Transmission Between Generations: Discovering a Secret, or Keeping a Discovery Secret


Barbara Massimilla
Rome, Italy
Associazione Italiana per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

The concept of psychic inheritance reflects a reality of a frontier line that may disrupt or provide an order and meaning for exchanges between generations. As regards theoretical and clinical levels, it is opportune to look at transmission between generations uniting Jungian research to that as carried out by neo-Freudian authors.

In himself, man has a fundamental plot which is made up of both his own individual nature and his sense of belonging to a group. It is important not to forget this when addressing psychic inheritance.

The held hypothesis is that in psychosis, a deep inter-relationship between psychic content that is expressed by a patient’s illness, and non-worked through traumatic content, appears in a very evident way. These come from previous generations and are imprinted into the unconscious of some family members. Mind-hidden objects/secrets cut through both age and generations and move around unknowingly in the pre-conscious areas, they are moved by a gearing (Racamier, p. 95) which is a process that is stronger than projective identification, “through which a psychic content moves directly from one psyche to another but is protected from any individual or group work- ing-through.” J. C. Rouchy extends transmission to a psychic-body register, this could be incorporation “of one body into another, on the edges of reality and imagination, and it follows a transfusion mode of transmission (R. Kaes, p. 93). In the analyst, trans-generational listening has its own privileged position in the treatment of psychosis. Our knowledge is ready to incorporate the application of a clinical model that is based on a cross between individual and family. We can build an “interactive, transpersonal or inter-psychic topic that is at work in a lightweight form in a mother/child relationship and in its most exaggerated forms in pathological, family interaction” (Racamier, p. 97).

One central point to keep in mind concerns the quality of the analyst’s listening and the type of mental functioning that is triggered in him during a session with a psychotic patient.

Wider horizons during psychosis therapy are the effects of psychoanalytical thought that incorporate the presence of undifferentiated areas, fluctuations and oscillations in the analyst’s mind that is continually looking for a sense. The analyst must resort to archaic forms of his own thought in order to tune in to the patient. When dealing with raving, it is necessary to use a “listening mourning” and deliberately introduce a function of something that is not recognisable. We are not dealing with lost thoughts that need to be found but with a loss of that which is necessary in order to lose thoughts. In the psychotic patient, it is the apparatus that metabolises thoughts and is then mutilated, both the psychotic and non-psychotic parts are separate from a non- compact, multi-holed frontier. This produces anarchic ways of uniting primary and secondary processes. The analyst must be able to shift from one register to another, “it is as if the analyst had to read a card that he cannot lay down, in which he has to move from one turn over to another, finding them again but without ever seeing the two faces with one glance, without real ‘correspondence, ’ without being sure that the run is always the same. The analyst continually finds himself in a position that we could call the “folding zone of his listening” (Green, p. 73). For a theory to work, says Green, it has to consider the missing part, if it ignores this part then it arrives at psychosis, paranoia.

The analyst’s mind that feeds upon sense, must bear castration of his own theory in psychosis therapy and must be able to accept facing up to the unknown. The reconstruction of the sense is the work of both elements in the analytical couple, but primarily, the analyst must invest in the analytical process so that the patient can “take in the unknown research into himself.” Such libidinal movement is present in the analyst before it becomes present in the patient (S. de Mijolla, p. 98), but the analyst must also sound out the willingness of the patient to think about traumatic content. Truth and knowledge may free certain desires that may have been gagged up to this moment or they may reinforce the desire/non-desire that leads to the letting go of searching” (P. Aulagnier, p. 84).

If, through treatment, origins may be reconstructed and access to time reactivated, then the patient’s present will be removed from his past. The blanks in his memory will leave the past to the history of his life, and even that part of the forgotten truth that was buried in raving invention will take on a new value in the analyst’s reconstruction work. In respect to resistance, there is analyst’s effort in confronting the expulsion mechanism which patients turn to in order to bypass thoughts and images that they themselves cannot bare emotionally. The complexity of a clinical model of therapy for psychosis requires theoretical strength in order to overcome the barriers of the analyst’s own analytical culture in order to build up a common field of research where it is necessary “to have to think in chaos rather than in silence” (M. Sassolas, 2001). The analyst’s identity is constantly under review along a boundary line where his own theory of belonging can keep itself open in an osmosis like way to the meeting with different ways of regarding the psyche.

