Have you ever felt totally stressed out in a situation that didn’t seem to warrant the feeling? Have you ever felt anxious for no obvious reason? There’s an answer for this that just might blow your mind. In the first episode of a series with “It Didn’t Start with You” author Mark Wolynn, he and the Amens discuss how the experiences of your ancestors may be causing you to react in unfamiliar and surprising ways.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: 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.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome, everyone. This week, we're going to blow your mind. We're going to talk about It Didn't Start With You. Over the next couple of years, you'll hear me talk a lot about ancestral dragons that still breathe fire on your emotional brain. When I was researching that, I came across Mark Wolynn and his book It Didn't Start With You. I loved this book. I think it is so helpful, so practical.
Dr Daniel Amen: Mark is a leading expert on inherited family trauma. He's the winner of the 2016 Silver Nautilus Award in psychology. He's the director of the Family Constellation Institute in San Francisco. He has trained thousands of clinicians and treated thousands more patients struggling with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive thoughts, self-injury, chronic pain, and illness. He's a sought after lecturer. You can actually watch some of his lectures on YouTube, which I have done.
Dr Daniel Amen: He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the Western Psychiatric Institute, Kripalu, where both of us taught, the Omega Institute where we taught, the New York Open Center, and the California Institute for Integral Studies. His articles have appeared in Psychology Today, mindbodygreen, mariaschriver.com. Inherited family trauma, talk to us. What does that mean for people?
Tana Amen: Yeah, why did you write this book? What does it mean? This is so [crosstalk 00:02:39] exciting.
Mark Wolynn: When something happens to our parents and our grandparents, let's say they lost a mother or a father when they were young, or they were sent away or placed in orphanage, or one of their siblings died tragically collapsing the family, the reaction doesn't necessarily stop with them. The feelings, the sensations, specifically the stress response, this can be passed on to our children and our grandchildren and now we're finding the biological evidence for this.
Mark Wolynn: I wrote the book because we're walking around with a mystery that we can't explain. We have anxieties that start at a particular age, or after a certain triggering event, or we have depression that we can never get to the bottom of, or behaviors we can't explain. I see myself in a way as the guy with the flashlight shining it on the these behaviors we can't explain and then taking a peek behind the curtain to see if there is something resonant in our parents or grandparents lives.
Dr Daniel Amen: Now you open the book by telling your own story of beginning to lose your eyesight. And then you travel the world really to get insight into why this physical thing is happening to you and several of the teachers that you went to said, "You need to talk to your parents."
Mark Wolynn: It's true.
Tana Amen: Wow!
Mark Wolynn: I had this chronic condition for which there was no cure, central serous retinopathy. I was the 5%. It's chronic and I began to lose my vision. There is nothing Western medicine can do. They'd say, "We think it's stress." So I go on this journey and to see what might be out behind it. I went around the globe as far as Indonesia, working with some very wise spiritual teachers that kept shining the light for me, telling me I had to make peace with my parents. I had to go home.
Mark Wolynn: I had broken relationships with both of my parents at this time. Well, I wouldn't know it at the time, but inherited trauma, inherited family trauma sits at the root. All my grandparents had been orphaned in some way as toddlers, as babies. Three of them lost their mothers when they're infants. One loses her father when she's one and ultimately loses her mother's attunement at this age as well. I don't know this, but this has broken parenting in my family and blocked the flow of what my mom or dad could give. So I'm very disconnected with them. I keep hearing from these teachers, "Go home and heal your relationship." And before I could really do that, I had to heal what stood in the way, which is inherited family trauma because this feeling of being broken from a mother's love. This is what was passed down in my family.
Mark Wolynn: I remember being five, five, six years old. Every time my mum would leave the house even to go to the grocery store, I'd run into her bedroom, pull open her drawers and cry into her garments, her nightgowns, her scarves, just to smell her scent. Never connecting that this is probably all that my grandparents were left with of their mothers was just the scent. I remember sharing this with my mom about, oh, I was 40 or something, and I said, "Mom, you know, you used to leave the house and I would go into your drawers and cry in your clothes." And she looked to me and said, "I did that too." And my sister reading the book says, "Honey, I did that too." So the family pattern-
Tana Amen: Ooh, it's so interesting.
Mark Wolynn: ... was pretty clear.
Tana Amen: Wow!
Mark Wolynn: And so I had to heal breaking the attachment with my mom. And in doing so, my sight comes back. I didn't even link the two. I didn't even expect to have my sight come back. And after that I developed a method for healing the effects of inherited family trauma.
Tana Amen: Ooh, I want to [crosstalk 00:07:10] hear about that.
