Old resentments and unfinished business from the family of origin can constrain adults in current relationships with parents or siblings and negatively affect relationships with partners or children. This article explores how old wounds get reactivated in current relationships and contribute to the intergenerational transmission of painful legacies and trauma. Building on intergenerational family theory and interpersonal neurobiology, the dynamics of reactivity and pathways for growth are explored. While much of the time the human brain is on autopilot, driven by habits and emotional reactivity, we are capable of bringing prefrontal thoughtfulness and choice to close relationships. Rather than being victims of parents or our past, we can become authors of our own relational life. Interventions are offered to help adult clients "wake from the spell of childhood", heal intergenerational wounds, and "grow up" relationships with family of origin. The damage caused by parent-blaming in therapy is explored and contrasted with Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy’s emphasis on rejunctive action and cultivating resources of trustworthiness in intergenerational relationships. The family is considered both in its cultural context - including stressors and resources for resilience - and in its life cycle context. Aging in the intergenerational family is discussed, focusing on ways adult children and their parents can grow and flourish with the challenges at this time of life. Throughout, the theme of relational ethics - how we can live according to our values and "reach for our best self" in intergenerational relationships - informs the discussion.
Keywords: Intergenerational wounds, family of origin, intergenerational legacies, intergenerational transmission, interpersonal neurobiology, intergenerational.