people to see that correlations of symptoms or events are followed by changes in people’s ability to be more autonomous. It is somewhat easy to see this in very troubled families where the symptoms are so big that it’s difficult for people to have any kind of life without dealing with the symptoms. Think great physical symptoms, drug abuse, or violence. These are the kinds of big symptoms that create a multi-generational history of sensitivity.
Anyone can see the patterns that arise over the generations by taking a detailed look at the family history. It is a first step in understanding the influence of the past on future generations.