How to reintegrate disconnected ancestors into your family
Trauma clearing proceeds on the basis of Dr Hering’s Law of Cure: disease leaves the body in reverse order to which it entered. This means that as we excavate the layers of our family’s trauma, the older and less obvious traumas are harder to recognise and resolve. Among these are traumas related to what I call ‘disconnected ancestors’.
What are disconnected ancestors?
Disconnected ancestors are members of previous generations that emotionally separated from the main trunk of the family and were never reintegrated during their lifetimes.
This is different from ‘broken branches’—whole chunks of the family that separated and formed their own mini-trunk. Broken branches can have their own disconnected ancestors.
Disconnected ancestors were either ejected from the family because of something shameful that happened or they chose to distance themselves for their own reasons.
Two of my grandparents were disconnected. One walked out of the family due to a failed marriage. The second was ejected after having an affair that ended a marriage. Another possible reason might be a relative put into an asylum. Other reasons no doubt exist.
Equally, people sometimes choose to cut themselves off from their families.
My own experience is that deep shame can make people feel like they don’t deserve to belong. People sometimes respond through self-quarantine, putting themselves into lifelong exile in the belief that it’s the best for the family.
From the description above you may have immediately identified any issues with disconnection in your family.
Or perhaps there are parts of your family narrative that are hazy. Disconnected ancestors tend to have a curiously self-erasing quality. They’re right there in plain sight on the family tree, yet the realisation of their emotional remoteness somehow escapes us.
Suzannah Lessard alludes to this phenomenon in her superb memoir of family trauma, The Architect of Desire, when she describes an event as “somehow not a part of history” and “as if there was darkness right there in the light.”
Here are three tools for identifying disconnected ancestors:
- The Family Stability Index—a ‘quick and dirty’ 0-4 score quiz that identifies issues two generations back in your family, your grandparents.
- A SIPOC diagram—derived from a process improvement tool, this five-column table helps you trace current behavioural issues back to their point of origin.
- A 360° evaluation—based on a popular business feedback method, this encourages you to look at past events in your family from every perspective to identify trauma.
Once you’ve identified a disconnected ancestor, the real work begins.
Reintegrating disconnected ancestors
As always with trauma clearing work, the key element is feeling your family’s past. This is not an intellectual exercise. It’s a very somatic, visceral, gut-wrenching experience.
Here are four tips for reintegrating the waifs and strays of your family tree:
- Consider visiting a geographic location where “shit happened.” It could be a town, a house, a church, a gravestone, an institution, an archive. The closer you can get to it, the more likely that the trapped energy of the trauma will ‘pop.’
- Use any memorabilia—photographs, letters, diaries, medals, jewellery—that relate to that person. Recreate the scene as much as possible.
- Sit with the feelings. Sit doesn’t mean physically sitting, it means creating a quiet and contemplative space where you consciously connect to the buried feelings so they can emerge into the light. Breathe and lean into the feelings without judgment.
- Consciously include the disconnected ancestor into the energetic fabric of your family. It doesn’t matter who did what to whom and when.
If the gods of trauma smile upon you—in other words, if you’re ready to clear the trauma—then you may feel a sense of psychic rupture as the feelings release. Be kind to yourself. Rest and stay hydrated—and off social media—while you integrate.
Once we successfully reintegrate a disconnected ancestor, you will feel a sense of peace around them. Well done.