There's two ways this can work. Way one is actually now the basis of a whole scientific field in and of itself known as epigenetics.
(Click the blue to go through to a simple explanation of what epigenetics is, in more detail.)
For the purposes of this blog, we can say this: only 2% of the information contained in our DNA is 'fixed'. The other 98% is changeable, and considerably affected by outside circumstances, especially traumatic or difficult circumstances that we - or close family members - experienced that wasn't processed, and got 'embedded' in the body somehow.
To give one example of this:
Say someone has a relative who went through the Holocaust. It's such an unspeakable tragedy, the person could never really access it or work it through. But their whole life can now be lived as a 'response' to what they experienced, i.e., they'll hoard food even if they're wealthy, they have a tremendous fear of bad things happening to people, they trust no-one, they are hyper-vigilant and always on guard for things to turn 'bad' or dangerous, etc.
These behaviours all trigger the stress response we've been discussing over the last few points, and very quickly, that person's physiology is 'hardwired' to react to the world as a scary, dangerous, horrible, traumatic place.
They then hand down these physiological 'reactions' to their descendants, who never went through the Holocaust but live their lives as though they did.
Here's the bumpf from the back of his book, which sums up what we're discussing here:
It Didn’t Start With You shows how the traumas of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents can live in our unexplained depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, obsessive thoughts and physical symptoms—what scientists are now calling “secondary PTSD.”
Documenting the latest epigenetic research—how traumatic memories are transmitted through chemical changes in DNA—and the latest advances in neuroscience and the science of language, It Didn’t Start With You is an accessible and pragmatic guide to breaking inherited family patterns.
WHAT IS INHERITED FAMILY TRAUMA?
Simply put, many of us relive the tragedies from previous generations and rarely make the link.
Examples from the book include:
- A man in jail for a crime he didn’t commit discovered he was paying the price for a murder his father had been acquitted for a generation earlier.
- A woman who couldn’t understand her sudden indifference toward her husband was entangled with her grandmother who lost her husband tragically at the same age.
- A young, Cambodian boy whose self-destructive behavior was linked to the murder of his grandfather by the Khmer Rouge.
- A woman with claustrophobia—unable to ride in a plane or elevator—made the connection to her father’s parents who perished in a gas chamber.
- A woman with a paralyzing fear that her child would die discovered that her grandparents lost two children before they immigrated to the United States.
It didn't start with you - blog
So, the physical mechanism of epigenetics - where the expression of our genes is changed by our circumstances and inherited trauma - is one way you can inherit C-PTSD. But the other way is 100% spiritual, and we'll talk about that in the next post.