Create a genogram and learn more about yourself

Reading time 8 minutes
Create a genogram and learn more about yourself

Where do your ancestors come from, what were they like and how did they relate to each other? Exploring the family tree is an exciting thing. But even more exciting is creating a genogram. This expanded form of the family tree is full of additional interesting information about your family. It can tell you about your own personality or even possible medical conditions, among other things.

What is a genogram?

With a genogram, you graphically represent the relationships and structures in your family over as many generations as you like. Unlike the normal family tree, the genogram does not work with pictures, but with symbols.

Each symbol represents a gender and also indicates whether the person is already deceased. But we'll take a closer look at that later. Let's first take a closer look at the genogram's history to better understand what we are actually dealing with here.

A historical insight into the history of the genogram

The US-American psychotherapist Murray Bowen (1913-1933) was the first to put a genogram on paper. He is one of the founders of the so-called Systematic Therapy and it was exactly this subject area that moved him to establish this extended form of the family tree. Systematic therapy deals with the question to what extent mental disorders can be traced back to the interaction between members in the social environment of the person concerned - i.e. also within the family. With the genogram, Bowen created the perfect basis for getting to the bottom of this question.

The Hungarian psychiatrist Ivan Boszorményi-Nagy (1920-2007) expanded on this and introduced the multigenerational perspective - a particularly important point in his eyes. Why was this so important to him? Because he assumed that emotional debts arise within the family that persist over generations and have to be "paid back" again and again. They become apparent in the multigenerational genogram.

Ultimately, however, it was family therapists Randy Gerson and Monica McGoldrick who, following Bowen's idea, developed the genogram we know today. Although Bowen laid the groundwork in the early 20th century, the extended family tree did not find its way into family therapy until the 1990s.

Create genogram

Why you should definitely create a genogram

We've actually already answered this question in a nutshell. A genogram is a great tool to find out more about yourself and your ancestors. It is especially useful from a psychological point of view, because it allows you to identify genetic characteristics. It also reveals problems within or between certain generations that affect your own patterns of thought and behavior.

A closer look at your family structure will help you to theorize where certain problems may have come from and give you important clues as to where you can start to resolve them. The relationship system in which you live is crucial to your mental well-being. Many people are completely unaware of this and only look for the causes of problems within themselves - a big mistake that can lead to the Problem solution only unnecessarily hindered.

A genogram and all the information it provides will help you better understand your own personality and help you gain self-knowledge. Thus they form the perfect basis for a Coaching. In order to be able to develop yourself further, you must first know where you stand and how you got there: this is exactly what a genogram can show you.

What is a genogram good for?

Understanding your own personality better and working on your personal development - this is one of the most important reasons why it is worthwhile to create a genogram. The more generations you record in it, the easier it will be for you to trace certain patterns and put them into a larger context. You may find that certain behaviors have been repeated throughout the generations and apply to you as well.

There may be certain issues that never come up and you finally learn why. You may also be able to better understand certain decisions that one of your ancestors made. At the same time, you realize and recognize what influence they have had on your own life and your personality development so far. Connections will finally become transparent and you will be able to push your further development in a targeted way. Where is there still room for improvement? Where are the limits perhaps already reached and which Fears could slow you down on your way?

All these and countless other questions can be answered by a well-designed genogram.

By the way: Another possibility to find out more about your personality is our Personality Test. It gives you information about which character traits make you who you are. You can then search your genogram specifically for them and find family connections even more easily.

Find out which
Personality type YOU are
Only 3 minutes
Scientifically proven

How do you create a genogram?

Now it's time for the nitty-gritty. How exactly do you put a genogram on paper? We'll take a look at that in the following.

Step 1: Who should appear in the genogram?

The first question you should ask yourself is who you want to include in it. One thing is clear: your own family of origin is important. You can safely leave out your partner's family. Unless this family plays a very important role in your life and actually has a big influence on you and your decisions. As a rule, they are part of the genogram:

  • Siblings
  • Parents and their siblings
  • possible stepparents
  • Grandparents and their siblings
  • Life Partner

Expand this group of people to include all family members and their partners with whom you have more than sporadic contact. You can also go beyond the generation of your grandparents in order to recognize even clearer patterns. Miscarriages and stillbirths of family members are also entered in the genogram, because such drastic experiences do not leave the psyche untouched.

