Book Review | It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn

“It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle” by Mark Wolynn is a powerful and insightful exploration of the impact of intergenerational trauma on individuals and families. The book offers a fresh perspective on how our ancestors’ experiences and traumas can shape our lives today, and provides practical tools for healing and breaking the cycle of inherited trauma.

Wolynn begins the book by sharing his own personal journey of discovery and healing from his family’s trauma, which ultimately led him to become a leading expert in the field of inherited family trauma. He explains the science behind how trauma can be passed down through generations, including the concept of epigenetics, which suggests that trauma can become “imprinted” on our DNA.

One of the central themes of the book is the idea that we are all connected to our ancestors and that their experiences and traumas can influence our lives today. Wolynn explains how this can manifest in a variety of ways, including chronic physical and emotional issues, relationship patterns, financial struggles, and self-destructive behaviors. He provides numerous real-life examples of individuals who have struggled with these issues and how they were able to identify and heal from the underlying trauma.

One of the most powerful aspects of the book is Wolynn’s emphasis on the importance of acknowledging and honoring our ancestors’ experiences and traumas. He argues that by recognizing and owning the experiences of our ancestors, we can begin to heal ourselves and break the cycle of inherited trauma. He encourages readers to explore their family history and to connect with their ancestors in a meaningful way, through practices such as guided meditations, journaling, and visualization exercises.

Wolynn also provides practical tools and exercises for readers to identify and heal from their own inherited family trauma. He includes guided meditations and journal prompts, as well as visualization exercises to help readers connect with their ancestors and release trauma from their bodies. Additionally, he provides resources for finding professional support and guidance, such as therapists and trauma healers who specialize in intergenerational trauma.

The book is divided into three parts, each of which delves deeper into the concept of intergenerational trauma and offers practical tools for healing. Part One focuses on understanding the science behind intergenerational trauma and how it can manifest in our lives. Part Two explores the impact of trauma on different aspects of our lives, including our physical health, relationships, and financial well-being. Part Three provides practical tools and exercises for identifying and healing from inherited family trauma.

Here are three examples from the book of how inherited family trauma can manifest in our lives:

  1. Chronic health issues: Wolynn shares the story of a woman named Maria who had struggled with chronic migraines for years. Through exploring her family history, she discovered that her grandfather had been imprisoned and tortured during a war in their home country. Wolynn explains how the trauma of her grandfather’s experience had been passed down through the generations, and how it was manifesting in Maria’s physical health. By acknowledging and honoring her grandfather’s experience and releasing the trauma from her body through visualization exercises, Maria was able to significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of her migraines.
  2. Relationship patterns: Wolynn describes how individuals can unknowingly repeat the relationship patterns of their ancestors, often based on unresolved trauma. He shares the story of a man named Peter who had a pattern of attracting partners who were emotionally unavailable. Through exploring his family history, Peter discovered that his great-grandmother had been abandoned by her husband during a war and had struggled to raise her children alone. Wolynn explains how this trauma had been passed down through the generations and how it was manifesting in Peter’s relationship patterns. By acknowledging and honoring his great-grandmother’s experience and working through his own feelings of abandonment, Peter was able to break the cycle of inherited trauma and attract healthier relationships.
  3. Financial struggles: Wolynn explores how inherited family trauma can manifest in financial struggles, often due to beliefs and patterns passed down through generations. He shares the story of a woman named Sarah who had struggled with debt and financial insecurity for years. Through exploring her family history, Sarah discovered that her grandfather had lost everything during the Great Depression and had struggled to provide for his family. Wolynn explains how this trauma had been passed down through the generations and how it was manifesting in Sarah’s financial struggles. By acknowledging and honoring her grandfather’s experience and releasing the trauma from her body through visualization exercises, Sarah was able to shift her beliefs and patterns around money and create a more secure financial future for herself.

Overall, “It Didn’t Start With You” is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the impact of intergenerational trauma on individuals and families. Wolynn’s compassionate and insightful approach to this complex topic makes the book accessible and empowering for readers at any level of experience. Whether you are struggling with chronic issues or simply seeking to understand your family history, this book provides a roadmap for healing and breaking the cycle of inherited trauma.

A Stranger to Herself

Journal Date: Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

Today I’m moving on to reading about the first group of exercises in the Somatic Experiencing program.

“When you have been traumatized, you’re often unable to feel your own physical boundaries, because of disconnection from your body. This can have an impact in other areas of your life, such as setting boundaries in relationships, because it’s impossible to set limits if you have no sense of your own boundaries. 

Rebuilding connection is really the key to all of these exercises, because trauma is about a loss of connection, first to the body and self, and second to others and the environment.”

I’ve never heard trauma defined that way before, but I like this definition, and I agree.

There are many other trauma symptoms I’ve suffered from (not to mention all the diagnoses I’ve accumulated over the years), but I think that this disconnection is what is at the root of all of them.

There is nothing like being disconnected from your own self. 

It is the strangest pain; a blunt force that destroys without direction; a vast field of emptiness; an abyss where a soul should be.

