M. McGoldrick & R. Gerson. (1988). "Genograms and the Family Life Cycle" in Changing Family Life Cycle. Ch. 8. 164-189.

Genograms and the Family Life Cycle

Monica McGoldrick, M.S.W.
Randy Gerson, Ph.D.

When evaluating a family's place in the life cycle, we have found genograms and family chronologies to be useful tools. They provide at a glance a three-generational picture of a family and its motion through the life cycle. This chapter explores how genograms can elucidate the family life cycle framework and how an understanding of the life cycle can aid in the interpretation of the genogram. We consider both the patterns that typically occur at various phases of the life cycle and the issues to be predicted when life cycle events are "off schedule." The family of Sigmund Freud is used to illustrate life cycle issues on a genogram.

The family life cycle is a complex phenomenon. It is a spiral of family evolution as generations move through time in their development from birth to death. One might compare this family process to music, in which the meaning of individual notes depends on their rhythms in conjunction with each other and with the memories of past melodies and the anticipation of those yet to come. Genograms are graphic pictures of the family history and pattern, showing the basic structure, family demographics, functioning, and relationships. They are a shorthand used to depict the family patterns at a glance. Table 8-1 shows the basic format for constructing a genogram according to the standardization described by McGoldrick and Gerson in 1985.


Since the life cycle is circular and repetitive. one can start at any point to tell the story of a family. With the Freud family we begin a few years before the birth of its most famous member, Sigmund, at the time of his parents' marriage. It should be remembered that much of what we suggest about the Freud family is speculative, since a great deal of information is missing from the historical record. The following is meant only to illustrate the use of the family life cycle in evaluating family patterns with genograms.

At the marriage or remarriage phase, the genogram shows the coming together of two separate families, indicating where each spouse is in his or her own family life cycle. In order to start a new family, both partners must come to terms with their families of origin. The genogram gives clues to the connectedness of the spouses to their own families, and their respective roles in these families. When one spouse competes with the other's family or when parents do not approve of their child's choice, in-law triangles may begin at this phase. The genogram also shows the previous relationships that may interfere with current marital bonding.

As can be seen on the genogram of the Freud family in 1855 (Figure 8-1), the marriage of Jacob Freud and Amalia Nathansohn had a number of atypical aspects. Jacob, who was 40, was marrying for the third time. Amalia was just 20. In fact, the new wife was even younger than one of Jacob's sons from his first marriage. These differences between the spouses would tend to complicate their transition into a new family.

We know that Jacob Freud and his first wife, Sally Kanner, had two sons, and two other children who did not survive, but little is known about Sally, and less about Jacob's second wife, Rebecca (Clark, 1980; Glicklhorn, 1969). We do not know what happened to either wife—whether the couple divorced or the wife died. The missing information evokes a curiosity about Jacob's first marriages and their implications for his third marriage, to Amalia. Jacob's first marriage took place when he was only 16, suggesting the possibility of an unexpected pregnancy (Anzieu, 1986). The second marriage is even more mysterious. This wife, Rebecca, was never mentioned by any family member and we only know of her existence from the public records. It appears that she married Jacob in about 1852, so Jacob's sons Emanuel and Philip would have been grown, and they would obviously have known her. Surely Amalia would at least have known of her existence, as they all lived in the same town; and yet, if anyone ever did mention her to Freud, he never told anyone. One wonders why. Was there something about her of which the family was ashamed? In any case Jacob and Amalia obviously began their new family in the shadow of Jacob's earlier marriages.

When examining the genogram, it is particularly important to note the ages of family members as they move through the life cycle. There is a normative timing for the transition to each of its phases. These norms are ever-changing, and have varied across cultures and throughout history, but they can serve as a starting point for understanding more about life cycle transitions in a family. For example, if children marry late or never leave home, this may speak to the difficulty of differentiating from their family With any newly married couple, it is important to note the spouses' positions within the life cycles of their respective families. Jacob was already a grandfather whereas Amalia, 20 years younger and a peer of his sons. was at the young adult phase. How did these two happen to marry'? We know that Jacob had no particular business prospects at that time (Swales, 1986), so we may wonder what led Amalia to agree to marry a man so much older, with grown sons and two previous marriages. It seems that Amalia's father had recently lost his fortune, which may explain the situation (Swales, 1986). In any case, Amalia was a vivacious young woman, one of the youngest in her family. Jacob, for his part, had experienced many ups and downs. Having done fairly well in his 30s as a traveling salesman with his maternal grandfather, he seemingly came to a standstill in midlife. One would predict, upon seeing these indications on a genogram, that differences in experience and expectation could lead to a problematic life cycle transition.