Step 2: Gather information

A genogram is not simply created in five minutes. After all, it should contain as much information as possible that will give you insight into yourself. But where is the best place to get this information? First of all, start with general information such as dates of life, places of birth, later places of residence and, if applicable, places of death, as well as professions. Then deal with the character traits and first consider how you yourself assess each individual person.

Make separate notes on each one so that you don't lose track of them later. Then compare your assessments with those of other family members. Do they see things the same way you do? Do certain people perhaps behave differently with each family member?

Then go in search of causes for these traits and do some digging into history. What have they experienced? Were there special successes, hard strokes of fate, great losses, or perhaps there are even things that no one wants to talk about? All of this becomes part of your notes.

These questions will help you find information

Here we have compiled an overview of possible questions that are interesting for your genogram:

  1. What is the marital status of each person? (single, in a relationship, married, divorced)
  2. How many life partners were there?
  3. Who is separated or divorced and how often?
  4. Does anyone live in a patchwork family?
  5. Who has how many biological, adopted or foster children?
  6. Did someone suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth, abort a child, or place a child in a home or foster home?
  7. Who practices or practiced which profession?
  8. Are there people who are not family but are still very important?
  9. Is there no contact between certain family members and if so, why?
  10. What about family cohesion?
  11. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the family?
  12. What about illnesses, mental health problems and addictions, e.g. to medication, alcohol or drugs?
  13. Did anyone run afoul of the law and if so, why?
  14. Is flight from the homeland, expulsion or voluntary emigration part of the family history?
  15. Were there any formative events in the war on the part of the older generations, such as dispossession or imprisonment?

You don't have to work through all these questions like in a textbook. They are only meant to help you find the right direction and gather interesting information.

Step 3: The graphical representation

You have now collected all the data you need. Now it's time to put it into genogram form. It is best to start with yourself as the starting point. Then add your own generation, i.e. your siblings, in a horizontal line. In the level above you find your parents and their siblings, in the level above your grandparents and so on.

The oldest sibling is always on the far left, the youngest on the far right. In pairs of parents, the man is always on the left and the woman on the right. You use symbols to represent them. A square stands for a male person, a circle for a female. If you could not find out the gender of a family member, you use a triangle.

You also mark yourself with a dot in the middle. Persons who have already died and stillbirths are marked with an additional cross. If a child was aborted, only a cross is placed, in the case of a miscarriage a black circle. Adopted and foster children are represented by placing an A or a P in the square or circle.

show relationships

You represent the connections between the individual persons with lines. A solid line stands for marriage, a dashed line for a stable partnership. You also connect divorced couples with a solid line, but put two slashes in the middle.

You also set a solid line for conflicts and add a lightning bolt in the middle. If the relationship has ended, the line is broken in the middle. You mark parent-child relationships with a vertical solid line. In the case of twins, they lead diagonally upwards to the connecting line of the parents and meet there. They form an inverted V, so to speak.

An example of a very simple genogram

A very simple genogram consists of three lines. At the bottom you are connected with your siblings by horizontal lines. In the line above are your parents.

The two are connected by a solid or dashed horizontal line. From your symbol and that of your siblings, a vertical line leads upwards, which meets the connecting line of your parents at a right angle.

Step 4: Personal information

The basic framework is now in place and all the information you have collected is waiting to be entered. If there is a lot to write down for some people, you should already consider this in step 3 and leave enough space between the individual symbols. Otherwise it will quickly become confusing.

It starts with names, dates of life and places of birth, residence and death. This is followed by the nationality - if it differs - and the profession. After that you add conspicuous character traits and special talents. Radical experiences, illnesses and other special features find their place in the genogram at the very end.

How to evaluate your genogram

How to evaluate your genogram

Of course, creating the genogram is not the end of the story. You will only gain valuable insights with the evaluation. You have certainly already experienced the first "aha" moments, but now you can dive even deeper into the matter. You have gained a wonderful overview of all relevant data and events in your family and can now easily recognize patterns. Where are life plans similar, who has perhaps suffered the same strokes of fate and with whom do you see similarities to yourself?

It is important that you do not jump to conclusions in the evaluation. Go through the analysis step by step and also consider how character traits and experiences are connected with each other. Are certain crises perhaps due to poor interpersonal relationships within the family?

Was it perhaps a particular trait that led a family member down a particular path? Keep asking yourself where you see parallels to yourself and what you can learn from the lives of your loved ones. What could you take as a model and what could you perhaps do better?


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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