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Martine Lani-Bayle

Family Secrets

Why do we sometimes have the feeling that we are the playthings of a history stretching back over several generations that is beyond us? Are we the unknowing carriers of ancient family secrets that have been stifled? Must we free ourselves of those secrets if we are to become masters of our fates?

Strangely enough, our modern societies still cling to the belief that there is such a thing as family destiny, recurring generation after generation regardless of the passage of time and of individual lives. Inevitably, but without our knowledge, our heritage comes down to us from our distant ancestors. It is this hidden heritage that sometimes makes us say certain things or act in a given way; that makes us submit to or activate certain phenomena that are beyond our control and our comprehension.

Could we be influenced by our ancestors but not in the way that is commonly thought? Could transmission from one generation to the next take a different route? The author suggests that we should stand transmission on its head. What is important, she argues, is not what is emitted (what I have or have not been told) but its reception (what I do or do not perceive).

This is a brilliant study, illustrated with numerous examples, on the importance given to ancestors in psychology today. The author's original approach, the result of a fifteen-year study, is a valuable questioning of the fatalism that now hangs over the idea of transmission between generations.

Martine Lani-Bayle is a clinical psychologist and lecturer in educational studies at the University of Nantes.