“Constant transformation of various visions of the world and known models, today makes us more aware than in the past, that the different psychological theories represent concurrent ways of reaching unknown and unrepresentable levels of the psyche, and in that, one may justify the necessity for a reciprocal mirroring between different theoretical models” (C. Gullotta, 2001).

In group therapy of psychotic and schizo-affective patients over many years, I have been able to observe the value that psychic inheritance occupies in relationship to the topic of mourning and secrets. The presence of mourning that has not been worked through and secret indescribable areas that are analysed through the double window of both family and individual therapy, have led me to value the incidence that these realities have in the development of the psychism of both the patient and of the family group.

Clinical Model of Integrated and Topical Trans-gernerational Therapy

This method of therapy applied to psychosis requires a common work and a group prospective. The integration between psychoanalysis and psychopharmacology is becoming more and more consolidated, however, it is more complex to give weight to meta-psychology of an intrapsychic dynamic that is at work in the complete circumnavigation of an integral therapy, including that of treatment of parents or family members.

From the study of patients and families and from specific listening to trans-generational problems, I have been able to extract a reference framework that presents some constants. There are some similar elements regarding mourning in the stories of these patients that showed themselves in the form of suicide of a relative or of a death that occurred in the past but the mourning was never worked through. The loss could also be present as a disappearance, burial, imprisonment or abortion. The traces of the disappeared object disappear, one does not speak about them any more whilst that which is transmitted is the non-mourning for the loss and as a consequence there is a serious emptiness of representation.

Another factor seen in this sample of patients is the secret that takes on some different shape and meaning, it is known by only a few people, concealed from others or it is a secret that is known by everyone but made invisible because it is denied by each family member. I will talk about the connected ways and the psychic contents of major importance that have been observed:

  • The existence of strong asymmetry in the parent couple. The mythical fragment that regards the mother and child hints at the intertwining of a reciprocal narcissistic seductive affair from which the father is apparently excluded. This union with the mother has a self-generative valence, the children, who are “disincarnated” (Enriquez, p. 95) are encompassed in the mother, lose the sense of time and their growth and development is frozen. For the patient during the therapy, this union with the mother tinges itself with weakness and danger especially in the phases of the illness becoming acute once again. The relationship with the mother progressively takes on the double meaning of leaning on and confusion. -The father figure from the double observed position – individual and family – is perceived by the patient as the holder of absolute power, is sly, is sadistic and persecutory as regards the mother/patient couple. In the course of analysis, a gradual absorption of the persecutory elements regarding the father is present.
  • During the acute crises that occurred in analysis, unconscious terror of creating a homosexual couple with the parent of the same sex is visible, it is expressed through delirious inventions. The homosexual element is influenced by the incestual matrix that dominates in these types of families, in which one cannot escape from a kind of psychic infection. This impossibility of detaching and distinguishing oneself from the other is also the effect of not being able to free oneself from that mix of non-representable mourning that was poured out onto the patient by the parent who had not worked through the loss. I have hypothesised that in this theme of homosexuality, a patient’s unconscious fantasy may begin to grow, that of incorporating the other sex parent in order to reunite with the same sex parent and in so doing, reconstruct an idealised married couple. Its disappearance would be replaced by the restoration of the parental couple. Such a condition moves unconsciously in which the patient loses their subjectivity and is wedged between the problems of the parental couple. The condition takes on strong persecutory overtones, when, during the delirious phase, the homosexuality content becomes obsessive in the patient’s thoughts and fantasies. (H. Fainberg describes alienating unconscious identification as being subjected to the regime of narcissistic regulation, a patient will be chained to the internal parents in a silent and repetitive manner and will form concrete links with each parent of the narcissistic couple.)

Finally, as regards the ejective dynamic and psychic transport, all the examined cases showed both parents as being ejective. One parent is evidently more so than the other because it is he or she who has been struck directly by a loss, but the other parent is also an ejector of an originary loss that has not been worked through. We are referring to Racamier’s “originary loss,” that is, originary losses that goes back to unconscious refusal to be distinguished from the other to be able to achieve one’s own subjectivity.

