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Book Review: It Didn't Start With You

Shakespeare said, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” Often repeated and even more often actualized, this concept of the transference of “sins” through a generation is now supported by scientific evidence, as explained in Mark Wolynn’s It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.

This groundbreaking work on generational trauma educates, comforts, and empowers individuals from all walks of life to both identify and disassociate from traumas that were passed down from previous generations.

Wolynn’s work is rooted in a journey he traveled to find healing from his own hang-ups and traumatic experiences. The path he took and the healing he found then became his gift to others through this book and his work with clients. Based on a mix of experiences and scientific evidence, Wolynn clearly and verifiably demonstrates the impact of generational trauma, down to the way it changes the expression of a particular gene.

Pulling on a mix of epigenetics and trauma psychology, he provides both a primer on the ancestral transmission of trauma and its symptoms and a method to recognize and deal with the lingering aftereffects. His liberal use of personal anecdotes, client testimony, and tangible examples balances the somewhat cerebral topic in a masterful way, providing an accessible and easy to understand resource for both the casual reader and the practitioner; however, the tone, style, and delivery make this an ideal tool for those seeking freedom from trauma in all its forms.

In the realm of self-help/recovery books, It Didn’t Start With You is equal parts refreshing and heavy; there is a definite weight when realizing that a family’s history can so deeply affect each member. There is also something very refreshing about realizing that there is a solution that doesn’t require years and years of therapy — it starts with taking an honest look at yourself, what you say, and what that says about you and your history. As an avid reader of these types of books, It Didn’t Start With You struck the right balance between diagnosis and prescription without falling into the self-help cliché traps of blaming parents, blaming yourself, or relying solely on positive self-talk.

The key premise of the book is found in the title: It Didn’t Start With You. By identifying core issues and the words we use to describe them, Wolynn asserts that any individual can trace back depression, suicidal tendencies, anger, and other negative emotions to ancestral issues rooted in traumas such as abandonment, detachment from the mother, deaths of either parent, and issues relating to parents as a whole. What was particularly interesting was the reality that these experiences can be translated into three generations, considering the fact that the precursor cells for the third generation are present during the first generation’s pregnancy.

These traumas appear often as what Wolynn calls “core complaints,” which are communicated via “core language.” Through a simple analysis of the two, one can identify a bridge back to an ancestral trauma that may have carried down. To illustrate this, Wolynn used examples such as grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, children of 9/11 survivors and the generations that followed the Rwandan genocide. In each case, there were core complaints and core language that traced back to the trauma experienced by an ancestor.

The final portion of the book was perhaps the most empowering section of a self-help book I’ve ever read, mainly because they provided more than rhetoric about the issue. Wolynn walks the reader through the process of identifying the core complaint, core language, and core descriptors, turning them into a core sentence, bridging the gap between the generations and finally, letting go of trauma in a positive and respectful manner.

From a holistic perspective, It Didn’t Start With You is a groundbreaking resource that provides a thorough yet understandable primer on the science behind trauma, as well as a step-by-step methodology to constructively work through the trauma.

It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle

Viking/Penguin Random House LLC, April 2016

Hardcover, 251 pages


Book Review: It Didn't Start With You

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Bethany Duarte

APA Reference
Duarte, B. (2016). Book Review: It Didn't Start With You. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 31 Aug 2016
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