To feel “lonely” or “alone” does not even begin to describe it.

Alone implies one— a unity which stands apart. 

I was less than one—a nothing, a void whose only meaning was in what was missing.

Sometimes, when I imagined my own death, I would picture my grave, and the epitaph which would read: 

Here lies
—was never loved
and died
a stranger to herself.
1988 — 20xx

All the World’s a Stage, and the Sun and Moon merely Players

This morning I woke up from a very difficult dream. I had spent most of the night crying in my sleep. Here’s what happened: 

In my dream my dad and my brother were going to all these different events and giving speeches about everything that was wrong with me and why I deserved to be rejected. I sat at all of them, trying to plead with them and convince them otherwise. No one listened to me, and I cried as I saw them give speech after speech on everything that was “bad” and “wrong” about me.

Oddly enough, my mom was by my side at every one of these events with me. Sometimes in their speeches they would briefly mention how bad and wrong she was too, although the focus was mostly on me.

When I woke up, I felt very upset and saddened by what I had experienced over the course of the night. 

What really stood out to me, though, was how my mom was on my side at every point during this dream. It’s really not like her to stand by me (in fact, she would have been the most likely of any of them to give a speech like that attacking me).

So I had to ask myself, what could this apparently small detail mean? I was sure it was significant.

Pretty quickly, it occurred to me that maybe it was my unconscious trying to show me the way my anima and animus related to each other. 

The Marriage of the Sun and Moon

The anima/animus was a concept developed by Carl Jung which in a sense, describes the anima as the part of our psyche which can be thought of as being “feminine.” The anima is associated with the unconscious, the body, and our feeling and emotional states, as well as our desires and needs.

The animus, on the other hand, is believed to be the part of our psyche which analytic psychologists associate with the masculine. The animus is thought to relate to our conscious mind, our rational thought processes, as well as order, reason and logic.

Although most of us within a given culture will tend to have these basic conceptions of what our anima/animus are like, the way that they actually present themselves within a given individual’s psyche is highly personal, dependent on life experience and unconscious psychic material.

I think this dream was trying to show me the way that my inner masculine or conscious mind relates to my inner feminine, or emotional/feeling part of me. 

I saw how my masculine side was in fact very abusive to the feminine parts of me. The “rational” conscious side tends to dominate and hurt the emotional feeling side. It has all of these unrealistic expectations about how things “should” be, and it punishes and hurts the parts of me that refuse to comply.

I began to see how I have internalized the roles that I saw my mother and father play. I introjected their beliefs and patterns of behavior, and in turn had my inner masculine/feminine adopt the same roles within myself.

One of the unhealthy ways in which this has manifested for me has been that I have very little ability to care for myself. I refuse to listen to what my body is telling me, or to accept what I am feeling. 

Instead, I tell myself: “No. You need to work harder. You don’t deserve to rest until you’ve done better. You don’t deserve anything until you’ve achieved what I tell you to. Not until you stop being bad.” 

This usually results in me forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do. I hurt myself this way because I’ve long believed that’s the only way to “discipline” the parts of me that are “wrong” and “bad.” These bad parts are always the feeling parts, that part of me which has needs and desires and wants to rest and feel okay.

I’m starting to understand that my animus does not necessarily possess some kind of truly evil intent toward the anima. The attitude of my animus, in fact, reflects the very same beliefs which my father has held toward my mother. He has always tried to “help” her, but in a way that reflects some pretty toxic underlying beliefs about her (and possibly about women in general). 

My mother has been perceived, in his eyes, as being: unintelligent, even stupid; incompetent and incapable; crazy, confused and irrational; and even bad, wrong, and unwilling. 

This, in turn, is perceived as requiring his need to act to control and dominate and coerce her into “seeing the truth” and accepting the superiority of his more rational and “right” values and ways of being.

Even though this is obviously insulting, selfish and even maybe abusive, I can see that there is a genuine belief that he is doing his best to “protect” and “provide” for her. It is based on a perceived inferiority on the part of the feminine in general and my mother in particular.

Just as my father treated my mother, my “thinking” conscious self now treats my unconscious (my body, my feelings and my desires) in very much the same way.  

It seems to genuinely believe in the fundamental “wrongness” of my feminine or feeling side. As crazy as it might seem, it wants to protect it, and it does so the only way it knows how: by bullying it into doing what it thinks is “right.”  

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.”

Carl Jung

I’m starting to understand how this impacts my relationships, as well. If I can’t have my inner parts of myself relate to each other in a way that is positive and healthy, I’ll never be able to have a relationship that is any better. 

If I don’t do anything to shift the roles inhabited by my anima and animus, then I will continue to recreate these same roles in all of my romantic relationships that I may enter in the future.

This dream seemed to be the way my unconscious was trying to get me to see what I needed to change in myself before I could move beyond these patterns in my life. 

I can see now that I must begin to make these changes starting from within. I know and trust from experience that if I can do this, then the problems I’ve experienced in the outer world will begin to shift naturally as a result of the changes in my inner world. 

As above, so below. As within, so without.”

The Emerald Tablet