It Didn’t Start With You (2016) sheds light on a common thread in family relationships. These blinks explain how the source of your emotional or mental problems isn’t necessarily you but instead, your family history. You’ll learn how trauma can be passed from generation to generation, and what you can do to break the cycle.
Many people struggle with emotional problems. Some hold irrational fears, exhibit destructive habits or feel trapped in unhealthy relationships.
If you’ve ever faced problems such as these, you might think that you’re to blame, that you’re the source of your emotional turmoil.
But often such unhealthy behavior stems from trauma that you instead experienced, directly or indirectly, through your family.
Traumatic events, such as an early separation from a mother or an act of violence, can affect a person deeply. These events not only cause stress and fear but also can change a person’s behavior.
Importantly, if a person isn’t able to resolve the symptoms of such trauma, that person might instead suppress them and as a result, develop unhealthy behavioral patterns.
Worse, such people can even pass the effects of trauma to the next generation.
In short, you can carry symptoms of trauma in your life that you didn’t experience. You might have recurrent feelings or exhibit behaviors that aren’t the result of any particular event in your own life.
One of the author’s patients, for example, was overwhelmingly afraid of dying. She was severely claustrophobic and feared being unable to escape from a life-or-death situation.
She described the feeling as “I can’t breathe, I can’t get out; I’m going to die.”
The patient wasn’t reacting to trauma from her life but to the experience of her mother’s relatives, who she later learned were murdered in a gas chamber during World War II.
Severe trauma like this can be so powerful that echoes of it can affect people who personally didn’t experience it. But how exactly can this be the case?