Our life cycle framework suggests that unresolved issues in earlier phases of the life cycle lead to more difficult transitions and complexities in later life cycle stages. Thus it is likely that with Jacob's previous marriages and mysterious past and the discrepancies in age and expectations, as well as their financial precariousness, Jacob and Amalia entered their marriage with many complex issues unresolved.

It is also useful to examine the genogram for predictable triangles and patterns at different life cycle stages. As discussed by McGoldrick and Carter in Chapter 17, remarried families are formed on an entirely different basis than first families, as they are built on the losses of the first family. They require an additional phase of the life cycle. There are at least two predictable triangles to search for in the genogram of a remarried family: (1) that involving the two new spouses and the previous spouse (or the memory of the previous spouse), and (2) that involving the two new spouses and the children of the previous marriage. We know nothing of Amalia's relationship with Jacob's previous wives, nor do we know details of her relationship with Emanuel and Philip. We do know that in Freud's fantasy, his mother and Philip were lovers, and that within three years of the marriage Jacob helped arrange for his sons to emigrate to England. Might he have done this partly to have his sons at a safe distance from his wife?


During the transition to parenthood and to becoming a family with young children, the parents must bear the heavy responsibility of child rearing while trying to maintain their own relationship. The genogram often reveals stressors that make this phase particularly difficult for the parents. By providing a quick map of the sibling constellation. the genogram may also reveal the particular circumstances surrounding the birth of a child and how those circumstances may contribute to the child's having a special position in that family. Finally. the genogram will show the typical mother-father-child triangles of this period.

As can be seen on the genogram of the Freud family for 1806 (Figure 8-2), Sigmund was born in 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia. He was the first of eight children so his birth marked the beginning of the life cycle transition of a second family with young children. Being born into a remarried family, he had two grown stepbrothers from his father's previous marriage. All of these particulars, seen on the genogram. suggest an important role for Sigmund as the first member of a new nuclear family.

It is the birth of the first child, more than the marriage itself, that most profoundly marks the transition to a new family. The previously married spouse begins to shift toward the new spouse and child. For the new spouse, the child tends to signify greater legitimization and power in relation to the partner's previous family. Sigmund definitely seemed to have a special place in his mother's heart. He had an extremely intense relationship with her (Nelken, in press) and she always referred to him as her "golden Sigi." By all accounts he was the center of the household. There is the proverbial family story that when his sister Anna wanted to play the piano, their mother bought one, but got rid of it immediately when Sigmund complained that the noise bothered him. His sisters did not have any further piano lessons. Sigmund's special position is further indicated by the fact that the family gave him the privilege of naming his younger brother, Alexander, born when Sigmund was ten. (Interestingly, in his own marriage he himself named every one of his six children, all for his male heroes or one of their family members!) The Freuds' cultural preference for sons further exalted Sigmund's position in his family.

It is also important in evaluating a life cycle transition to examine the stressors impinging on the family at the time. When one sees coincidental losses and traumatic events on the genogram, one should begin to explore their possible effect on the process of the life cycle.

From a systemic perspective, loss is viewed as a major transition that disrupts life cycle patterns of interaction, and so requires family reorganization and poses shared adaptational challenges. A family's sense of motion through the life cycle may become stuck or distorted after a loss, and genograms allow one to tract: the effect of losses over time.

As can be seen on the genogram for 1859 (Figure 8-3). there was much going on in the Freud family around the time of Sigmund's birth. Sigmund's specialness for his father may have been intensified by the fact that Jacob's own father died less than three months before Sigmund was born and Sigmund was named for him. This grandfather, Schlomo, was a rabbi, and perhaps Sigmund was raised to follow in his footsteps by becoming a teacher and intellectual leader. Sigmund's family role was obviously also influenced by his brilliance. Another factor accounting for his special role was probably that he was born at the high point in the family's hopes. Shortly afterward they had to migrate twice and Jacob suffered from various business failures. Sigmund's younger siblings, particularly Anna and Dolfi, may have borne the brunt of the negative effects of these changes on the family.

