Mark Wolynn on inherited family trauma and how to break the cycle

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

I don’t like to start our storytellers with an impossible question, but after I read MARK WOLYNN’s fascinating book IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU, I wasn’t too worried about his ability to answer it.  So that’s where we start this week—with a question that’s been plaguing me about myself and the people I care about forever.

When I first read the book’s title, which carries the subtitle HOW INHERITED FAMILY TRAUMA SHAPES WHO WE ARE AND HOW TO END THE CYCLE, I admit I was a little concerned that it might be about blaming others for your problems, a concept I have little interest in.  But what I found was a big-hearted and scientifically reasoned book about forgiveness, reconnection, and understanding.

It kind of blew my mind.

Wolynn starts the book telling of his round-the-world journey to ease an early-life malady that threatened to take his sight.  Shockingly, what he found after years of study with healers, both medical and spiritual, was that his ultimate healing lay in understanding his own family history, forgiving his estranged parents, and letting them back into his life.

What follows is the story of Mark’s 25 subsequent years of research and therapy practice in how family trauma manifests in ways far greater than we ever before understood.  As scientists are daily uncovering more about the human genome and how our inherited DNA can affect not just our physical but our mental states across multiple generations, Wolynn’s book is a game-changer.

In our talk, I confessed to Mark that reading his book was the best $25 therapy session I’d ever had.  One of the things we share and discussed at length was my late-found understanding that avoiding sorrow may work in the short term, but diving into and trying to understand it has much more lasting benefits.

Much like we talked about in last week’s story from Doug Abrams and THE BOOK OF JOY, we hear again that for me, and for Mark, and probably for you, joy and sorrow are inextricably linked.

The paperback version of IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU, which is out this week on Viking, includes fascinating, newly published research on trauma and neuroscience to further support Mark’s clear-eyed, pragmatic guide to healing. If you have suffered from depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, profound grief, or even chronic pain, you might have a similar healing experience for half of even what I paid.

Read more about Mark Wolynn’s work at

And order the new paperback IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU: HOW INHERITED FAMILY TRAUMA SHAPES WHO WE ARE AND HOW TO END THE CYCLE, which was nominated for the 2017 Books for a Better Life award, at 

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