Psychic Inheritance: Research into Psychosis

Jung’s work highlights the concept of psychic inheritance in its many parts, we will only look at some of these briefly as follows:

  • The significance that the transmission of the parental link and the formation of the psychological relationship between the partners takes on;
  • The nature and the influence of the parental image upon the descendants and its destiny in transference;
  • The concept of shadow that is linked to both undifferentiated areas of the mind and to the traumatised ones that the conscience of many individuals hasn’t been able to work through in the chain of transmission.

I think I found a point of convergence between what Jung states about psychic inheritance and about the archetype concept as an amplifier and tendency to inherit and that which trans-generational literature authors when they speak about the teleological transmission vehicle and the autonomy of this transmission apparatus. For example, Jung values the “inheritance tendency” and not the repressed content. “Names count for little, what does count is the relatedness” (Jung, Op., Vol 8, p. 4). This statement of Jung’s, today, could be completed by the double observation in the light of this trans-generational argument. The first, in regard to an interactive topic that considers points of convergence in the individual personal unconscious and the predecessors’ personal unconscious, we should say, as Jung wrote in other parts of his work, that the relatedness doesn’t only count in itself but also together with names, experiences and personal histories. The second regards the relatives’ image and its twin pronged nature that on one hand is made up of the image of one’s own parents, “on the other, of the parental archetype that exists a priori, and is, therefore, present in the preconscious structure of the psyche” (Jung, Op. Vol. 16, p. 8) – the relatedness that Jung speaks about could be understood as an inevitable push on both transmission and in the case of the relatives’ image, the difficulty in circumscribing it and removing it from the collective unconscious. The relatedness is then a vehicle with an inheritance tendency, an active force that is charged with energy, in itself, that has the power to submerge the Ego and not to allow one to distinguish between generations and the influence of a collective unconscious. As far as the subject is not overcome by the trans-psychic transmission wave, the Ego complex should be able to enact a precise distinction between contents that belong to the personal image and contents that belong to the archetype image. Such centrality of the Ego and of identity has a strong influence in trans- generational research. N. Abraham and M. Torok, on mourning, speak about the “crypt” as an unconscious and secret cyst like formation that grows inside the Ego. They analyse the space inside the Ego and the breakthroughs at the Ego’s edges. In ejected mourning the ghost of the other will intrude into the Ego’s crypt. Identification with the dead person through incorporation, “it would work like an original, identifying and modelling process of the Ego, so, before the formation of the Ego structure” (L. Russo, p. 98).

In conclusion, the power of transmission doesn’t allow anything to get lost, the traumatic contents that subtend the holes that appear in the transmission chain may be re-found, distorted and confused, in the clinical histories that we observe and are found growing in the crypt that is like a parasite in the unconscious of future generations. This fragment of history that is unknown to the Ego structure is then transported along a completely unconscious channel and escapes the laws of natural, recognisable and representable progression. Rebuilding the link that goes back to the origins would mean returning the blanks of his personal history to the other and thus snatch him away from the repetitive destiny of a void of time.


  • Abraham, N. and Torok, M. (1987): L’écorce et le noyau. Flammarion, Paris.
  • Aulagnier, P. (1994): La violenza dell’interpretazione. Borla, Roma.
  • Aulagnier, P. (2002): L’apprendista storico e il maestro stregone. La biblioteca, Roma- Bari.
  • De Mijolla, S.(1998): Penser la psychose. Une lecture de l’oeuvre de P. Aulagnier. Dunod, Paris.
  • Enriquez, M. (1993) in Trasmissione della vita psichica tra generazioni, di Kaes R., Faimberg, H., Enriquez, M., Baranes, J., Borla, Roma.
  • Gullotta, C. (2001): La Psicologia Analitica: sistemi di modelli in evoluzione. Seminario del Centro Psicoanalitico di Roma (S.P.I.).
  • Green, A. (1973): L’enfant de ça. Psychanalyse d’un entretien: la psychose blanche. Les Editions de Minuit, Paris.
  • Jung, C.G. (1925): «Il matrimonio come relazione psicologica», Opere, Vol. 17. Boringhieri, Torino.
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  • Jung, C.G. (1945): “La psicoterapia oggi”, Opere, Vol. 16. Boringhieri, Torino.
  • Jung, C.G. (1949): “L’importanza del padre nel destino dell’individuo”, Opere, Vol. 4. Boringhieri, Torino.
  • Kaes, R. e al. (1993): Transmission de la vie psychique entre générations. Dunod, Paris.
  • Racamier, P.-C. (1995): L’inceste et l’incestuel. Les Editions du College.
  • Racamier, P.-C. (1997): Il genio delle origini (psicoanalisi e psicosi). Raffaello Cortina, Milano.
  • Rouchy, J.C., Tisseron S., Torok, M., Rand, N., Nachin, C., Hachet, P. (1997): Lo psichismo alla prova delle generazioni. Borla, Roma.
  • Russo, L. (1998): L’indifferenza dell’anima. Borla, Roma.
  • Sassolas, M. (2001): Terapia delle psicosi. Borla, Roma.