Equally important. it can be seen on the genogram that Sigmund's brother Julius, born when Sigmund was 17 months old, lived for only seven months.

The death of a sibling tends to intensify parental feelings about the surviving children. The child nearest in age, especially a child of the same sex, often becomes a replacement for the lost child. Thus Sigmund's closeness to his mother may have become even more important to her after the death of her second son. The loss of this infant would itself have been intensified by the fact that exactly one month before his death, Amalia's youngest brother, also named Julius, died at the age of 20 from pulmonary tuberculosis (Krull, 1986). Probably she knew that her brother was dying when she named her son for him seven months earlier. In later life Sigmund said that he had welcomed this brother with "ill wishes and real infantile jealousy, and his death left the germ of guilt in me" (cited in Krull, 1986).

The oldest sometimes resents the later born, feeling threatened or displaced by the new arrival. From a very early age. Sigmund may have seen Anna as an intrusion, and she may have resented his special position and privileges in the family. She was conceived the month before the death of the second child, Julius. Sigmund's sibling rivalry might have been compounded by family ambivalence about the first child born after a lost son. These feelings of rivalry can linger into adulthood. Sigmund's relationship with his sister Anna seems never to have been very close, and they were alienated as adults.

Another complicating factor in terms of the sibling constellation can be seen on the genogram. For the first three years of his life, Sigmund was raised almost as a younger brother to his nephew John, who was a year or so older than he. Sigmund has commented on the importance of this relationship: "Until the end of my third year we had been inseparable; we had loved each other and fought each other and . . . this childish relationship has determined all my later feelings in intercourse with persons my own age. My nephew, John, has since then had many incarnations, which have revived first one and then another aspect of character and is ineradicably fixed in my conscious memory. At times he must have treated me very badly and I must have opposed my tyrant courageously" (Jones, 1953, p. 8).

This beginning phase of a new family, of which Sigmund was the first, finally concluded with a splitting and emigration of the old family. We do not know the details of why the Freud family left Freiburg. It seems that Jacob and Amalia shared a nursemaid with Emanuel and his wife and the cousins played well together. The nursemaid was eventually dismissed from the household for stealing, and this was another loss for Sigmund. Perhaps there were tensions between Amalia and her stepsons Emanuel and Phillip, who reminded her of Jacob's earlier loyalties. As already mentioned, there is even a hint of a possible affair. In any case, when Sigmund was three, his stepbrothers and their families went to England to find their fortunes, and Jacob moved his family first to Leipzig, and then to Vienna, possibly because of economic reversals. Thus, within a period of a few years, Sigmund experienced a multitude of losses: his priority as the earliest born, the death of his brother, the dismissal of the nursemaid, the emigration of his stepbrothers and their children, and, finally, the uprooting of his own family.


Once the children reach adolescence, the task is to prepare the family for a qualitative change in the relationships between the generations. as the children are no longer so dependent on their parents. During this period triangles are likely to develop involving the adolescents, their peers, and their parents, or the adolescents, their parents, and their grandparents. The genogram often reveals the family boundaries and multigenerational patterns that are predictive of how easily the family will adjust to this phase.

Figure 8-4 shows the Freud family in 1873, the year Sigmund turned 17 and entered medical school. We have little specific information on family events at that time, but the genogram suggests a family with many burdens of child rearing, with seven children all still in the home. We may also wonder if the discrepancy in age between Jacob and Amalia would not be felt even more at this stage in the life cycle. Jacob, at 58, may have been feeling his age. Sigmund later described his father as rather grouchy and disappointed in the last part of his life. Jacob was particularly disappointed in his sons Emanuel and Philip. Sigmund later reported that he felt as though he had to make up for their absence. We also know that Jacob's brother was jailed for counterfeiting, an experience that Sigmund later said turned his father's hair gray. [It appears that Jacob was implicated in the scheme—or at least his sons were, which could account for their earlier move to England (Krull, 1986; Swales, 1986).] In contrast, Amalia, at 38, was still energetic, attractive, and youthful. We do not know whether these differences in age, energy level, and outlook led to tension or conflict between Jacob and Amalia, but, given her devotion to Sigmund and the demands of a large household, it is likely that her energies were more focused on her children than on her spouse.

