Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Religion & Culture | Generational curse - Sickness, death and secret traumas can plague families for decades

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby

"... I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." (Exodus 20: 5)

The notion that sins can be passed down through the bloodline has been challenged on religious and scientific grounds.

Let's, however, explore this teaching using a different metric. We can safely argue that dysfunctional traits in families are psycho-emotional in nature and are traceable to an original source. These dysfunctions are imbued with energy over time taking on an archetypal reality.

We can also advance that the most destructive of all emotions is guilt, an emotion that is foundational to parent-child relations, religious authority, and social mores.

Guilt consumes and destroys both mind and body. It is psychic energy turned inward, a veritable sin against self.

The following excerpt from the article, 'Emotions and Your Body' by Lori D'Ascenzo sheds light on the physiological impact of negative emotions such as guilt and anger:

"Powerful emotions ... shock your body like an electrical charge, causing lesions along your neural pathways. This disrupts your body's natural energy flow."

It goes on to cite the work of Dr David Suzuki, who stated that "Condensed molecules from breath exhaled from verbal expressions of anger, hatred, and jealousy, contain toxins. Accumulated over one hour, these toxins are enough to kill 80 guinea pigs. Anger damages the liver and gall bladder. Anger towards another person is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die!"

It concluded by cautioning that emotions should be expressed.

"The very nature of energy is movement. When you repress or control your feelings, their energy can't flow outward properly and dissipate naturally. You may think you have controlled how you felt, but the energy of it is still at work in your body

"Suppressing emotions uses up a lot of energy which robs your body of energy that should be used for vital functions. Negative emotions tax your spleen, liver and adrenal glands and use up nutrients the body needs to sustain itself. The result is fatigue, autoimmune disorders, and lowered vitality." (

Secret traumas can plague a family for generations. These are guarded, unaddressed secrets that linger in the family unconscious, sometimes surfacing to wreak havoc on the most vulnerable members.

These phantoms, as they are called in psychological terms, are oftentimes rooted in guilt, fear, and self-hatred. While we immediately think of physical abuse, incest, and rape when we explore secret family traumas, far less dramatic inner conflicts can also cause inordinate psychological harm leading to ailments, diseases, and even death.


Classical example


The following case was examined by a seasoned psychoanalyst who concluded that it offered a classical example of the argument here presented.

Names are withheld to safeguard the privacy of the family.

Notably, the three siblings of this family that passed away, eerily in the same year, were all in their early 50s. A close study revealed that each harboured unresolved family issues throughout their relatively short lifespan.

One son, deemed combative and rebellious, rejected parental authority and was sent to another country to live with his aunt.

Within a few years, he recognised his intransigence but remained stoic, refusing to apologise for his indiscretions. When his parents died, he was suddenly plagued by guilt as evident in his musical compositions and poetic writings. When his demise was imminent, he wrote letters to his deceased parents requesting his wife to travel overseas to read them at their graves as he was no longer able to travel.

His brother attended a prestigious Catholic school but was vilified by priests and students for having been born out of wedlock. (We must look at the era when conservatism was rife and an unbending moral code shadowed just about everyone).

He withdrew, was aloof, and refused to trust those around him. This pattern was evident in his adult life as he rarely, if ever, revealed his pain. His inner feelings were shelved, never seeing the light of day even when circumstances such as a life-threatening health concern begged for openness.

At the same time, their sister was involved in several failed relationships and also gave birth out of wedlock. She lamented her station in life, silently grieving over failed opportunities.

While this family culture may not appear exceedingly damaging, especially by today's standards, it took a deadly toll on the lives of these three family members.

According to psychoanalytic theory, the will to live is determined by an inner resource called the libido. This resource can be depleted, worn, and rendered empty from unhealthy emotions and unresolved mental and emotional perturbations, such as shame and guilt.

This is where the death instinct emerges. The will to fight, to live, is subsumed by persistently dark emotions.

This about-face leads to a host of physiological, physical and mental problems. The phantom, the family archetype (a Jungian concept) or, what some religionists call a generational curse, is an energy-laden phenomenon that consciously and unconsciously affects entire families.




Interestingly, this phenomenon is likened to the child who is convinced that there is monster under the bed. It is very real and powerful if he gives credence to it.

The siblings in question were guilt-stricken, victims of cultural precepts and a damaged self-image. Their internal hell consumed them in the process.

Unfortunately, some cultures still baulk at accepting therapy as an essential tool in promoting a healthy mind. Ministers, priests, relatives and friends are not trained to ably address hidden psycho-emotional problems.

The trained therapist, on the other hand, can facilitate healing by helping victims identify the origins of emotional and psychic discomfort. Over time, the therapist-client relationship can bring closure to dark experiences that plague entire families.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His audiobook, Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity, is available at Amazon and Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby