Monday, May 23, 2016

It Didn't Start With You

by Mark Wolynn
Viking     2016
240 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

The subtitle of It Didn't Start With You explains its thesis: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. Here is the description of the book from the publisher.

Depression. Anxiety. Chronic Pain. Phobias. Obsessive thoughts. The evidence is compelling: the roots of these difficulties may not reside in our immediate life experience or in chemical imbalances in our brains—but in the lives of our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. The latest scientific research, now making headlines, supports what many have long intuited—that traumatic experience can be passed down through generations. It Didn’t Start with You builds on the work of leading experts in post-traumatic stress, including Mount Sinai School of Medicine neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score. Even if the person who suffered the original trauma has died, or the story has been forgotten or silenced, memory and feelings can live on. These emotional legacies are often hidden, encoded in everything from gene expression to everyday language, and they play a far greater role in our emotional and physical health than has ever before been understood.

Early in the 2000s, a great deal of research was completed regarding how holocaust trauma is being experienced by the second and third generations of holocaust survivors. Wolynn has done a remarkable job of relating this theory to  several other types of generational family trauma. He offers many case studies as examples and then offers sound advice. He discusses ways to identify inherited family trauma, how to map traumatic events that keeps the suffering alive, and how to create new neural pathways that will give you a new lease on life and break the trauma cycle.

Here is a quote that I liked: "A life completely devoid of trauma, as we're learning, is highly unlikely. Traumas do not sleep, even with death, but, rather, continue to look for the fertile ground of resolution in the children of the following generation. Fortunately, human beings are resilient and are capable of healing most types of trauma."

I have two adopted granddaughters. One was given up at birth and handed over to her parents within moments of her birth. The other was given up at birth and was in foster care for nearly two years before being adopted. Both girls have separation anxiety. It Didn't Start with You helped me to understand that they are continuing to experience the trauma of their separation from their birth mother (and foster mother in one case). But, Wolynn would say that they may also be experiencing the trauma that their birth mothers were facing in the months before they were born.

After reading It Didn't Start with You, I believe that the most important skill we can teach our children is resiliency—enough to surmount most types of trauma. Wolynn is a therapist, and his clinic specializes in family trauma. He also runs family trauma workshops all over the country. Here is his website.This book is valuable if you or family members are having trouble solving family problems that span the generations. It is also helpful in resolving relationship problems that you may currently be experiencing.

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