It is during adolescence that children begin to have interests outside the family, both in school and with friends. Sigmund did very well in school. and was at the top of his gymnasium class for six of his eight years there (Prause, 1978). His success with his peers was less spectacular. The genogram will sometimes indicate important peers in a child's life and whether family boundaries easily include outsiders. We know of Sigmund having only one close friend at school, Eduard Silberstein, with whom he corresponded and formed a secret society. At 16 he had a crush on a friend's sister, Gisela Fluss, but never expressed his feelings to her. By all accounts he was a shy, intense, serious young man who focused more on his studies than on socializing. Perhaps he was responding to a mandate from his family: to excel in school and to succeed in life, and so justify his special position in his family.


The genogram also allows us to anticipate the developments of the next generation. if we look at the genogram of the Bernays family (Figure 8-5), we see that the early years, and particularly the adolescence and young adulthood of Martha, Sigmund's future wife, were turbulent and displayed certain parallels with the Freud family. Her older brother Isaac had had medical problems in childhood that required a great deal of medical attention and left him lame. As he was growing up, Isaac was reportedly a difficult child with destructive tendencies (Swales, 1986), and kept the household in an uproar. In addition, the three children following Isaac all died in early childhood. Finally came Eli, Martha, and Minna. Like the Freud family, the Bernays had to deal with the death of young children. When Martha was eight, her father was briefly jailed for fraud, undoubtedly bringing a sense of disgrace to the family. Like Sigmund (whose uncle and perhaps father and brothers were involved in counterfeiting), Martha grew up in an atmosphere of secrets and forebodings of potential ruin and disgrace. When Martha was 11, her older brother Isaac, then 17, died. And when she was 18, Martha's father died of a heart attack. The family was left in very poor financial circumstances. Like the Freud family, with Jacob's apparent continued unemployment in his later years, it is not clear how the Bernays survived. Eli, who took over the running of the family, eventually fled Vienna to avoid bankruptcy and the payment of debts owed to friends. One could speculate that the similarities in background and experience of Sigmund and Martha may have been part of their attraction for one another.

The phase of launching is the period when children leave home to be on their own. In the past this phase usually quickly blended into marriage, since children often did not leave home until they married. Now many go through a period of being a single adult. In our view this phase is the cornerstone of the modern family life cycle, and crucial for all the other phases that are to follow. The short-circuiting of this phase, or its prolongation, may affect all future life cycle transitions. The genogram often reveals the duration of the launching phase, as well as factors that may contribute to a delay of launching.

The information we have on the Freud family during the launching phase is quite scanty. As already mentioned, Sigmund held a favored, almost exalted, position in his family. Sometimes this can lead to difficulties in the launching phase, where a young adult is hesitant to leave such a favored position and the parents may be unwilling to let their special child go. In Sigmund's day children usually did not leave home as single young adults, but lived in their parents' household until they married and established a household of their own. This was also true of Sigmund, who lived with his parents until he was 30, when he married Martha Bernays.

One interesting fact from the perspective of the life cycle is how long it took Sigmund to complete his medical studies. He took seven years to get his degree, and did not practice for many years after that. This was unusual for students in those days, particularly those who were not independently wealthy. Perhaps he was hesitant to finish and move on to the next phase—supporting himself. Or perhaps he felt he was needed at home. In any case he did not seriously think about supporting himself until he wanted to marry Martha. When a delay in moving on to the next phase is indicated by the genogram, as in Freud's case with his prolonged time as a student and his lengthy engagement, one should explore the impediments to moving on in the life cycle.


Having gone through several transitions of the Freud family life cycle, we come to the next phase: the marriage of Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays. The marriage genogram will often provide valuable clues to the difficulties and issues involved in the joining together of two family traditions in a new family.

