Emotional Inheritance

Emotional Inheritance

I recently purchased a new release book written by Galit Atlas called ‘Emotional Inheritance’.

It is a stunning book written by a psychotherapist who tells of how the unconscious passage of trauma from one generation to the next is revealed in psychotherapy. She shares powerful stories of sorrows held in secret, of children who carry those sorrows forward without knowing what darkness lives.

Galit talks about how every family carries some history of trauma. The obvious and often discussed ones are those, for example, from the Holocaust, slavery, war, poverty, colonisation and so on. Yet not all unconscious passages of trauma are that obvious.

In other words, the book investigates inherited trauma and how trauma is transmitted from one generation to the next and is held in our minds and bodies as if it was our own.

She talks about how the trauma leaves an emotional mark on those yet to be born. How the experiences of our ancestors, our parents, grandparents and great grandparents are passed on to us. There are often many secrets that keep us from living to our potential. They affect our mental and physical health and as I say to many clients, “they are like ghosts.” They shape our lives in quiet and far-reaching ways, unseen to others but very real in their impact.

Galit talks of research done at Mt Sanai Hospital that revealed that the offspring of Holocaust survivors have lower levels of Cortisol which helps the body bounce back after trauma. They found that the descendants of people who survived the Holocaust have different stress hormone profiles compared to their peers, perhaps predisposing them to anxiety disorders. They also found that healthy offspring of Holocaust survivors as well as people who have been enslaved, war veterans and parents who experienced major trauma are more likely to show symptoms of PTSD after traumatic events or witnessing a violent incident.

What I found interesting is that there is a suggestion from an evolutionary focus that the changes mentioned above might be happening to prepare a child for circumstances like their own traumatic experience so that they can survive. So, what that means is that they can carry the symptoms of the trauma without experiencing it first-hand.

I see and feel this with my clients. I witness how the traumatic experiences of their parents and ancestors can invade their current life. It can be very subtle or obvious. Sometimes it is challenging for my client and for me as their therapist to come to grips with how those things we emotionally inherit are conveyed to us.

I often wonder what I have emotionally inherited in subtle ways. My Dad’s father left the family when he was young, with 4 siblings and rendered them homeless. They moved in with relatives who kindly took care of them. His father was an alcoholic. I wonder what has been passed on to me about hard work, survival, abandonment, determination and financial management.

My Dad was also in the air force and served overseas for 5 years during WW11. I didn’t hear him speak of the war but maybe his response to it was passed down to me and my siblings. He was an unwell man for many years, and I now also wonder about that and his connection to traumatic experiences. I wonder what I will pass onto my grandchildren.

According to Gailit, we inherit family traumas, even those we haven’t been told about.  Maybe we inherit their unprocessed trauma, those things too unspeakable or unknown at the time. Everything that we do not consciously know is relived. It is held in our minds and bodies, and I see this regularly with clients. It makes itself known through physical and emotional symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, phobias, obsessions and illness.

The most important thing to remember is that you can heal from all forms of trauma, even the ones you can’t articulate or remember.

“If we carry intergenerational trauma (and we do), then we also carry intergenerational wisdom. It’s in our genes and in our DNA.”

Kazu Haga

With compassion, kindness and love, I create a calm space for you to explore, release, heal and grow through your trauma.

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