Training and Trans-Generational Psychological Transmission

Paola Russo
Napoli, Italy
Associazione Italiana per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

In this contribution I will discuss whether and in what ways psychological mechanisms involved in trans-generational transmission have an effect on the candidates in psychoanalytic training, and on the very life of psychoanalytic communities.

It is quite well known that the concepts used to explain psychological transmission between generations refer to the relevance of archaic, primitive and non-elaborated elements which are passed on and spread in an unconscious manner between individuals of different generations.

In the same way, in order to explain the passage in a therapeutic setting from an individual dimension to that of a group, we must refer to specific psychological levels of functioning that may be described as primitive mentality, or transpersonal matrix, and that deeply differ from those referring to personal dynamics (the intra-psychic level), or to the identifications that occur between the same individuals (the inter-psychic level).

As a matter of fact, the dynamics emerging from the activation of the transpersonal matrix, call into play archaic and non-elaborated elements. Therefore, we may think of the group as a transitional space between the intra-psychic and the psychosocial levels, i.e., at the same time a “mental” and a “social” space. Within such a space emotional and cognitive contents are expressed, and transformations may take place through particular communication processes based on interdependence, synchronicity and transpersonal diffusion. These contents, in turn, immediately refer to the core of Jung’s ideas.

The group-analytic points of view maintain that social institutions are psychic realities, too. Therefore, a social institution is not an object of direct observation, on the contrary, it is the group and the way it organizes itself, that actualises and gives a concrete form to the institution.

The institution may be thought of not just as concrete space made of rules and social tasks. This is precisely what an organization is – but also as an emotional space, a place of thinking, an unconscious structure that represents an intersection between the individual and the social levels. Therefore, a social organization may be seen as a vital, super-individual organism, where the actual and the historical fields form a mobile, complex mix of images, thoughts, fantasies, representations and emotions.

Every institution has a history of its own which affects the common life in all its aspects, including the transference of its knowledge and the pursuit of its aims. And this is valid for psychoanalytic associations, too. As a matter of fact, they organize and manage areas such as that of training and research, but at the same time mirror the psychic reality in which individual and collective projects, internal and external worlds connect. Within such a psychic reality a relevant part is played by foundation myths, past occurrences and experiences, and trans- generational transmission. The latter must not be conceived of as just the passing on of theory, techniques and codified norms, but also of issues related to the psychic reality, and therefore active in the group’s life. For instance: within a small therapeutic group, certain critical moments are marked with the re-emergence of founding figures and foundation myths, that represent virtually a way through which the group tries to transform the new and unknown into something that is already part of its history and its codes. Like the small group, the same phenomena run the life of the institutional groups.

In order to make my point clear, I want to recall that psychoanalytic knowledge is normally passed on in two ways: one by personal analysis, another by an institutional process of training. This double track allows one to see a pervasive conflict in the training process that is, to some extent, impossible to eliminate. This conflict can in part be attributed to the issues concerning the analytical training that, according to Kernberg (1988), in many cases take the form of a real illness that affects the lives of the analytical institutes and associations. The most striking symptoms of these illnesses are the indoctrination of the trainees rather than the incentive to scientific exploration, connected to the trainee’s idealization of the psychoanalytic theory and to his/her teachers (particularly his/her analyst). The impoverishment of creative thinking and scientific productivity on the part of trainers and trainees would represent the inevitable consequence of idealization processes and the persecutory atmosphere that, for Kernberg, are practically present in all psychoanalytic institutes.