What is immediately apparent from the genogram (Figure 8-6) is the unusual double connection between the Freuds and Bernays in Sigmund's generation. Such unusual configurations often suggest complicated relationships between the two families, and the possible existence of triangles. The oldest son in each family married the oldest daughter of the other family. As mentioned earlier. Sigmund and his sister Anna never got along very well. Perhaps Sigmund felt the usual sibling rivalry of an oldest child with a younger sister. Whatever the reason, Sigmund seemed to resent the marriage of Anna to Eli Bernays, who had previously been a friend of his, and to whose sister he was himself engaged. Sigmund and Martha's engagement lasted for more than four years, from 1882 to 1886, during which time Sigmund was very anxious to marry, but could not do so because he lacked the money. Eli and Anna were married in 1883, and Sigmund apparently did not attend the wedding. In fact, he did not even mention the event in his letters to Martha, although he wrote to her almost daily, and shortly after that discussed the possibility of attending the wedding of one of her cousins, certainly a much less important family event. Perhaps Sigmund resented Anna's marriage because his own marriage seemed so far off. Sigmund's negative feelings toward his sister and brother-in-law seemed to intensify when the couple moved to New York and the less educated Eli became very wealthy while the highly educated Sigmund had to struggle for the money to support his family.

We know that before their marriage there were difficulties between Sigmund and Martha regarding their families. Both came from families with financial problems. and financial concerns stood in the way of their marrying for more than five years. In addition, Freud felt threatened by Martha's relationship to her family of origin and was demanding and possessive about her loyalty to him. During their long courtship, Sigmund wrote to Martha: "Are you already thinking of the day you are to leave, it is no more than a fortnight now, must not be more or else, yes, or else my egotism will rise up against Mama and Eli-Fritz and I will make such a din that everyone will hear and you understand, no matter how your filial feelings may rebel against it. From now on you are but a guest in your family . . . For has it not been laid down since time immemorial that the woman shall leave father and mother and follow the man she had chosen?" (letter in E. L. Freud, 1960, p. 23) Sigmund particularly resented his mother-in-law, who had moved her family, including Martha, from Vienna to Hamburg at the beginning of their engagement. Sigmund was overtly jealous of Martha's relationship with Eli, and even threatened to break off their engagement if she did not give up her loyalty to her brother. Nevertheless, throughout their marriage Martha did maintain contact with other members of her family and remained true to their faith, Orthodox Judaism, despite her husband's intellectual rejection of religion.


As can be seen on the Freud genogram for 1896 (Figure 8-7), Sigmund and Martha married and had six children within eight years. The early years of a family with young children are always an eventful time. Martha was busy raising their ever-increasing brood while Sigmund struggled to enlarge his medical practice and begin some of his most creative intellectual work. It can often be a difficult time for marriages, with the spouses' energies so focused on their children and work. When this phase is seen on the genogram, one should be alert to child-rearing issues and normative strains in the marriage.

It was during this life cycle phase that Sigmund experienced a major life crisis that led to his greatest intellectual discoveries, and his major formulation, and then recanting, of the seduction theory. It was also during these years that Sigmund showed symptoms of depression and "pseudo"-cardiac problems. He complained of lethargy, migraines, and various other somatic and emotional concerns. He was clearly in a great deal of distress. During this period he began his famous self-analysis, and constructed the edifice of a new theory, which led to the publication of possibly his most famous book, The Interpretation of Dreams.

A look at the genogram may elucidate why this was such a turbulent, but productive, time in Sigmund's life., In December 1895, Anna, their last child, was born. Martha was worn out by five pregnancies in nine years, had been surprised and unhappy to learn that she was pregnant again, and it seems that Sigmund and Martha decided not to have another child. Sex between the couple apparently began to diminish considerably at this point (Anzieu, 19861.

Often the last child has a special position in the family This was true of Anna, who was not named for Freud's sister, but for the daughter of his friend and beloved teacher, Samuel Hammerschlag. This young woman, Anna Hammerschlag Lichtheim, also was a friend of the Freuds (Krull, 1963). Throughout his life Sigmund and his daughter Anna were very close (She, rather than his wife, took care of him when he was ill.), and she alone among the children never married, devoted herself to her father, who even became her analyst for several years, and she alone chose to carry on his life work. The birth of the last child may be an important turning point in family life. It seems that Martha became very preoccupied with raising her six children and Sigmund, who was not very much involved with the children, moved closer intellectually and emotionally to his sister-in-law, Minna, whom he had described in May 1894, in a letter to Fleiss, as "otherwise my closest confidante" (Masson, 1985, p. 73).

Minna moved into the Freud household in early 1896. Fourteen years earlier she had been engaged to Sigmund's best friend, Ignaz Schonberg, who had broken off the relationship shortly before his death from tuberculosis. According to Jones (1955), Sigmund's view in that early period was that he and Minna were alike because they both were wild, passionate people who wanted their own way, whereas Ignaz and Martha were good-natured and adaptable.

