Tag Archives: trauma

It Didn’t Start With You

By Mark Wolynn

Sometimes people who struggle with anxiety, depression, mysterious somatic complaints, and other chronic problems have no clear idea where these problems come from. Sometimes even a doctor can’t diagnose the root of the symptoms. Without knowing where a problem comes from, how do you fix it? Sometimes the root of the problem doesn’t lie with us personally, but it something we have inherited from someone else in the family. From his personal experience and professional work, Wolynn describes the ways in which family trauma, when left unspoken and unaddressed, often passes from generation to generation through identifiable patterns. These patterns can be uncovered by paying attention to the language someone uses to describe their situation, particularly language that seems out of character or unusually emotionally charged. Wolynn emphasizes the importance of the core complaint, core descriptors, core sentence, and core trauma as a pathway to discovering what part of family history is currently being played out. Greater awareness and insight of how current difficulties reflect historical family problems often allows people to release their unexplained ailments and find a sense of peace and acceptance. Trauma will continue to impact subsequent generations until it is acknowledged and addressed.

The full title of this book is “It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.” Wolynn offers a variety of highly compelling case examples demonstrating the importance of language, and how attention to language can also lead to healing. For example, Wolynn shares the story of a teenage boy who suddenly began struggling with insomnia, anxiety, and a sense of never being warm enough was able to connect his experience with an uncle who froze to death during a snowstorm at the same age, yet the boy had never even heard of the uncle until he started asking questions. Much of Wolynn’s work also relates to other therapeutic approaches, including the problems that can stem from early disruptions of attachment, how to change the language we use to change the story of our lives, and that classic “that which we resist, persists.” By sharing so many examples of his work with clients and offering detailed descriptions of core language, core complaint, core sentence, and core trauma, Wolynn walks readers through his process in a step-by-step fashion that ensures each reader finds something to connect with. Whether or not you think this book applies to you, Wolynn shows you it does apply to you.

As someone who regularly seeks out books on trauma because I have a bizarrely strong passion for it, I found a lot of relevant material in this book. He explains his process in clear steps that are easy to understand, and encourages self-reflection by giving writing exercises throughout his book. I was a little less than thrilled with how strongly he relies on traditional gender roles (and particularly the role of the mother), but generally found this book informative and occasionally even innovative. I recommend this one.

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Survivor Cafe: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

by Elizabeth Rosner

Everyone copes with trauma in their own way, including the way they share their (hi)stories of trauma with others. However, there does seem to be a generational pattern of how trauma is passed from parents to children to grandchildren, and so on throughout human history. As a member of the second generation after holocaust survivors, Elizabeth Rosner has the experience of living with stories told and untold about the horrors her parents experienced during WWII. Her own experience listening to her parents, traveling to holocaust memorial sites, and bearing witness to the stories of survivors and children of survivors informs her understanding of not only the way families understand their past, but also the way communities, societies, and countries make sense of their collective past. Throughout her writing, she focuses primarily on the experience of holocaust survivors, but also delves into the stories of holocaust perpetrators (and their progeny), atom bomb survivors, refugees and genocide survivors, others who have experienced collective trauma. The themes she finds throughout these (hi)stories testify to both the indomitability and fragility of the human spirit, and the way that, spoken or unspoken, trauma is shared by more than those who are directly affected.

“Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory” by Elizabeth Rosner is part memoir, part exploration of the limited research available on epigenetics and the generational transmission of trauma. Rosner’s writing is centered on anecdotes, her own experience and the experiences of others that lead to informed speculation about what happens when parents do and do not tell their trauma history to their children, and what pieces of the full story are told. She takes a holistic view by including the story of holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren, and also holocaust perpetrators and their children and grandchildren, questioning not only the ways people are hurt, but also the ways people are hurt by hurting others. Her writing is full of prose and vulnerable honesty, making her anecdotes compelling and emotionally-laden. Although her honesty reveals deeply painful truths about humanity and society, it is also imbued with a profound sense of hope. At times the stories she shares are so overwhelming it can be hard to connect with the emotional content of the book, which emphasizes Rosner’s point that we must bear witness to the suffering of others if we are to collectively do anything to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.

I was expecting something with a little more research to it, but the human stories are always more compelling than the numbers and statistics behind research. This book reinforces many of the anecdotes I hear through my work, and many of the speculations I have about how trauma is held and shared both for the person directly impacted and by those close to the trauma survivor. Her holistic perspective, including holocaust perpetrators, feels neither forced nor contrived, but necessary and balanced. The whole book is authentic and compelling. I highly recommend reading this one. 

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