Dr Daniel Amen: So after I read the book, I started talking more to my parents and I'm still blessed. My mom is 88 and my dad's 90 and I talk to them a lot. But he told me a story of my grandfather who came from the Middle East and he went to Los Angeles with his brother, but his brother was a bad driver and had borrowed a car and ended up getting killed in a train accident. My grandfather is 19 and my grandfather never drove again after that.
Dr Daniel Amen: And so I'm thinking, how did that anxiety come down through my dad? My dad is not an anxious person. His favorite word when I was growing up was bullshit. His second fav-
Tana Amen: "I don't get heart attacks, I give them."
Dr Daniel Amen: "I don't get heart attacks, I give them." But I was anxious-
Tana Amen: Because of him, yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... I think because of my dad. But just thinking about how my grandfather's trauma could have impacted me was powerful. And then Tana, her grandmother also-
Tana Amen: Yeah, so if you believe in coincidence, which I don't really believe in coincidence, right, I was writing my book and finishing it when you, right around the time that you got this book and he's like, "You need to read this." Because my book is a memoir and it's based on a lot of, one of the chapters is your family history, how your family history comes back to you. But I don't have all this information.
Tana Amen: For me, it was really interesting because I learned things about my family I had no idea about. Like, my grandmother was during World War, well, let's see, it was-
Dr Daniel Amen: World War I.
Tana Amen: ... World War I, yeah. During World War I, she was, well back then it was greater Syria, now it's Lebanon. She had PTSD her whole life, terrible PTSD. I mean, I didn't know what that was at the time, but it was horrific. She remembers the Turks coming through and riding through with their weapons. You had to be off the streets and she got lost as a five-year-old up in the mountains by herself for three days and barely survived it. It always affected her, but I didn't know that story.
Dr Daniel Amen: And she went through the famine.
Tana Amen: She went through the great famine that killed over 250,000 people and it was really crazy. But I didn't know a lot of this until I was writing my book and I did the research. You're making fun of me because you're like, "Oh, that's where you get your survivalist thing." I'm always into survival camps.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. We live in Newport Beach.
Tana Amen: It doesn't matter.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's safe.
Tana Amen: I'm like, "Anything could happen at any time. You don't know." But it was so interesting because he got this book right about that time and I'm like, huh, I didn't know those things about her. And yet here I was behaving a certain way.
Mark Wolynn: Yeah, even if we don't have the information, it still shows up in our symptoms, our behaviors and often triggered by an age. I was listening to both your stories and Dan, going to your story, 19 could be a triggering age in the family history from then forward, or driving a car, or these... I've learned that there, maybe we'll talk about this later, that there are signs of inherited trauma in ways in which we can tell more or less if we're carrying something from the past.
Mark Wolynn: Tana to, for grandma to be lost for three days in the mountains at five, it's also going to break her attachment.
Tana Amen: Oh, for sure.
Mark Wolynn: She went through all those things. There is no trust and safety. These all have an effect on parenting.
Mark Wolynn: Nowadays, with all this tremendous amount of trauma, when we look at this effect of this trauma, it has the effect of blocking the love that was possible from our parents.
Tana Amen: That's so interesting.
Mark Wolynn: Down at the very bottom, a lot of times I'm working with attachment because of these historical generational traumas.
Tana Amen: Do you see very often that sometimes, so sometimes people repeat those patterns. That seems obvious. Sometimes they do the opposite. I know I did the opposite with my daughter because my childhood was really chaotic. And I'm like, "I'm not having kids if I can't do it differently." We're like this. Maybe I'm a little over the top with, I mean I don't feel like I am, but maybe I'm a little over the top.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, [Chloe 00:11:41] never had a never babysitter.
Tana Amen: Never.
Dr Daniel Amen: Our 16-year-old-
Tana Amen: Would not have a babysitter.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... never had a babysitter because she had been hurt by babysitters.
Tana Amen: Right. And so I was just very protective. We're very close. And so I started to struggle with a little bit of depression when she started to pull away from me. Thank God I'm psychologically savvy enough to realize I'm not going to make her feel bad for it because it's normal. She's doing the right thing. This is good for her. But it was not easy for me. I was like, "Wait, what is happening?"
Dr Daniel Amen: We'll start the next podcast with this, once you know that there are patterns that may not be helpful, how do you not give them-
Tana Amen: Pass them down?
Dr Daniel Amen: ... to your children? Stay with us. We're here with Mark Wolynn. The book is called, It Didn't Start With You. It will-
Tana Amen: It's so great.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... blow your mind.
Tana Amen: Yeah [inaudible 00:12:34]. I'm so excited. This is so good.
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