Minna was never to marry. When other relatives appear as household members on a genogram, one should speculate about the possibility of triangles involving the spouses and the children. By all accounts Sigmund and Minna had an extremely close relationship. Minna's bedroom in the Freud household could be entered only through the master bedroom (Eissler, 1978). They took at least 12 vacations together (Swales, 1987), apparently because they both enjoyed traveling whereas Martha did not, at least not at Sigmund's pace (Freeman & Strean, 1981). Minna was much more interested in discussing Sigmund's ideas than was Martha. Recent research supports the suggestion that Sigmund may have had an affair with Minna that led to an abortion in 1901 (Swales, 1985). We know nothing about Martha's attitude toward her husband's relationship with her sister. [Interestingly, as can be seen on the Freud genogram for 1939 Figure 8.9, Sigmund's oldest son, Martin, repeated this pattern and had an affair with his wife's sister (Freud Lowenstein, 1984).]

Also in 1896, Sigmund's father died, a loss Sigmund said was the most significant and upsetting event in a man's life. He wrote, shortly after his father's death: "By one of those obscure paths behind official consciousness the death of the old man has affected me profoundly . . . His life had been over a long time before he died, but his death seems to have aroused in me memories of all the early days. I now feel quite uprooted." The death of a parent marks a critical point in the life cycle. In addition to the loss, it is a painful reminder of one's mortality and that the mantle of tradition and responsibility has been passed to the next generation. Now, Sigmund had his mother to support as well. It was around this time that Sigmund adopted Fliess as a father figure in his self-analysis.

One can view Sigmund's self-analysis as the culmination of a number of events in the family's and his own life cycle. He had just turned 40. He had had his last child. He was struggling to support a large family. His wife's sister had moved in for good. His father had died. Apparently the passion of his marriage had cooled. In modern-day terms, Sigmund was suffering a "midlife crisis." The crisis seemed to be resolved with the consolidation of his career: the publication of his book, his appointment as a professor, and his growing recognition as the father of a new theory.


During the phase of aging, the family must come to terms with the mortality of the older generation, while relationships must be shifted as each generation moves up a level in the developmental hierarchy and all relationships must be reordered. There are special problems for women who are more often the caretakers (Dolfi and Anna) and who tend to outlive their spouses (Amalia and Martha). Often the genogram will reveal which child was delegated to become the caretaker of the aging parents, as well as the likely struggles and triangles in which siblings become involved in managing these responsibilities. When the last parent dies, the relationships between siblings become independent for the first time. Sibling conflicts and cutoffs at this point usually reflect triangles with parents that have come down from much earlier life cycle phases, especially with regard to who was the favored sibling in childhood.

We can see on the genogram (Figure 8-7) that Sigmund's father died in 1896 at the age of 81, leaving Amalia to be cared for by her children for the next 35 years. Sigmund and his youngest brother, Alexander, took financial responsibility for their parents and sisters in later life, although it was the middle daughter, Dolfi, who remained at home, unmarried with their mother, who lived to be 95, Sigmund also lived a long time, to the age of 83 (Figure 8-8) and was cared for by his daughter Anna. Anna became her father's main follower and the inheritor of his mantle. Anna apparently was his primary caretaker through his 17 operations for jaw cancer, although Martha Freud was still alive (she lived until 1951). Her assuming this role meant, as it had previously for Sigmund's sister Dolfi in relation to their mother, that Anna never had her own family, since she was 44 at the time of her father's death, and he had been unwilling to function without her for so many years. Even after his death, Anna did not marry.

The genogram may be helpful in predicting or understanding the reactions of family members at different points in the life cycle. For example, Sigmund had a very strong reaction to the death of his three-year-old grandson in 1923, shortly after he himself was diagnosed with cancer (Figure 8-9): "He was indeed an enchanting little fellow, and I myself was aware of never having loved a human being, certainly never a child, so much . . . I find this loss very hard to bear. I don't think I have ever experienced such grief, perhaps my own sickness contributes to the shock. I worked out of sheer necessity; fundamentally everything has lost its meaning for me" (6/11/23). A month later he wrote that he was suffering from the first depression in his life (Jones, 1955, p. 92). And three years later he wrote, to his son-in-law, that since this child's death he had not been able to enjoy life: "I have spent some of the blackest days of my life in sorrowing about the child. At last have taken hold of myself and can think of him quietly and talk of him without tears. But the comforts of reason have done nothing to help; the only consolation for me is that at my age I would not have seen much of him."

