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Rogers, R.R. (1976). The Emotional Contamination between Parents and Children. Am. J. Psychoanal., 36(3):267-271.

(1976). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 36(3):267-271

Brief Communications

The Emotional Contamination between Parents and Children

Rita R. Rogers, M.D.

To cite the intimacy, intricacy, complexity, subtlety, and intensity of parent-child relationships is, of course, to cite the obvious. The internal and external realities of parents and their children are closely intertwined. Children do not simply imitate the perceptions of their parents; they act upon those perceptions in intense and complicated ways, they build them into their mastery of life. But consider the broader scale. A generation can carry with it not only individual psychopathological remnants but also the message that it has been wronged — or it has been chosen or it must act in a particular way — as a group. The passage of time does not cure these emotional and moral burdens; it intensifies them. I shall attempt here to move from the specific to the general, from individual cases of intergenerational transmission to mass instances that spring from the realities of international life.

There are never mirror syndromes in the transmission of pathology between parents and children, so there always is a great deal of professional debate about how and why parents convey their hurts, fears, angers, and insecurities to their offspring. Psychiatrists examine family histories in order to correlate parental and filial hurts. The profession inflicts upon itself taboos that prevent a deeper, more direct comparison of parents’ and children's internal realities. Most psychiatrists do not see both parents and children in intensive, individual psychotherapy; they never examine, therefore, the modes of generational linkage.

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