‘The past is never dead.’ Inherited trauma in real-life and in my writing

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

William Faulkner, from Requiem for a Nun

Is it possible for behaviours to pass from one generation to another? We all know about genetic inheritance and the chromosomal DNA that is received from our parents; that we may inherit our mother’s aquiline nose, our father’s curly hair or our grandfather’s hazel eyes. But as science has advanced, it has transpired that physical traits constitute less than 2% of our DNA. The remaining 98% is called noncoding DNA and drives many of our inherited personality, behavioural and emotional traits.

According to Mark Wolynn, founder and director of The Family Constellation Institute and author of the hugely fascinating book It Didn’t Start With Younot only can we inherit behaviours from previous generations, but these feelings, hardships, symptoms and behaviours of an earlier family member can affect our every waking moment, often on a largely unconscious level. The unspoken experiences within us can manifest in so many ways, for example in our chronic symptoms, quirky language or unexplainable behaviours, resurfacing again and again in our daily repetitive struggles.

“…we can feel entirely out of sync with ourselves,” states Wolynn. “Our thoughts can become overpowering, and we can feel overwhelmed – even frightened – by the sensations that flood our body…We know there’s a problem, but we can’t quite put our finger on the “what happened” part of it.”  That could be because it didn’t happen to us. Or, as the title of Wolynn’s book suggests, it didn’t start with you, but a previous generation.

But what does all this really mean and why is it relevant to me and my writing? I have often been drawn to situations of conflict in my writing, exploring how normal people cope and adapt in highly stressful environments and the boundless well of courage and resilience they draw upon.

I have long had the idea that trauma can be inherited from previous generations. Whilst not based on anything other than instinct, as soon as I started looking into this in earnest, I saw that studies, empirical scientific research and literature abound on the subject. I knew that I wanted to set part of my third novel in World War Two in Crete and explore the trauma that one man experiences. But this got me thinking…so many millions globally were affected by what happened to them during WW2, either directly or indirectly. But what impact did this have on their children and grandchildren?

It’s not something I’d ever thought about too deeply, but if Wolynn’s assertions have any truth to them (and given the amount of research behind them, we’d be crazy not to at least consider it), the implications are, I believe, enormous and far-reaching. “Trauma has the power to reach out from the past and claim new victims.” So says Dr Sack, and my protagonist in my third novel, born after World War Two, is one of these victims. How does he experience trauma from the past? Well, you’ll  just have to read my book when it comes out 😉

‘Welcome to Matala. Today is Life.Tomorrow Never Comes.’ The mantra of the young cave-dwellers who lived in Matala in the sixties & seventies and lives on in the sprit of Matala (the setting of novel #3). But how were these young people affected by the past?

In his Family Constellation Institute, Wolynn works with a large number of people exploring the bigger pictures and stories behind his patients’ dis-ease. “When I work with families in my practice,” Wolynn states, “I often see patterns of illness, depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, and financial hardship, and always feel compelled to look deeper.”

The examples he cites in his book are compelling, as are his methods for ending the cycle of inherited trauma. Because this is the great news: these traumas can be healed.

I feel really excited to be writing this story. My sincere hope is that is can encourage others to explore their own stories of inherited trauma and for journeys of healing to be set in motion.

Thanks for reading!


If you enjoyed this blog post, complement it with Matala Snapshots: Then & Now and Title for Book #3!Hey you baby boomers out there…I need your help! & Novel Number Three: The Cave men and women from the 1960’s. 

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Not read my latest novel yet, The Girl and the Sunbird? Here’s what some reviews from Amazon are saying about it:

‘This is a poignant, heart-wrenching, impactful story that I won’t soon forget.’

‘I envy anyone who is still to read this.’

‘It’s one of those books that weaves itself into your soul and stays with you long after you reluctantly read the last page.’

‘A brilliant book, an epic story, this book deserves to be read by everyone.’

3 replies
  1. Saida Ali
    Saida Ali says:

    Great article! I remember we spoke about this some time back and no reading the article, makes me even more curious about this subject. Can’t wait to read your next book. And all he best with the writing. Hugs, Sai


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