Transgenerational trauma – The film Ces liens invisibles
The psychology of family secrets
This past weekend I attended a film projection and debate on the psychology of family secrets, in the presence of the filmmaker, Marine Billet and a transgenerational therapist who had been invited to accompany her in the debate following the screening.
Marine Billet develops the idea for the documentary when, as a filmmaker, she accompanied a man seeking to understand the role a heroic family member had played during the second world war; he was horrified to discover that instead the lauded family member was a collaborator. The man wanted to go no further with the film project, but Billet had by then encountered several individuals having discovered their family secrets, and the idea for Ces Liens Invisibles was developed.
The documentary follows three individuals facing inexplicable blocks as they try to live their lives; they each suspect that they are carrying psychological weight of a family secret that has been passed down to them. As the film follows each quest, we discover how crucial it is to assume one’s right place in one’s family to be able to then take one’s own destiny in hand.
A young wife unable to become pregnant discovers her grandmother was raped and had to bear a child; a young, perpetual student discovers her dark skin and hair was inherited from her grandmother’s love affair with an Afro American soldier; a new father unable to connect to his baby son learns his own father committed suicide three months before he was born. In each case the revelation of the secret withheld from the protagonist makes it possible for them to accept who they really are and to move forward with living their lives – yet not without a great deal of pain and work.
The phenomenon of transgenerational trauma
The phenomenon of transgenerational trauma was first identified in the 1960s when Canadian clinicians observed that 300% more of referrals to a child psychiatry clinic were the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors as compared to the general population.
Today we know that it can be large-group, as in the case of ethnic, national or religious identity, or it can be highly individual, as in the case of the protagonists in Billet’s film; the unresolved grief or trauma of earlier generations can be passed down to the next along with the symptoms including depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, anger, self-destructive behavior, low self-esteem, or substance abuse.
The nature of the debate concerned especially family secrets affecting individuals, which generally commence with one generation, impact the second, and then affect the third, which is the generation seeking to reveal and resolve the secret. The secrets most generally concern human sexuality, one’s own origins, money or tragedies concerning death.
Billet has been holding screenings of her film in small cinemas throughout France since its release in 2015, preferring to build a real following for her work rather than a short-lived national cinema promotion. Her next project is a documentary on the nature of love and its ability to cure the world’s ills.
Gardner, Fiona (1999-12-01). “Transgenerational processes and the trauma of sexual abuse”. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling. 2 (3): 297–308.