It Didn’t Start with You: Uncovering Inherited Trauma

Many of us experience anxiety, depression or negative thoughts that we can’t quite explain.  But what many of us don’t know is that these nagging feelings are often the vestiges of an inherited trauma.  

The Positive Mind’s Kevin O’Donoghue and Ben Starr discussed this phenomenon with Mark Wolynn, whose new book, It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, offers a new approach to transforming traumatic legacies.  

Trauma changes us, literally.  It causes a chemical change in our DNA that can alter the way our genes function, sometimes for generations.  While scientists may have uncovered the genetic links between trauma survivors and their offspring, for Wolynn, the journey to writing the book on inherited trauma was a deeply personal one.  

After experiencing significant vision loss, Wolynn was told that he would ultimately lose his vision completely.  Doctors suggested it was a stress-related condition but offered few solutions.  This launched Wolynn on a quest for answers, leading him to meditation and to studying with thinkers across the globe.  It was an encounter with two teachers who advised him to make peace with his parents, with whom he had broken relationships, that set Wolynn on a new path.  

Returning home, Wolynn wasn’t quite sure how he was going to heal these broken bonds.  But through months of open-hearted conversations with his parents, Wolynn stumbled upon a crucial piece of information.  Learning that each of his grandparents had been orphaned, Wolynn determined that his own battles with anxiety, his fractured relationship with his parents and potentially even his vision loss were tied to the anxiety that was being passed down through his family as a result of his grandparents’ traumatic loss of their parents. 

With his book, Wolynn hopes to help others access their own family traumas.  To get to the bottom of an inherited trauma, Wolynn advises that we listen to what he calls our “core language”: clues left behind in the aftermath of trauma in the form of words that we use to describe our fears, symptoms and relationships, body and facial language, and our unexplained behaviors.  If we follow the breadcrumb trail to our core language, it can lead us back to traumas in our own early experiences and in our family histories of which we might not be aware.  It is not a prerequisite to know the precise details of the trauma to heal, says Wolynn, but most people never make the connection.  

Inherited traumas can limit us with regards to our success, relationships, health and vitality.  Wolynn, having reestablished his relationships with his parents, found his vision return on two levels: not only was his eye vision completely restored, but his inner vision improved as well.  Previously anxious and prone to panic attacks, Wolynn no longer experiences the high levels of anxiety that he had struggled with throughout his life.  

Trauma does not begin and end with the individual.  But if we can make the link to our inherited traumas, Wolynn suggests, we can break the cycle and resolve generations of wounds for ourselves and our children.  

Written by Kate Kolendo for The Positive MInd


Listen to the entire discussion with Mark Wolynn, author of It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.

Carina Coderis