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It Didn’t Start With You- Book Review

This is a book that I reviewed for a class in Marriage and Family Therapy. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in a simple approach to exploring and healing their family trauma.

Trauma.

How do we define it? How do we survive it? Can we inherit it?

Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences. (Source: integratedlistening.com)

We all experience trauma at some point in our lives. Bad things happen in our world, and at times, we are on the receiving end of painful circumstances. But, is it possible that some of the troubling behavior and distress that we experience is a “hand me down” from ages past?  Science agrees with the idea that blue eyes, a tall frame and athletic prowess is part of our DNA, the unique code that is created (and passed down) when our parents combine egg and sperm. Physical traits are commonly assigned to a previous family member, giving us a visual way to identify our tribe, the group of people that began our lineage. 

But what if we can inherit trauma the same way we receive webbed toes? Is there any science to support the transmutation of experiences from generation to generation? Does our DNA hold the silent scream of our great uncle, freezing to death out in the woods? Will our cells demand that a descendent commit a fiery suicide, acting out the horrific unfinished drama of our great- grandma, a survivor of her family’s incineration at Auschwitz? Compelling data now asks us to consider the evidence that generational trauma can be written in our DNA, silently directing our behavior and anxieties. 

Mark Wolynn is the author of “It Didn’t Start With You- How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How To End The Cycle.” Director of The Family Constellation Institute, The Inherited Trauma Institute and The Hellinger Institute of Northern California, Mark is North America’s leader in Inherited Family Trauma. A sought-after lecturer, he leads workshops at hospitals, clinics, conferences, and teaching centers around the world. He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the Western Psychiatric Institute, Kripalu, The New York Open Center, The Omega Institute, The California Institute of Integral Studies. His book IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle (Viking/Penguin) is the winner of the 2016 Silver Nautilus Book Award in psychology. Mark specializes in working with depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, fears, panic disorders, self-injury, chronic pain and persistent symptoms and conditions.

In this book, Mr. Wolynn has created a four-step map to help identify origins of elusive symptoms and behaviors. Staring with the Core Complaint, we look for personal phrases and verbiage that are repetitive in nature, complaints that we often speak out loud. He instructs us to trust the words yet remain suspicious of the context. Often individuals will become attached to an idea that has no context for their current life circumstances, causing further confusion and anxiety. The words are true, but for whom? Peeking behind the family curtain of history and lore will most likely lead to stories submerged due to painful wounds and fearful facts. Through a series of selected questions, often the hidden picture comes forward, the shocking story is ready to be examined. 

Moving on to the Core Descriptors, the individual chooses short, descriptive ideas to describe his/her parents. Looking for emotionally charged words, Core Descriptors are foundational to rebuild parental wounds or confusion. By softening toward our parents, Wolyn asserts that we can stop generational wounds from continuing. 

Next, the Core Sentence exercise takes us on a journey of exploring our earliest despair. Often, we have a sentence that seems to have been present with us since our young childhood. It often will begin with ‘I” or ‘they” and carries the terror of our most devastating fear. The idea is that the Core Sentence is the most direct path to unresolved family trauma. 

As we assemble the information from the previous Core Assignments, we find our way to the Core Trauma. Utilizing bridging questions and diagrams, Wolyn walks us through the often-murky emotions and sketchy facts that confuse family myth and ancestor mystery. Like a family tree, he helps us follow the main trunk of pain and scarring, tracing back branches to the character who carried the unresolved wound. The goal is to uncover what history has hidden, bringing it forward to be healed. The simple act of visually handing the emotional despair back to the original owner often brings freedom to the afflicted person. 

The Core Process is the center piece of the book. It is surrounded by chapters full of fascinating stories, brief discussions of scientific research, and additional assignments for understanding the complex issue of healing inherited family wounds. 

As a reader and strong believer in generational wounding, I thought the book had a certain strength supporting the idea of historical trauma bleeding into a modern world. Truthfully, if you have an aversion to any type of “woo-woo factor”, this read might not find a home on your bookshelf. It appears that Wolynn is on the cutting edge of neuroscience and genetics, with a side of Biblical familiar spirits tossed into the mix. Early in the book, he references the Old Testament scripture Ezekiel 18:2: ” The parents eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Wolynn openly discusses his pursuit of spirituality with the reader. Additionally, he shares his personal story of a physical malady that was healed when he resolved his issues of parental estrangement. This book is not for the reader who is looking for straight up science and ironclad research, you won’t find it here. But if you are searching for a fresh, challenging and compassionate approach in assisting clients grappling with a magnetic pull to a family tragedy, this method is through and well described. 

As I study Marriage and Family Therapy, I found this book to be a fascinating journey into the invisible world of soul and spirit as they manifest in the physical body. The heart of the Core Process appears to be a compassionate search for ancient pain and modern resolution. It invites our indefatigable family lore to once again parade upon the stage of history, their story alive and their struggle acknowledged. 

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