to Make Your Own Genogram
by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.
I am 47 years old and trust me, I have been
mentally ill for some time. Through the years, I have
developed some coping techniques and I have recovered quite
nicely compared to the life I used to live. However, I have
noticed that mild depressions and either full blown manic
episodes and hypomania still rear their head once in awhile.
The full blown manic episodes seem to be the result of
mistakes in medicine changes. For example, going from 150 mgs.
of Wellbutrin twice a day to three times a day brought on a
full blown manic episode within 3 days. It scared my ex-
husband so bad he was considering phoning the police.
He always called the crisis line to find out how to deal with
me, hoping I will talk with them. In the state I was in during
those times, I not only refuse to speak with them, I tell them
where to go in no uncertain terms in the background. As I
mentioned before, I do a good imitation of my antisocial
personality disorder grandfather.
I don't know if you have noticed or not, but there is a way
that people in prison hold their bodies, the way they walk,
the way they talk and what they talk about. You will pick up
the similarities. I noticed it recently during the science
fiction movie "Pitch Black" in the guy who played
the prisoner - Vin Diesel. He played the part very well. He
was a dead ringer for my grandpa.
My other grandfather was in the state mental hospital most of
his adult life. He came home on occasion. No one ever knew or
at least discussed his diagnosis but I learned he had
hallucinations, was catatonic sometimes and I suppose he was
I used to think that we inherited the same exact disorder that
was in our family background but from what I understand now
from Paul Markovitz, Ph. D., M. D., mental illness begets
mental illness and it can come in a different form.
I invite all of you to do a genogram. It is very similar to a
family history. You make a square for a male and a circle for
females. Start out with yourself at the very bottom of the
page along with your siblings and draw a line connecting to
them. They are all at the same level. You can, however go down
and include your children below you and show your husband or
ex-husband (their father) and your children are an offshoot of
the line that links you and your husband.
Above you and your siblings, put your parents and above your
mother, put both her parents, and above your father put his
parents and so on. You will also include your aunts, uncles,
When you have finished, you will write in the people that are
divorced "Div 1966" That would be the year of
divorce. Then put the new partner in there.
If anyone is deceased, go ahead and put all the info as the
rest but at the end put a big X over it.
Okay, here is what you do to each and every person. You put a
symbol in each person that has this trait. Here are the
symbols that I came up with:
Borderline Personality Disorder-BPD
Mentally Ill (not sure of diagnosis)-MI
Divorced more than once-D
Child Abuse Survivor-CA
Be sure to add anything you feel is important and make your
You will begin to see what you have never seen before. You
will begin to see things being passed down. Many of these
disorders are genetic - substance abuse, suicidal tendencies,
mental illness, divorce, bipolar disorder, BPD, etc.
You will begin to see what kind of family history you have.
When I did mine, I was astonished. My brother was killed at
age 20 and yet he was a drug user, he was extremely depressed
and very suicidal as I learned later. All this at the precious
age of 20. I began to understand that I was not alone with my
When you take a look at your genogram you will understand why
there should be no guilt on your part for your disorders.
Anger at your family? They got it the same way you did. Who
should they be angry with?
I remember my daughter being really angry with me saying,
"Why did you even have a child?" My answer was
simple. "I didn't know I had these problems when I had
Am I telling all of you with mental health disorders not to
have children? Of course not. Have your children but I do
advise you to do your homework ahead of time and read books
like the one I mentioned earlier. There is no reason that we
cannot have stable lives, as the BPD and the BP are treatable.
If you can be stable when your child is born and if you are
knowledgeable about treatment for mental health disorders, you
can be an excellent parent for your child.
More information about genograms here.
Mental Health Matters for information
and articles. Get
help to find
a therapist or list
your practice; and Psych
Forums for message boards on a variety of MH topics.
Copyright © Patty Fleener, M.S.W. All