On the causes and mechanisms that produce such a situation, Kernberg, often goes back to the atmosphere of secrecy that fills many aspects of the psychoanalytic institutions, putting a stress on the training process, the techniques of which often remain obscured by secrecy, whether for selection, assessing and promotion procedures, both on the part of the trainees, and on the part of the whole teaching body. This secrecy, which in many instances is unjustified, is an old problem that has its roots in the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement and in its founding father.

But it is especially around the metapsychology of secrecy that the psychological mechanisms of trans-generational transmission revolve. And in turn, the secret conceals themes of mournful losses and shame. As a matter of fact, many studies have pointed to the key role played by trans-generational transmission in the formation of certain forms of psychological suffering that are resilient to analysis. In such situations we regularly find ourselves before a secret passed on through the generations and that almost always has the features of mourning and shame. Racamier stresses the very strict relationship between these features and the categories of incest and “incestuality”.

Is it possible to detect, in the stagnation in which the analytical societies find themselves, the trace of non-elaborated mourning and incestuous tones? We can immediately affirm that the premises are all there, and that in many aspects they are related to the peculiar features of analytical training. I am referring here to the processes of mourning and separation, and to the theme of incest.

Regarding separation, it is quite well known that unlike what happens in the psychoanalytic treatment, the analytical trainee/patient does not go through the whole separation and mourning process, which are fundamental experiences during a normal analytical treatment. And it is simply because the separation is not really conclusive, as analyst and patient know that sooner or later they will meet again in the same place, with the same goals, the same professional identity and in the same common “house”.

Thus it is fair to ask ourselves, in dealing with future analysts, whether the remains of transference and counter-transference never totally resolved can be acted upon within the institution? Kernberg speaks of radioactive fallout to express the necessary dispersion of a large part of the emotions created by the strong emotional impact of the analytical session in one’s social surroundings that tends to protect the neutrality of the setting and to reduce the possible acting out of transference and counter-transference. In the case of future analysts this radioactive fallout would have more possibility to flow out into the association and to be translated into displacement and splittings of the transference on others of its members, with the possibility of acting out residues of positive and negative transference in the seminars and in supervision.

With these considerations, it is possible to imagine a similar fallout with regard to the strong residual emotions and anxieties tied to the end of analysis and that can be at the root of primitive defensive behaviour. If what is recognized about the functions of groups in institutional settings are true, the regressive processes within the group are always a possible occurrence. And if we are faced with primitive defense mechanisms, it is still possible to think of the formation of crypts and encapsulations.

Psychoanalytic studies in the field of institutions have shed light on the existence in every institution of a basic emotional level formed by fantasies and emotions upon which all the remaining experience converges, and in which the subjects act by responding to stimuli with automatic responses. This level is perceived only in a limited way, for instance, through certain specific fantasies that regard the foundation myths of the institution, and that are often embodied by particularly important founding figures, who then acquire an almost sacred meaning for the group. As a matter of fact they become the origin of the mental and affective patrimony of the group. If a particular group is able to relate to its founding myths while keeping a critical attitude, they work as warrants of the institutional heritage, and activate propulsive energies. On the other hand, if this doesn’t happen, these founding figures, filled with messianic value, become rigid custodians of a petrified heritage, and therefore immobilize the group’s life. All analytical associations refer to founding fathers or mothers, whom have been intensely idealized and therefore represent the quite real risk of activating splitting processes. These processes split the (institutional) world into idealized objects and persecutory objects, and promote conformism and/or dissent. At this point the extreme defence against the painful working through of the necessary process of psychological growth is the schism. We might then ask ourselves to what extent personal separations within the analytic association have really been worked through, and to what degree the residues of such process are still active in the association’s life. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves whether the necessary element of secrecy has left something un-elaborated and impossible to be worked-through by the future generations. I am thinking here of the separation between Freud and Jung, but also of all the other separations that have taken place after that, and not just between the Freudians and Jungians.

It might be useful to remember that the presence of secrets doesn’t imply unknown events. What really counts here is the fact that some contents have not been worked through, so that they become power ful attractors of fantasies and projections that, in their turn, are then stratified into the group’s memory.

