It Did Not Start With You-Mark Wolynn

We are affected by the environment where we were born and raised, its culture, the people we meet, and the events we experience. The way our parents raise us shapes our perspective on life and our behavior. What if the issue is bigger than what our parents passed on to us? What if what they don't convey also affects us? Have you ever heard a sentence similar to “You look like your grandmother every day!”? Maybe you are more like your grandmother than you think. You may experience similar events that your grandmother or grandfather, mother or father experienced. Even if you don't know what you are experiencing, your subconscious can strangely encode them and pass them on to you through inheritance. It is transmitted from generation to generation in a sort of copy-paste manner.

Oct 8, 2023 - 19:29
Oct 8, 2023 - 19:34
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It Did Not Start With You-Mark Wolynn
It Did Not Start With You

According to the definition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2013), “Trauma is when an individual experiences or witnesses an event or events that involve real or perceived death or injury, or that pose a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others. The reactions of the individual include intense fear, helplessness, threat or terror” (Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders Dsm-5, p.146). People who experience the same trauma may react in different ways. Each individual develops different defense mechanisms. Each experiences trauma through his or her own emotions and observations. At exactly this point, the book "It Didn't Start With You" explains that traumas are both individual and hereditary. The trauma and stress experienced by our mother and father, from our first time in the womb to the moment of birth, are transferred to us through epigenetic means. First of all, it is necessary to examine what epigenetics is. Epigenetics is a term used to express different processes that lead to long-term changes in gene expression without changing the genetic code, that is, the DNA base sequence (Delcuve et al. 2009). These genes make us who we are by controlling the synthesis of all proteins in the body.

            Jones et al. (2008) conducted a study on mice at Emory School of Medicine (Learning-dependent structural plasticity in the adult olfactory pathway, 28(49)). In the study, healthy mice were made to smell cherry blossoms and given an electric shock. After being made to smell cherry blossoms again, it was observed that the mice were startled by that smell, even though no electric shock was given, and they were conditioned in this way. Mice are mated and their reactions to the smell of cherry blossoms are measured in each generation. The new generation of mice, which have not been exposed to electric shock before, react just like their previous generations when they smell cherry blossoms. Thus, it has been discovered that traumatic moments can be transmitted to subsequent generations through epigenetic changes that occur in DNA.

Robinson et al. (2014) examined the effects of stress on pregnant rats and premature birth. According to the study, pregnant rats under stress gave birth prematurely and their daughters' pregnancies were short-lived. The grandchildren of the same pregnant rats also gave birth prematurely. Mild to moderate stress experienced during pregnancy is transmitted between generations and expands with each generation. According to Kocatürk, “Our body secretes the cortisol hormone during stress, and the cortisol hormone helps our body return to normal after the trauma we experience. According to Yehuda & Seckl (2011), they observed that children of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were born with low cortisol levels, similar to their parents' low cortisol levels (Minireview: stress-related psychiatric disorders with low cortisol levels: a metabolic hypothesis. Endocrinology, 152(12), 4496-4503). It all starts with your grandmother and grandfather having sexual intercourse. According to Lipton, “A mother's emotions such as fear, anger, love, and hope can biologically change the genetic expression of her children. Your grandmother kept a record of the emotions and thoughts she experienced until she gave birth to your mother. Likewise, your father's experiences are also encoded in the sperm and transmitted through the sperm. For instance, Wolynn (2016) includes cases in his book. According to Tricia's story, Tricia always had short-term relationships, and the people she was in relationships with ended the relationship by saying that Tricia was so cold and insensitive. Likewise, Tricia's mother is a cold, heartless, distant, and emotionally unavailable woman. Tricia states that she cannot go to her mother even for support. According to Wolynn, Tricia's rejection of her mother is the reason for the failures in their relationship. Through the sessions, Tricia stated that Tricia portrays her mother as a selfish and emotionally unavailable woman. In fact, her grandmother suffered a great loss and that's why she had to grow up with her aunt. Feeling like a stranger in the family and being a resentful and cold person turned her into an emotionally inaccessible woman over time. This grandmotherly pattern repeated itself over time, reaching Tricia.

This can be a difficult situation to accept. I recommend you read the book slowly. Specific practices are explained to help you discover yourself and your past. Wolynn recommends doing these practices over time. When we look back, we don't know what awaits us. This is a process of discovery that requires courage and time. The book also includes practices that emphasize the importance of being compassionate and trying to understand our parents instead of blaming them. We may experience difficulties and confusion on the path to well-being. These difficulties and confusions lead us to well-being.


Kocatürk, P. A. (2000). Strese cevap. Ankara Üniversitesi Tıp Fakültesi Mecmuası, 53(1).

Yao, Y., Robinson, A. M., Zucchi, F. C., Robbins, J. C., Babenko, O., Kovalchuk, O., ... & Metz, G. A. (2014). Ancestral exposure to stress epigenetically programs preterm birth risk and adverse maternal and newborn outcomes. BMC medicine, 12(1), 1-12.

Wolynn, M. (2017). It didn't start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. Penguin.

Yehuda, R., & Seckl, J. (2011). Minireview: stress-related psychiatric disorders with low cortisol levels: a metabolic hypothesis. Endocrinology, 152(12), 4496-4503.

Jones, S. V., Choi, D. C., Davis, M., & Ressler, K. J. (2008). Learning-dependent structural plasticity in the adult olfactory pathway. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(49), 13106-13111.


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Beyza Sıla Keskin Ben Beyza Sıla Keskin. ODTÜ Psikolojik Danışmanlık ve Rehberlik mezunuyum. Alanımda kendimi geliştirmek ve geliştirirken deneyim kazanmak benim için çok önemli. Hayata psikoloji penceresinden bakmak bana çok şey kazandırıyor.