Family genogram: meaning and how to achieve it

The genogram is a two-dimensional visual representation of a family tree .

In recent years, the genogram has been increasingly used in psychology as a valuable aid in understanding a patient’s emotional and psychological situation .

However, it can also be used by each of us as a tool for self-knowledge and awareness .

The Dr. Mark Wolynn is a leading expert of hereditary family traumas . In his book ‘ Non È Colpa Tua ‘ it allows us to get to know the family genogram more closely and teaches us how to make ours. Furthermore, he gives us some examples of genograms to better understand this technique.



Before going into creating a genogram scheme , let’s understand why it could be useful in our life.

Thus, you will have a family genogram template to fill out .

Family genogram: why?

Science, in particular epigenetics , has now shown that some traumas experienced by parents and even grandparents or great-grandparents are transmitted to their children through DNA. Some genetic micro-modifications, in fact, are handed down from generation to generation.

Epigenetics and its mechanisms


An interesting discovery was made in a study published in 2015 within ‘ Biological Psichiatry ‘ in relation to stress . Jews who had experienced the Holocaust drama and their children shared a similar genetic pattern.

Therefore, if within our family of origin, some member has experienced trauma of war, disease, famine, abandonment, this could also be genetically present in us. This can cause us to adopt behaviors or thoughts that are not functional to our well-being even today.

In this light, the meaning of the genogram within our life takes on great value. It could allow us to better understand our fears and our ways of acting and help us change them thanks to awareness.



Discovering our focal phrase

If you have any anxiety or fear, you know how much this can cause you pain and prevent you from acting as you would like. As we have said, there may be something very ancient at the basis of this concern and the family genogram can help you solve it .

But what is your biggest fear? It is often a fear we have had throughout our lives. If it isn’t immediately clear to you what your deepest fear is, try answering the following question.

If your life breaks down, if things go incredibly bad, what will happen to you? 

Don’t settle for your first answer, go deeper and keep asking yourself: ‘so what would happen?’. At some point, when the focal phrase is the right one, you will feel that something ‘resonates’ inside you, it will be familiar, you will know that it is really yours.

Examples of focal sentences

Focal sentences usually sound more or less like this.

  • ‘I’m completely alone’
  • ‘I will lose everything’
  • ‘I go crazy’
  • ‘I will hurt my son’
  • ‘They will hate me’
  • ‘I will kill myself’

And so on.

Don’t be frightened if you seem to have ‘summoned’ your worst enemy. In fact, be happy to have identified it and have the certainty that the genogram can help you to know your fear better and to face it .



How to make the genogram

1. The family

You go back 3 or 4 generations back in your family. Build a diagram that includes parents, grandparents, great grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. You don’t need to go back further than your great-grandparents. Use squares to represent men and circles for females.

Create lines that represent the branches of the family tree and that unite the members of the family together, horizontally those belonging to the same generation, vertically the ‘descendants’. List the children of your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. It is not necessary to write the names of the children of uncles and aunts. Your genogram will still be effective.


2. Any trauma

Next to each family member, write down any trauma or difficult fate they have experienced. If your parents and grandparents are still alive, you can ask them for some information. But don’t worry if you can’t get everything you want to know. You can act with what you know. It will be more than enough.

The traumatic events that occurred in your family of origin can be: ‘premature deaths’, removals from home (voluntary or otherwise), abandonments, exclusions from the family, adoptions, deaths in childbirth, children born dead, miscarriages or not, suicides, crimes .

Or, again, it can be catastrophic events, losses of economic goods, for example the home, episodes in the war, killings etc. If someone in your family has hurt or killed someone, enter the damaged person in the family tree because she too has become part of it and you may have unconsciously ‘identified’ yourself with the victim or attacker . Likewise, if someone has cheated or injured someone, they deserve a separate investigation. Just as it is important to insert if someone has been imprisoned (more or less justly), physical or mental disabilities, love relationships before marriage with other people and how and why they ended.

3. The focal phrase

At the top of the genogram, enter your ‘focal phrase’, that is, your worst fear that you will have identified in the way indicated above. Then examine all the components of your genogram. Who do you think may have felt like you? It could be one of your parents, your grandmother’s sister who was locked up in a psychiatric hospital or your older brother who your mother lost in a miscarriage before having you. It could be someone not much talked about in the family.



Turn your fear into a strength

What emerges thanks to the use of the genogram can be very intense and leave destabilized.

Thanks to the understanding of the origin of one’s own malaise, however, one can manage to integrate this new knowledge and change it until it becomes a reason for strength.

The fact of ‘making visible’ what was not before can release a lot of space within us and around us. It can allow us to be kinder to ourselves and help us accept what we didn’t understand before.

It is essential to ‘make peace’ with the history of one’s ancestors in order to bring this serenity into one’s personal history.

Acceptance practices

  1. Create your own healing phrase– find a phrase that reflects your situation but that ‘restores order’. If the emotion you feel does not belong to you, ‘return it gently to him or her to whom it belonged’.
    An example of a healing phrase to repeat when you feel ‘overwhelmed’ is: ‘I will do something meaningful and dedicate it to you’ or: ‘I will bring something good out of this tragedy’ .
  2. Create your own healing image– look for a photo or symbol that represents for you the person who experienced the trauma with which you unconsciously identified yourself. Place it in front of you. Inhale and, when you exhale, return the sensations you feel to the rightful owner feeling lighter and lighter.
  3. Feel your body– any emotion, in addition to provoking a mental reaction, also produces it in our body. When you feel uncomfortable and notice it, put your hand where you ‘feel’ this malaise. It can be the abdomen, throat, head, heart etc. and mentally think ‘I am here, I will breathe until you have calmed down’.


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