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The Hidden Impact of Inherited Trauma: How Your Ancestors' Pain Shapes Your Life and Relationships

family constellations

Our ancestors' hidden and frequently disregarded burdens can impose a significant weight on us. Mark Wolynn's "It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle" delivers a profound truth that echoes across generations.

The Essence of Inherited Family Trauma

Inherited family trauma, a concept that may initially seem abstract, is deeply embedded in our emotional and genetic makeup. This concept suggests that traumas experienced by previous generations can imprint themselves in the DNA of their descendants, affecting their behaviors, emotions, and even life choices. It's not about inheriting specific memories but rather emotional responses to trauma encoded in our genes.

Imagine trauma as a stone thrown into a pond. The initial splash represents the traumatic event itself, directly impacting those who experience it. However, the subsequent waves—the ripples created by the initial impact—can spread far and wide, reaching those not even present at the original event. In the context of family trauma, these waves can cross generations, subtly shaping the emotional landscape of the family.

Mark Wolynn's research reveals how inherited trauma patterns manifest in various ways. They can appear as unexplained fears, persistent patterns of failure, or even physical symptoms without immediate causes. Understanding the nature of inherited family trauma is the first step toward healing. It invites us to look beyond our immediate experiences and consider the broader intergenerational context of our lives. Recognizing this invisible influence can empower us to break the cycle and reshape our destiny and the destiny of future generations.

How Trauma is Transmitted Between Generations

it didnt start with you

The transmission of trauma between generations involves a complex interaction of genetics, environment, and behavior. Our genes can be turned on or off by environmental factors, including the emotional environment in which we grow up.

For example, a grandfather who has experienced significant trauma may develop certain coping mechanisms to deal with his emotional pain. These coping mechanisms, whether they involve hypervigilance, avoidance, or even substance abuse, can shape the family environment. As a result, parents may adopt similar behaviors and pass them on to their children, not through genetic code but through learned behavior and emotional response patterns.

Furthermore, epigenetic changes—changes in gene expression resulting from an individual's environment—can also play a role. These changes do not alter the DNA sequence but can affect how genes are expressed, making a person more sensitive to certain behaviors or emotional states. Thus, the trauma experienced by one generation can, quite literally, change the biological and emotional landscape for the next generation, propagating a cycle that, if left untreated, may continue for many generations.

The Impact of Inherited Trauma on the Individual

The threads of inherited trauma weave deep knots into the fabric of an individual's life, often with profound and far-reaching effects. For many, this inherent pain manifests in ways that are difficult to understand or express, mainly because its origins are not in their own life experiences but in the unspoken and unresolved traumas of their ancestors. The effects of such birth trauma can be diverse, affecting emotional well-being, physical health, and interpersonal relationships.

Emotionally, it may manifest as chronic anxiety, depression, or a pervasive sense of unworthiness. Physically, it can result in unexplained illnesses, chronic pain, or conditions that elude medical diagnosis. Interpersonally, it might lead to difficulties in forming or maintaining relationships, repeating harmful patterns, or an inability to connect deeply with others.

Understanding the impact of inherited trauma is critical to healing. It allows people to see that their struggles may not be theirs alone but part of a larger intergenerational narrative. With this insight, the journey toward healing and breaking the cycle of trauma can begin.

Identifying Signs of Inherited Family Trauma

Recognizing the signs of inherited family trauma is a crucial step toward healing and breaking the cycle. Often, the signs are subtle, woven into the fabric of everyday life in such a way that they can be easily overlooked or dismissed as whims or personal flaws. However, upon closer inspection, patterns begin to emerge that point to a deeper intergenerational origin.

Common signs include unexplained fears or anxieties, recurring dreams or nightmares, and persistent feelings of shame or guilt. Physical symptoms without an obvious medical cause, such as mysterious pains or chronic conditions that doctors struggle to diagnose, can also indicate inherited trauma.

Recognizing these signs is the first step in a journey of discovery and healing, inviting us to ask deeper questions about our family history and seek understanding in the stories that shaped us.

Breaking the Cycle: Strategies and Methods

Breaking the cycle of inherited family trauma requires an approach that combines self-awareness, professional support, and the creation of new and healing narratives. This journey, though challenging, offers the promise of liberation not only for yourself but for generations to come.

Self-awareness and Recognition

The first step in breaking the cycle is cultivating a deep sense of self-awareness. This includes an honest examination of one's life, identifying patterns that signal the presence of inherited trauma.

Seek Professional Help

Professional help is often crucial in navigating the complex terrain of inherited family trauma. Therapies such as family constellation therapy can provide the necessary tools and guidance to understand and overcome these deep-seated issues.

Creating New Family Narratives

To break the cycle, it is essential to create new family narratives that emphasize resilience, healing, and hope. This includes not only acknowledging the traumas of the past but also celebrating the strengths and successes of the family lineage. By changing the family story, people can shift the focus from victims to survivors and recognize the capacity for growth and healing even in the face of adversity. Engaging in positive family rituals, creating new traditions, and promoting open and supportive communication within the family can reinforce these new narratives and strengthen the bonds between generations.

Breaking the cycle of inherited family trauma is a journey that requires patience, perseverance, and compassion. It is a process of detoxification and relearning, of release and re-embrace.


Mark Wolynn's book, "It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle," illuminates the profound impact our ancestors' unresolved traumas can have on our own lives. By understanding the nature of inherited family trauma, identifying its hallmarks, and adopting strategies to break the cycle, we open the door to healing not only for ourselves but for generations to come.

The journey towards healing inherited family trauma requires us to face the past with honesty and compassion and embrace the possibility of change. Through self-awareness, professional support, and the creation of new and empowering family narratives, we can break the chains of the past. This process not only frees us from the shadows of inherited traumas but also paves the way for a future full of hope, resilience, and emotional freedom.

Although the past may shape us, it does not define us. Our stories are still being written, and with intention, awareness, and compassionate action, we can piece together new chapters filled with healing and growth. The journey of liberation from inherited family trauma is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and our deep capacity for renewal. It is a powerful reminder that within each of us lies the potential to turn our inherited pain into a legacy of strength and healing for ourselves and for generations to come.

If you found this article helpful, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Additionally, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for more content that will help you improve and strengthen your relationships.


Sivan Avni - Couples and Family Counselor, Family Constellation-Based Couples Therapy in Kiryat Tivon and Online.


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