Racamier identifies a particular connection between secrecy and incest/incestuality underlying the fact that the secret is an original feature of psychic life, both individual and familial, referring to both the group and the social level. Racamier says that, “The incestual is not necessarily genital, but it doesn’t stop in front of the phantasm.” [Recamier, 2003, §109] Racamier further identifies libidinal secrets that are involved in the origins and anti-libidinal secrets that, on the contrary, are fundamentally obstructive, as mechanisms of un-told and un-thought contents. Both these secrets may derive from the very same deep themes: sexuality and death, or the genesis and the end of life.

Continuing our journey to the “origins” of the analytical associations, we should immediately underline that they are inevitably under the specific feature of the “incestual”. Different generations, present in the institution at the same time, personal analysts and former patients, training analysts and trainees, configure a sort of repetition of the family scenarios, played by parents and their children, of sibling rivalry and primal scenes. Everything is further complicated by the presence of real family ties. As a matter of fact, couples are not at all rare within analytical associations: husbands and wives, fathers and their daughters/sons, brothers and sisters, past and present partners. Isn’t it a pure illusion to think that everything is underpinned by finding an easy containment just because all of the participants have been analysed? What about the imaginary layer of analysis?

Once the distinction between incestuous and “incestual” has been defined by Racamier, it is clear that we do not need to think of the violation of the sexual borders within the psychoanalytic organization in order to find the incestual. In some respects the incestual can be even more dangerous than the acted-out incest, insofar as its “periphery is multiple” and its effects, even if less flamboyant, are pervasive and long term. The incestual is rather a mood. If incest is a promise of immortality for the family, in the associations this very immortality is sought through the fundamentalism of which a rigid orthodoxy is the clearest mark. In both cases what is unbearable is the meeting of what is “different” in its most extended meaning.

In this regard, Jung’s thought is particularly illuminating. The incest wish expresses a regressive nostalgia, a need to go back to the origins every time the individual psyche enters into a state of crisis vis a vis what is alien. The premise of immortality that Racamier has referred to can be found in Jung’s words: “This amounts to an acceptance of the ‘godlikeness’ but now exalted into a system. That is to say, one is the fortunate possessor of the great truth which was only waiting to be discovered, of the eschatological knowledge which spells the healing of the nations.” (Jung, Vol. 7, §476) For Jung, we are dealing here with an identification with the collective psyche, in the illusion of absolute knowledge that blocks any possible access to thinking and knowledge.

Going back to Racamier, we should recall that he points to three essential dogmas of narcissistic seduction in these three propositions: “Together we are enough for each other, and we don’t need anybody else”; “Together and united, we will win in everything”; “If you leave me, I will die” [Racamier, 2003, §37]. In the light of these three statements we may find the institutional feature of incest, in the pretence that everything that is observed should remain closed within the “familial”, because every further knowledge represents a menace of death.


  • Jung, C.G. “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious”. (1916) Collected Works, Vol. 7, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Kernberg, O.F. “Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations.” New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998
  • Racamier, P-C. “Incesto e Incestuale.” trad. It. 2003 of “L’inceste et l’incestuel.” Les Editions du College, 1995.

Psychic Transmission Between Generations

Giuseppe Maffei
Luca, Italy
Associazione Italiana per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

One of the most interesting reflections regarding the passage of psychic material between generations concerns the observation we can make about the differences between introjection and incorporation (equivalent, as we will see further on, to projective identification according to Ciccone, an interesting author to whom I will make frequent reference). But it is not my intention to deal with vocabulary questions as they are not relevant to our issue here and might lead us astray.

One could simply say that the objects that are taken in – the internalised objects – have two distinct ways of being. In one modality they can continue to be metabolised: they can modify themselves and the subject (introjective mode); in another modality, the objects are taken in, but they cannot be metabolised, and they neither modify the subjects nor themselves: instead, they remain inside, as if hidden in “crypts,” and they occupy the subject.

In the former case, the subject is enriched by the qualities of the object, and it transforms it without being transformed into its identity. In the latter case, the subject incorporates the object without transforming it; the subject itself is transformed by the object, alienated by it.

To discuss this issue, two examples can be given.

The first one is represented by an ordinary mourning process. After the death of a loved one, as we know, an introjective mechanism comes into being, by means of which the person who has passed away becomes an internalised object that continues to live and that establishes a relationship with the Ego of the subject. Facing difficult life situations, the subject, for example, might wonder what the dead person would have thought. The fact that this internalised object is somehow alive might be proved by his/her not remaining always the same: he/she may become more or less demanding or more or less permissive; in brief, he/she may modify his/her characteristics. What is important to notice is that he/she still has the characteristics of a living person.

