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  • Writer's pictureJessica Campain

Can Trauma Be Inherited? Mark Wolynn Thinks So.

Mark Wolynn, of the Family Constellation Institute, has a very interesting theory about some of the seemingly inexplicable trials some clients are be facing, someone else's trauma. He claims that when trauma goes untalked about and unresolved future generations can play out the patterns, emotions and experiences from the past subconsciously.

In dire cases he says, "When we start to disappear from ourselves, lose connection with self, sometimes all we have connection with is our trauma language, when we can make the link where it lives in the family, then we can break the cycle." He suggests including trauma in genogram intervention, or traumagram, to find clues that may point to a recurring pattern of mental illness or maladaptive behavior in the family.


Wolynn discusses Four Unconscious Themes that show up in the cases of Inherited Family Trauma, here are some cursory notes on them:

-Rejected a parent

If we reject a parent we reject aspects of ourselves. We reject what we don't like about them, then that behavior unconsciously expresses in us. We can't see when we are the same, it expresses in us or we wait for it to appear in the another (projection) particularly our partner. What is unresolved with the parent will show up in relationship with our partner or worse we, do it to ourselves. We become distant with ourselves, we do to ourselves what we feel was done to us, if they were critical, aggressive, or ignored us, we do the same to the small part of us that feels alone, sad, and anxious.

This pattern must end, Wolynn claims, because it ruins lives. It was perhaps the best strategy one had at the time because they could not individuate and separate from them with love.

So, separation occurred abruptly via rejection, “I don’t want to deal with them.” But then it ends up showing up everywhere else.

-Merged with life experience, behavior, or feeling of a parent

Often an unrevealed or undiscussed experience or feelings

-Early break in bond with the mother, Losing mother’s attunement, interrupted reaching out (can be self or inherited)

Most insidious of themes, often occurred before your hippocampus came online, no memory of what happened. We lose contact with our core, ourselves. Child feels bereft, poor, cheated, and cut off from source. This leads to abundance of issues later in life. Child has difficulty reaching out to mother again. Later in relationships, unconsciously, plays out the dysfunction. This stuff sometimes happens so early we can’t connect with, feeling of loss

-Or we are identified w someone in the family that is not often talked about or suffered in some way (other than parents)

Once identified, say to self: I’m here, I’ve got you, I will stay with you when you feel this way while breathing and being present. “I bring myself to myself.”

Wolynn claims this trauma language can be inherited, “Core language” Trauma leaves behind clues, charged words or sentences that people cannot understand how they came to feel or believe...until they shake the family tree. One avenue to exlplore this core language is by asking the client, "What is the worst possible thing that could happen to you?' and then drill down a bit until the charged statement emerges. Possibly with, "If that happened, what would be the worst part of that?" Once the charged emotional statement is claimed, the pattern recognized, the work to resolve the trauma contraction into expansion can begin.


He also offers three insights from his work:

-If we or one of our family members struggle with something you can’t explain, what family secrets have been hidden? What traumas didn’t get healed all the way? "If we ignore the past it can come back to haunt us, If we explore it we don’t have to repeat it we can break the destructive patterns."

-Talk about the traumas in family, try to work through them so they are not passed down to future generations. The more we talk about them the more we bring relief to future generations.

-Heal the brain’s super efficient trauma response, it keeps us stuck in a state of suffering. We need to have new experiences that are powerful enough to override the old trauma response that lives in us. Practice the new sensations of the new experience so they can become ingrained in us and our brain can change.



There are, of course, many ways to work with trauma and this is just one lens. I did particularly enjoy the way Mark Wolynn expressed what this work can help individuals to do: It opens the door to the trauma, and helps the person to say, "I will look at you, I will be with you, I will be with the feelings that arise, I will be with those that have been pushed away, I won't exclude anybody from my heart."


Check out Mark Wolynn's book, "It Didn't Start with You" Here:

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