It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn
It Didn’t Start with You is about how trauma is passed down generationally, and how to heal it.
In my (unpopular, according to reviews) opinion, the reason this book has sold so well is because we, as a society, don’t know why we’re traumatized. It’s easier for us to paint over a dirty fence, attempting to bandage our family problems through “feel good” efforts.
Wolynn suggests that we all have inherited familial trauma that’s passed down through our DNA, and once we become aware of what our parents and grandparents experienced, we can heal all wounds and have happy relationships.
Maybe when you’ve had the ideal upbringing. But did you?
He doesn’t address dysfunction or abuse within the family. Instead he suggests being compassionate towards them, as if knowing about their traumas will absolve them from anything they may have done to you when you were growing up, or even as an adult.
Learned behaviors, beliefs, and feelings that have formed as a result of one’s experiences within the family—Wolynn attributes these to genetic generational trauma, subconscious memories from our ancestors. To him, these drive our behavior. He uses this framework for his system of “healing.” He does not address poverty, hardship, or emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse.
He shares stories about his patients’ sense of relief and healing, but their underlying challenges have not been addressed, their relationships not truly changed. If none of the reader’s personal circumstances are looked at, all of this “generational trauma” is conjecture. The fence is still dirty and the paint peels sooner or later.
“We must first repair our broken relationships with our parents.”
How does he suggest that we do this? He suggests we take responsibility for our parents. He doesn’t suggest how to seek a relationship with them where they do the same. If they took responsibility for their past grievances, they would change their behavior, not in the short term, but for the long haul.
The onus falls on the adult child.
If your parents experienced past traumas, it doesn’t mean they win a “get out of jail free card.”
Wolynn states, “You can’t change what was, but you can change what is, as long as you don’t expect your parents to change or be different from who they are. It is you who must hold the relationship differently. That’s your work. Not your parent’s work. The question is are you willing?”
You can be compassionate and understand your parents’ pain, but that doesn’t mean you must acquiesce to dysfunction or abuse.
Here are a couple of my favorite “healing sentences” he suggests using if you’ve “rejected” a parent:
“I’m sorry for how difficult I’ve been.”
“I’ll take your love as you give it, not as I expect it.”
“I’m sorry that I pulled away. I promise, for the remaining time we have together, I’ll be closer.”
People think this is helping them, but it’s putting them through the same pain their parents did.
It Didn’t Start with You is dysfunctional therapy. I’m concerned for any vulnerable person who seeks out this type of “therapy”, or for any therapist who employs its ideas. It’s better suited to line a bird cage.
In fact, this book did line my bird’s cage. That’s because my abusive mother sent it to me after I finally cut contact—to absolve herself from her behavior, and to tell me that it’s my fault.
You can heal even if your parents refuse to.
Amunet Burgueno is a writer, voice actress, and master hypnotist. While supporting over 100,000 people with their spiritual and personal growth, she learned the meaning of life is to embrace your humanity, play, and be creative.