Can Mental Health Issues be Passed Down from Generation to Generation?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Some people have mental health issues that seem to come from nowhere, and with no explanation. Could it be that these issues are actually a gift from your ancestors, even though they seem to have no cause for occurring in your own life? The answer may surprise you. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss Daniel’s favorite dragon from his ‘Dragons from the Past’, which is the Ancestral Dragon. Dr. Amen and Tana explain just how mental health traits are handed down, and how to recognize when they may be an issue in your life.

Watch the brand new TV special from Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen “Overcoming Anxiety, Depression, Trauma & Grief” on PBS now! Check you local listings for showtimes.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging, to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to

Daniel Amen, MD:

Tonight, what we’re going to talk about is the ancestral dragon. Are your issues not your issue? That they’re actually from another generation. I had good news today, I got my first real hardcover copy of Your Brain is Always Listening. Then we got a note from the New York Times that they’re tracking it to potentially be a bestseller. I would dearly love if you helped that along. If you go to Your Brain is Always Listening, pre-order the book. I have four amazing gifts for you, including a coupon for my favorite supplement, a bottle of Happy Saffron. But that’s not why we’re here.

Why we’re here tonight is to talk about the ancestral dragon. Isn’t he cute? This is my favorite of all the dragons. And you know you have the ancestral dragon if you have symptoms and you have no idea why. That these dragons can come up for ancestor issues. Unresolved issues passed down by your mother, your father, your grandparents. Think of Holocaust survivors. Now we’re going to have pandemic survivors. We’re actually writing this stress in our genetic codes that literally can affect two or three future generations. That’s why it’s so important to get your brains right and your minds right to manage the stress that has been literally assaulting us for 11, almost 12 months.

They can come from genetic vulnerability. There’s actually epigenetic issues. Have to tell you about this study. It just blew my mind when I first found this study. They took mice and they made them afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. Now that’s not hard to do. You take mice, you give them a mild shock whenever the scent of cherry blossoms in the air. It’s Pavlovian conditioning. But what they discovered will blow your mind. Their babies were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms and their grandbabies were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. If you have unresolved fears and phobias that developed during your life, you may pass them on if you don’t figure out how to deal with them.

In the book, I tell two ancestral dragon stories. One, my wife, she’s on with me a lot because I adore her. Her grandmother grew up during World War I in what is now Lebanon, in greater Syria during the great famine. And they had no food and she got lost in the mountains. The Turks would come and raid that area of Syria and everybody’s scattered and she ended up getting lost in the mountains for three days. When they found her, her head, her hair was actually frozen from the water she’d fallen in and they had to shave her head. That trauma, that deprivation got written into her genetic code and she suffered a lot in her life with anxiety, depression, even some psychotic episodes.

But my wife was ready for the pandemic before the pandemic. And I used to always give her grief about why are you spending money on things we’ll never need like toilet paper? It’s like the store, when is the store ever going to run out of toilet paper? I can never again tell her no. But the trauma from her grandmother had actually been written in her genetic code, leaving Tana, always worried that some bad thing was going to happen.

When my grandfather first came to this country, again from the Middle East, he was a teenager and his brother borrowed his sister’s car and apparently his brother wasn’t a very good driver and ended up in an accident where he was killed in a collision with a train in Los Angeles. My grandfather’s 19 when this happens. He’s so angry. He’s so upset. He never drives again. And this happened before he made my dad and that anxiety. Because when I was a child, I had anxiety. Well, I have five sisters, that’ll make you anxious, but that got written in his genetic code.

What is written in your genetic code? And I didn’t know that story until just a few months before my dad died, because as I was working on Your Brain is Always Listening and really thinking about the ancestral dragon, I’m like, I need to know all about my dad and all about my grandpa and all about my grandmother. My grandmother was actually an orphan. She was raised in a convent in Bethlehem.

The ancestral dragon can also come with cultural expectations. The triggers for this dragon, it’s often unknown. If you don’t know your family story, even back to three generations, you might not know. Someone in the chat said, “It Didn’t Start With You.” It’s a great book. It’s a book I read. And we had Mark Wolynn who wrote the book on our Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. If you go a, you can actually see nearly a 1,000 podcasts Tana and I have done together and we did four of them on It Didn’t Start With You.

It’s often triggered as parents when you were the age that your parents or grandparents had trauma. And I tell a story in the book about a woman I was treating, who just couldn’t sleep by herself and it turned out and that started in her twenties when her mother was raped in her twenties and then really never slept well. Thinking it can be triggered when you think what you should do to make your family proud or make them accept you.

And how does the ancestral dragon cause you to react? Anxiety for little or no reason, out of the blue. Sometimes rebellion, where you’re going to rebel against cultural expectations. Or you feel guilty or as though you are a disappointment to others.

How do we tame this dragon? Got to know your family history. I think family history is just so important. At Amen Clinics, when we do a history on people, we just don’t start at your birth. We want to know about your mom, about your dad, about your grandparents, what runs in families very important. It’s important genetically to have a good idea. I recently scanned an 18 year old girl and I ended up scanning her mom and her dad to see where the patterns in her brain came from. I’ve done hundreds of three and four generational scans. Know your family history. Talk to your parents if they’re still alive or is there a family historian? can actually be very helpful.

Visualize your parents, grandparents and see if their issues often relate to your issues. And you want to work consciously to separate your issues from theirs. It Didn’t Start With You, it’s a great book by Mark Wolynn. The movies this dragon likes, Braveheart, love that movie. Gandhi, Saving Private Ryan, Glory, The King’s Speech. And for each of the dragons, so I’m just getting through part one. There are five parts in this book. I’m going to be back. We’re going to start talking about the they them and other dragons coming up in my nightly chats. But for each of the dragons, also have meditations or affirmations.

Now you can know your dragons, free quiz, and I’ll give you a report. And the average number of people we’ve had 5,000 people take this, is sex. People often have more than one. Tana had 10 of them. The affirmation is, I appreciate and honor my ancestors. That’s the first one. The second one is, sometimes my anxiety may not be from my lifetime but another lifetime. I work to live in the present and for the future so understanding the past is really important but you don’t want to live there.

There’s a special section in here on beware the dragons from the past tend to resurface when you have children. If you had the dragon born when you were a child, when your child is the age that that dragon was born, they often breathe fire on you again. If you got teased in kindergarten, when your child goes to kindergarten, your wounded dragon might all of a sudden show up.

Anyways, I hope you’re enjoying these. I enjoy bringing them to you. Hardcover, Your Brain is Always Listening, coming out March 2nd. But if you pre-order it before March 2nd, I have four free gifts for you. One is a playbook to help summarize the major concepts in the book. You can download that right away. There’s six hypnosis audios I do like, I do for my patients. It’s program I created called Magnificent Mind With Medical Hypnosis. Very powerful. There’s a special event I’m going to do March 17th, where I’m going to answer questions from just people who pre-ordered the book and a free coupon for my favorite supplement, a bottle of Happy Saffron. We’ve already given away almost 2,000 bottles. I hope you have a spectacular evening. Take care.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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Daniel Amen, MD:

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