Epigenetics: How Our Ancestors’ Traumas and Successes Impact Our Life

Epigenetics: How Our Ancestors’ Traumas and Successes Impact Our Life

According to transgenerational theory, each generation profoundly determines the fate of the generations that follow. If we want to understand our feelings and emotions, it is not enough to only look at our life. You have to broaden the picture and go higher in your family tree to examine what your ancestors lived through. 


You need to track down the losses and struggles your parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents’ generations experienced, as well as the solutions they found to a problem, whether they found any at all, or accepted them instead, and surrendered themselves to whatever fate gave them.


The experiences, beliefs, pains, and solutions of our ancestors have a big impact on how we live our lives, how we approach difficult situations, and also on the relationship systems we develop. No one exists as an island, but we are all inextricably linked to previous generations.

A Resurrected Concept

Although this may be a modern topic in psychology, people were well aware of this phenomenon in the past, because everyone considered themselves as part of a family and a nationality system. This information got lost somehow, and the individual became the focus of attention as if anyone could be detached from the life of their ancestors.

Over time, events happened that made the link between generations obvious, and how solely focusing on the individual isn’t enough. We may have not experienced the same traumatic event suffered by our parents or grandparents for instance, but it still has a profound impact on our lives. This phenomenon is called epigenetic inheritance.

Our feelings and experiences, such as painful life events, create cellular changes in the individual that are passed onto offspring. There is scientific evidence for this. An experiment on mice showed how fear is passed down through generations. When mice were taught that the smell of cherry blossoms was associated with a painful electric shock, their offspring developed fear reactions by only its smell.

The Impact of Our Ancestors’ Experience

Our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences can impact you. This is vital information, it can give us great insights into our lives. You might deal with anxieties for no explicable reasons. They may not be corresponding to your life’s events, but to events that happened to your ancestors, which you possibly inherited…


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It is a very important research topic currently. The horrors of the Holocaust, the wars of the 20th century, the persecutions, and the long-term effects of domestic violence or neglect have brought these issues to light. Many researchers are now looking at how to help the next generation to carry as little transgenerational burden as possible and, in particular, to pass on as little trauma as possible to their descendants.


How to Dig Up Such Information


By starting to think of yourself as part of a system. By asking yourself, and even your parents or grandparents, what the family atmosphere was like when you were growing up. You shouldn’t stop at the family of origin, but go further, and ask where your parents’ emotional attitudes could come from. What were their worlds like growing up?


A very reclusive family usually turns out to have had some traumatic event in their ancestors’ lives that made them think the world is an infinitely dangerous place, so it’s better to retreat to the safety of the family. This attitude of insecurity is transmitted almost imperceptibly, and the offspring cannot understand why they feel like outsiders and cannot form meaningful relationships.


Photo by Olivier Piquer on Unsplash


Why do others have lots of friends and are very social, while he or she sits alone on Friday and Saturday nights with no one to talk to? What can a person do who cannot ask these questions, either because there is no one in particular to ask, or because the family is closed off to answers? What methods can be used to find out this information?

What Information Matters


We don’t necessarily need to look for specific information, but rather for the emotional relationship and milieu in which you grew up. It is very informative. For example, if you don’t dare to ask questions at home, it is already a great foundation for a professional to work with.


To examine how the family climate developed to disallow this, what it was like to grow up in such a climate, how they deal with this in their life and relationships. It’s only possible to work with available information. What matters the most is what do you carry forward and what can you change, what things you don’t want to carry forward and how could you put them down?


Healing Generational Wounds


There are many methods available depending on what may bring solutions to the individual and their problem. One thing is certain: the journey of self-awareness is a very lengthy process. The fact that I find something out does not necessarily mean I can change it. Awareness is an important first step, but it must be followed by a consistent process of change. It is safe to say that change will not happen overnight.


It takes patience, a lot of time, and perseverance to reach the point where one is able to change bad habits, early burned-in evidence, a worldview that seems irrefutable, and the automatic emotional and behavioral reactions that go with it. Changing is one of the most difficult tasks in a person’s life.


The individual’s life is inseparable from their socio-historical circumstances. When analyzing a person’s life, we cannot overlook the historical context in which they lived. Huge historical traumas still need to be processed! So far, we all have been told to keep quiet and not to talk about things, ignore them, move on, but this has brought no help to anyone, it has only made people’s lives more difficult…


The Traces of Unresolved Issues


The traces of unresolved major social traumas can still be seen today. The population’s state of health mirrors our societal problems. Some countries aren’t coincidentally leading the statistics of alcoholism, depression, or even suicide! What alcoholism is truly about? It’s about trying to do something about your anxiety, but failing, so you turn to the most obvious substance, alcohol.


The same applies to drugs which most of us are taking in some form, and too many of us turn to tranquilizers and use antidepressants. We usually think that our inner tensions can’t be sorted out internally, so we need something external. This way of coping also shows a transgenerational pattern, it is passed on from parent to child, thinking it’s OK, have a glass of brandy and you’ll see the world in a better light. 


There is an urgent need to teach stress reduction techniques because the inability to regulate our emotional states is a serious burden on society as a whole. The power of community is key to tackling our largest pandemic of human loneliness!

Understanding why your family members don’t want to discuss issues is pivotal, but trying to force them to talk probably won’t get you closer to the solution. Their fear could be so threatening if stated out loud, something they could not control could happen…



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