Sigmund's words suggest he was having to come to terms with his own mortality. This would be particularly difficult since his daughter Sophie (the child's mother) had died three years earlier at the age of 27, and also because that his grandson's death was so untimely in the life cycle.

Contrast this grandson's death with Sigmund's reaction to the death of his own mother seven years later in 1930: "I will not disguise the fact that my reaction to this event has because of special circumstances been a curious one. Assuredly, there is no saying what effects such an experience may produce in deeper layers, but on the surface I can detect only two things: an increase in personal freedom, since it was always a terrifying thought that she might come to hear of my death; and secondly the satisfaction that at least she has achieved the deliverance for which she had earned a right after such a long life. No grief otherwise, such as my ten years younger brother is painfully experiencing. I was not at the funeral; again Anna represented me as at Frankfurt. Her value to me can hardly be heightened. This event has affected me in a curious manner . . . No pain, no grief, which is probably to be explained by the circumstances, the great age and the end of the pity we had felt at her helplessness. With that a feeling of liberation, of release, which I think I can understand. I was not allowed to die as long as she was alive, and now I may. Somehow the values of life have notably changed in the deeper layers." (Quoted in Jones, 1955, p. 152)

In this case Sigmund at 74, more reconciled with his own eventual death, is relieved that the sequential order of the life cycle will be honored: first the parents die, and then the children. The untimely or traumatic loss of a family member typically is extremely difficult for families to mourn, and therapists are urged to be alert to dysfunctional patterns that develop in response to such losses (Chapter 19: McGoldrick & Walsh, 1983; Walsh & McGoldrick, 1988).


The genogram can be used to map the family at each phase of the family life cycle. Different configurations on the genogram suggest possible triangles and issues that can be explored for each phase. The genogram is only a schematic map of a family. Gathering the necessary information must be part of an extensive clinical interview and the genogram is a summary graphic of the data collected. Much information, of course, must be omitted to make a genogram comprehensible. Despite these limitations we believe that the genogram with an accompanying family chronology (McGoldrick & Gerson, 1985; Gerson & McGoldrick, 1986) is the best tool yet devised for tracking the family life cycle. Table 8-2 presents a sample chronology of the Freud family that covers various events in the family history, some of which could be clearly shown on the genogram, and some of which, as can be seen, would get lost there.


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McGoldrick, M., & Walsh, F. (1983). A systemic view of family history and loss. In M. Aronson (Ed.), Group and family therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Nelken, M. (In press). Freud's heroic struggle with his mother. Manuscript in preparation.

Prause, G. (1978). School days of the famous. New York: Springer.

Swales, P (1987). "What Freud Didn't Say:" UMDNJ-RWJ Medical School. May 15.

Swales, P. (1985). Freud, Minna Bernays, and the conquest of Rome: New light on the origins of psychoanalysis. The New American Review 1, 2/3:1-23.

Swales P. (1986). Freud, his origins and family history. UMDNJ-RWJ Medical School. November 15.

Walsh, F., & McGoldrick, M. (in press). Loss and the family cycle. In C. Galicor (Ed.), Family transitions: Continuity and change over the life cycle. New York: Guilford Press.



Table 8.2.

Chronology for the Freud Family


Sigmund's nephew John is born


(July 29) Jacob and Amalia are married.


(February 21) Schlomo Freud, Jacob's father, dies (Jacob is 40).


(May 5) Sigmund is born in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czechoslovakia).


(October) Sigmund’s brother Julius is born.


(March) Julius Nathansohn, Amalie's 20-year-old brother, dies of tuberculosis.


(April 15) Julius dies.


Fleiss is born. [Schur (1972) says Freud identified him with Julius.]


(December) Sigmund's sister Anna is born.


Sigmund's nursemaid leaves—arrested for theft, reported by Sigmund's half-brother Philip (during Amalia's confinement with Anna)


Emmanuel and Philip emigrate with their families, including Sigmund's nephew, to whom he is very attached.


Freud family moves from Freiberg to Leipzig (?) because of economic reversals.


Family settles in Vienna.


(March) Sigmund's sister Rosa is born.