The second example has to do with the experience of shame. A young woman was extremely ashamed, since she identified herself with a father whose shame dominated his psychic life. For a number of reasons related to his family history, he was terribly afraid that his daughter might end up becoming a prostitute. There had been, in fact, a family situation that justified his fear: there was a history which covered a secret that had never been fully disclosed. Let us try to put ourselves into the daughter¹s shoes: she had always perceived, in the course of her life, the existence of fear in her father; the presence of some kind of shame that had no apparent justification and that could never be fully known. The father, evidently, had not metabolised the history that had preceded him, so that it had not become “alive” or “tellable.” There was, in the father, a psychic situation of “freezing” and paralysis. One can reasonably think that this shame had been transferred to the daughter with an incorporative modality. She had herself become very ashamed, although she did not quite know the reason why. One could also say, still according to Ciccone, that a transfer by means of introjection is non-traumatic, while a transfer by means of incorporation is of a traumatic nature. The non-traumatic transfer might lead to a transitional area and to the (Winnicottian) illusion of the so-called “found-created.”

The traumatic transfer of incorporated objects, instead, might create some alienating effects: the patients would then feel as if they had inherited a history which is alien to them, stuck in a kind of ancestral memory of events that are extraneous to them. The events that they have not experienced, however, have taken root in them, as if they had really experienced them. This kind of traumatic transmission may block transitional processes and prevent them from taking place, by means of constriction of these incorporated objects, through their encystment. The subject would then deal with the objects of other people as if they were his/her own, thus failing to really own what has been transmitted to him/her in his/her own right, becoming “the subject of his/her own history.”

The reflections related to introjection and incorporation may also be helpful as regards archetypal issues. In order for a child to have a good psychic development, his/her parents need to be able to transmit to their child a pre-reflexive awareness of his/her belonging not only to a family but also to his/her own species. Many mothers, instead, experience their own motherhood as if it were an exclusive experience of their own, failing to feel deeply in touch with all the other mothers and with the function they perform in relation to the survival of the species. In other words, many mothers do not have the wish, nor the pleasure, to bring into the world another human being who will keep the species alive in his/her own turn; instead, they experience the birth of their child as something that is only their concern (and their child’s). The destructively protective attitude of many mothers often originates from a severance of their group relationships and of their link with the species. One might also say that a mother should pre- reflexively know she is supposed to perform her maternal function also on behalf of her species, and in agreement with all the mothers (including her own) who have preceded her. A good mother, in other words, knows that it is not only her subjectivity and her uniqueness that counts, but also the relationship that she has established and that she has with the species-specific maternal function which is, in fact, registered in her body and psyche. A good mother should know that she is also genetically predisposed to be such.

As far as archetypes are concerned, according to the most common way of thinking, what is hereditarily transmitted might, first of all, be represented by structures that could become effective and psychically real, as it were, the moment when they encounter, in the external world, experiences that shift them from a potential to an actual state. The most effective parallel to this may be found in the modalities of language transmission: the brain has some structures that allow the acquisition of language; however, unless it encounters a language- speaking community, it cannot learn how to talk. If we take the archetype of the Great Mother as an example, we can think that it is actualised as an archetypal image in the encounter with a real mother. The archetypal image of the Great Mother, in other words, will be present in the psyche of the child because of the encounter between his/her inherited structure and his/her own mother.

The qualities of this encounter are obviously not indifferent; how the real mother experiences her relationship with her own archetypal images will also be very important. It will also be very influential for her child whether she has metabolised her own archetypal images or not, that is, whether she has internalised the archetypal images of her own parents according to either incorporative or introjective modalities. In the former case, the transfer between generations would take place in a transgenerational modality, whereas in the latter it might take place in an intergenerational one. In other words, from this point of view, what is important is the modality in which the real mother is aware of belonging to a generational continuum, and of being part, as it were, of a series of links through which the species continues to exist. In order for archetypal images not to pass from one generation to another as incorporated objects, neither metabolised nor metabolisable, there must be an awareness of the fact that not everything depends on each single mother.

