“what human beings cannot contain of their experience—what has been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable—falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or a chaotic urgency.” – M. Gerard Fromm, from Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations
“Recent studies on the science behind intergenerational trauma — between Holocaust survivors and their children, for instance — have discovered that trauma can be passed between generations. The epigenetic inheritance theory holds that environmental factors can affect the genes of future generations. Chemical tags acting like Post-its can latch onto our DNA, switching genes off and on. A research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital led by Rachel Yehuda, a leading expert on post-traumatic stress and epigenetics, concluded that some of these tags could be transferred across generations. When Yehuda researched mothers who were pregnant and in the World Trade Center during 9/11, she discovered that environmental fallout could even leave an imprint in utero.” – Rignam Wangkhang, author for Ozy, online news site
Yes folks, the evidence is clear. These are two quotes taken pretty much at random from the thousands of news articles and scholarly reports that all confirm the same thing: unresolved trauma doesn’t stop with you, it gets passed on to the next generation, and the next. I feel this gives new validation to the the belief held among many native tribes that we must consider the effects of our actions all the way out to the seventh generation – not just our external actions, but our internal ones as well.
While this might seem to some like bad news, to me it’s and incredibly useful for understanding why we may behave in certain ways and hold certain fears, beliefs and stresses that seem to have no context. And there is another upside – if genes can change for the worse due to negative environmental factors, that means they can also change for the better under the influence of positive environmental factors. Meaning even if this pain, worry, stress, etc, didn’t start with you, it can end with you. You have the power to heal at the level of the DNA – and that’s pretty awesome.
So yes, the science confirms this. So the question I want to pose, and answer to the best of my ability, is this… if trauma can be passed downstream through time from generation to generation, can healing be passed upstream? Can the healing work we do on ourselves have a positive impact on our grandparents, parents and siblings? I say YES!
This could seem at first to be a rather mystical belief, and if you’ve been reading me for a while this shouldn’t be surprising, but I believe that some of the latest discoveries in quantum mechanics can help bear this out. On top of that I’ve seen it for myself in my own process and in the process of many of my clients.
The first thing to address is the concept of time. While it may seem from our vantage point that time flows steadily in one direction from the past to the the future, this really isn’t the case, it simply seems that way from our perspective. When Albert Einstein introduced the theory of special relativity, he rocked this notion onto it’s heels by showing that where a person is located in space and how fast that person is traveling will change their experience of time – he showed that the experience of time passing is subjective based on your perspective.
It’s very complex and there are many many papers and videos on this subject, but to break it down as simply as possible – what we experience as time is our mind rationalizing the distance travelled by various forms of energy, just as our mind rationalizes some electromagnetic frequencies as colors. If we were to change our perspective from a 3D one to a 4D one, we would see that past, present and future exist all at once NOW (a concept that spiritual teachers and mystics have been hammering home for millennia).
There’s a show I love called “Agents of Shield”, and while yes, it is a TV show – it’s fiction – there is an episode where one of the characters, Fitz, explains this concept very succinctly, accurately and beautifully – it’s only about 90 seconds, so check this out and then come back…. youtu.be/MOb1Yghbpxk?t=1m1s
So, if we can agree that time is subjective and how we experience it is based on our perspective, then it doesn’t seem like too great a leap to the thought that the healing work we do now might not only effect our present and future generations, it might also radiate out into the past – like a stone dropped in the water that emanates ripples in all directions at once.
If healing an inherited intergenerational trauma changes our DNA, which it does, might not that ripple out into the past as well, to effect those who passed that DNA pattern on to us in the first place? Might that change the way that they are affected by their own experiences?
Since it has been shown that time and space are one unified thing – spacetime – and because it’s been proven that sub-atomic particles can effect each other instantaneously across vast distances, might not subatomic changes in our DNA structure also effect related DNA structures across both space AND time?
I think so, but of course this is all quite speculative and there is no way currently to prove it, and there is a more practical way to look at how the healing work we do can positively effect our parents and other relations.
When I work with a client to renegotiate and heal a past traumatic event, what we are fundamentally working towards is changing the stored up, frozen, somatic experience of that event – the imprint of overwhelm, helplessness, terror, rage, etc. that was too big to process, as well as the instinctive self-protective processes that may have tried to emerge but were unable to due to circumstance, and so got locked up in their body.
If those traumas were caused by a parent, grandparent, sibling or other relation, that stored-up stress will almost always be accompanied by an internalized version of the abuser. That internal monster often shows up as the negative, self-critical and even hateful thought loops that spin round and round the mind and which are so hard to escape from. Thoughts and beliefs that are not even ours, but that have been pounded into us and are now associated with this internal, archetypal representation of our abuser.
*note: for more info on working with the internalized abuser, check out this past article
When we are able to go into the body and release the stored up stress from our nervous system, along with all the physiological, emotional and mental changes which that entails, it often happens that our internalized abuser also starts to dissipate. We start to be able to understand, and not just understand cognitively but also viscerally, somatically – that in most cases our parents were doing the best they could with what they inherited from their parents, and so on. We start to be able to see them in a different light and with more compassion.
This changes our relationship with them and often takes a bit of a psychic load off of their shoulders – after all, it is undeniable that if a person views their parents or siblings or spouses with hatred, disdain and contempt, that the other will sense that, if only unconsciously, and will often then act out in a way that supports that projection. Likewise they will sense it when our viewpoint softens and we are able to see them with more love and understanding.
Whatever the mechanisms involved, one thing is certain: when we heal ourselves from the inside out, when we bring regulation back into our nervous system and release old, inherited genetic junk from our DNA, the healing that happens is profound. For ourselves, and for all our relations.
May all your healing efforts be successful! May the next seven generations inherit a better world than we did – both on the outside and on the inside.