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.