This pre-reflexive awareness of the mother might allow the children to become, in turn, pre-reflexively aware of their link with everything else and, consequently, with the yet unknowable archetypal structures.

Let us consider one of the qualities of the Great Mother, namely the aspect of her dreadfulness: every mother can have a real power of life or death over her child, and every mother has been, in her turn, in contact with a mother who could decide whether to let her child live or not. In order for this dreadfulness of the Great Mother not to prevail over psychic life, it must be metabolised so that it appears, consequently, as a quality to which it is possible to relate. A mother who has metabolised her own archetypal images will not prevent her child from living, but she will, for example, limit him/her, that is exerting her dreadfulness only on some aspects of his/her life. In order for a child to develop a metabolisable image of the dreadfulness of the Great Mother, the real mother that he/she encounters must have metabolised, digested and transformed the dreadfulness of her own Great Mother, internal as well as external. In other words, a real mother must be pre-reflexively aware of being (and of being experienced as) dreadful. The great, real dreadfulness, the truly destructive one, will remain in the background, as a distant possibility, but it will be introjected, not incorporated.

In the case of a failed metabolisation of archetypal images, a mother cannot provide either her child, or herself, with any example of her own dreadfulness which has been accepted and metabolised. Therefore, her dreadfulness will display itself, if ever, as something undigested, unknown and consequently frightening. The child might then become very afraid, faced with the appearance of his/her own undigested, psychic internal contents. What is transmitted from one generation to the other in this case is not psychic material which is represented or representable, but rather, non-represented material, experienced as non-representable.

In the study of generations, often the appearance of non-representable material dates back to very distant times. In our inquiry along this backward path, we sometimes encounter events and experiences that are too painful to be metabolised: a great-grandfather who murdered someone, an aunt who was a prostitute, etc. These are situations and events that have gone beyond the possibility of being metabolised and integrated by those people who have experienced them. How can we be just slightly dreadful, if a person that we have loved has been so dreadful as to kill? How can we be sexually free, if a person that we have loved has been heavily despised and condemned just because of his/her sexuality? Archetypal images of violence and free sexuality may become threatening and be transmitted without any possibility of linking them to one¹s own psychic life.

When we, as analysts, deal with these life histories, thinking about the collective unconscious can be of great help. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to create the possibility of a reconciliation with this non-representable past, by taking it upon ourselves. We must be able to embody, present, know and let our patients know a type of dreadfulness which is quite different from the type they fear. In the absence of people able to perform the above-mentioned function, psychotherapists often have the task of embodying the archetype and make archetypal images transmissible and metabolisable. If an analyst is able to maintain the rules of his/her setting, he/she is then able to allow the patient, for example, to encounter and face a type of harshness that, until that moment, the patient had not experienced, except in a destructive way. At this level, several situations and different nuances may be highlighted. The analyst may, for example, deal with the issue of the correctness of the setting as if it were his/her own problem, that is, feeling the attacks on the setting as if they were attacks on him/herself. Conversely, he/she may deal with this problem as if it were something that does not concern him/her at all; it is only the analysand who has to either adapt him/herself to it, or not. In my opinion, neither modality offers the possibility of a proper transfer between generations. In order for it to happen, the analyst must understand and be quite aware that the respect of the rules about the setting is something that concerns him/her and does not concern him/her directly because he/she is the mediator of a transfer between generations. Also the analyst transmits to the analysand – unconsciously, pre-reflexively – something that concerns the sense of his/her own, as well as the other person’s, belonging to the species. It is through the rules of the setting that the analysand may have his/her first experience of a contact with a bad mother who can, however, be metabolised.

Reflecting on transfer between generations may sometimes lead to a sort of “innocencisation” of the people who are directly involved in the here-and-now of a relationship. Considering the nature of transmission between generations it is easy to lose track of the most proximate causes of the problems brought by our patients. The search for more distant causes may make us lose sight of what happens in the here-and-now of the relationship. This is an issue to which close attention should be paid in our practice. It is also necessary, however, also for psychotherapists, in order to do their job well, to feel themselves as part of a continuum in the development of a community and, in a wider perspective, a continuum of the species.


  • Ciccone A. (1999): La transmission psyichique inconsciente. Dunod: Paris.