(March) Sigmund's sister Marie (Mitzi) is born..


(July) Sigmund's sister Dolfi is born.


(May) Sigmund's sister Paula is born.


(April) Sigmund's brother Alexander, named by Sigmund, is born.


Sigmund enters the gymnasium.


Sigmund enters medical school.



(June 17) Sigmund and Martha become engaged.


Minna becomes engaged to Ignaz Schonberg, close friend of Sigmund.


(June 14) Martha's mother moves with her daughters to Wandsbek.


(September) Sigmund's friend Nathan Weiss commits suicide.


(October) Eli Bernays and Sigmund's sister Anna are married. Sigmund does not attend, or even mention the wedding in letters to Martha (at least not in published correspondence—although apparently only a small part has been published).


(July 18) Sigmund publishes cocaine paper.


Jacob Freud has business problems.


(April) Sigmund destroys all of his papers.


(June) Schonberg breaks his engagement to Minna.


(February) Schonberg dies of tuberculosis, diagnosed in 1883.


Paper on male hysteria.


(September 14) Sigmund and Marsha are married, enabled by a gift of money from Martha's aunt.


(October) Mathilda, Sigmund and Martha's first child, is born (named for colleague Breuer's wife).


(December) Martin, the second child, is born (named for French hypnotist Jean Martin Charcot).


(February) Oliver, the third child, is born (named for Freud's hero, Oliver Cromwell).


(April) Ernst, the fourth child, is born (named for Freud's teacher, Ernst Brucke).


Eli Bernays goes to America.


Eli returns to take his family to the United Stales with him. (? Two daughters, Lucy and Hella, stay with Freud's family for a year.) Sigmund gives Eli some money for the trip.


(April) Sophie, the fifth child, is born (named for the niece of Freud's teacher Samuel Hammerschlag).


(Fall) Cardiac symptoms—Sigmund is told to give up smoking. Breuer is his doctor but he seeks advice also from Fleiss. (Fleiss' wife later becomes jealous of his relationship with Freud.)


Sigmund writes of having heart problems, trying to give up smoking, depression and fatigue, and financial problems


(January) Fleiss operates on Sigmund s nose. [Fleiss is apparently treating Freud for a pseudocardiac condition (Mannoni, 1974).] Freud is still using cocaine.


(February) Emma Eckstein episode begins,


(March) Anna is conceived. Sigmund and Martha decide this will be their last child


(May-June) Sigmund begins self-analysis.


(July 24) Sigmund has Irma dream.


(August) Sigmund goes to Italy with brother Alexander.


(November) Minna comes to stay with the Freud family.


(December) Anna, the sixth and last child, is born [named for Freud's teacher Samuel Hammerschlag's daughter, a young widow and patient of Freud's, who may have been "Irma" in the Irma dream (Anzieu, 1986)].


(April) Sigmund writes of migraines, nasal secretions, fears of dying.


(May) Sigmund writes of the medical community isolating him.


(October 23) Jacob Freud dies. (Sigmund is 40 at the time. His wife apparently is away for a few days and does not return for the funeral. The father had been very ill for a month or so.)


(November) Freud family moves to new apartment in same building.


(January) Sigmund is passed over for university promotion.


(March) Mathilda has very bad case of diphtheria.


(May) Sigmund again is passed over for promotion—becomes anxious.


(May) Sigmund has incestuous dream about daughter Mathilda.


(July) Sigmund arranges for father's gravestone.


(August) He writes of self-analysis.


(October 15) Freud develops idea of Oedipus complex.


Interpretation of Dreams


End of Sigmund's self-analysis.


(March 5) He becomes professor extraordinary.


Martha has bad case of pneumonia, goes to sanitarium.


Sigmund and Minna go to a spa for a "cure."


Daughter Sophie contracts pneumonia and dies.


(May) Sigmund goes to friend Felix Deutsch for diagnosis of his cancer and first operation.


(June 19) Favorite grandson dies of tuberculosis. Sigmund weeps for first time. He never gets over this loss, which follows so shortly on his own illness.


(October 4) He has a second operation.


(October 11) Sigmund undergoes a third operation. (Over next 16 years, he will have 30 more operations.)


Eli dies in New York. Sigmund writes bitterly about his money and suggests that maybe now his sister Anna will do something for her four indigent sisters.