“Our ancestors are totally essential to our every waking moment, although most of us don't even have the faintest idea about their lives, their trials, their hardships or challenges.” -
Have you ever had that unsettling feeling that you are becoming just like your mom or dad? You might suddenly hear yourself saying something to your kids that you swore you would never say. Or you look in the mirror and see one of your parents looking back at you. We may have built lifestyles that are totally different than those of our ancestors, and yet we realized that there are still some almost automatic similarities in how we think, what we say, and what we do.
We all know that we inherit our parents’ noses, eye color, and flat feet through our genes. And psychologists have long acknowledged that even some of our personality characteristics are inherited as well. For example, a 2012 study of 800 sets of twins reported that genes play a greater role than home environment and surroundings in shaping key character traits such as self-control, decision making or sociability.
So in many ways, no matter how resistant we are to the idea, we actually are our parents!
But what does that have to do with emotional baggage? Recent animal studies show that we inherit a form of genetic memory. A traumatic event in our ancestors’ lives prior to our birth can affect DNA in the sperm and alter the brains and behavior of generations that follow.
In other words, we also inherit our ancestors’ emotional baggage!
In a Nature Neuroscience study published in 2013, researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. Then a team at the Emory University School of Medicine looked at what was happening inside the sperm. They found that a section of DNA responsible for their reaction to cherry blossom scent was more active in the mice's sperm. Not only was the mice's direct offspring "extremely sensitive" to cherry blossom, the next generation would avoid the scent as well, despite never having experienced it in their lives. Both generations also showed changes in brain structure.
The report concluded that "The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations."
What does that mean to you?
Well, if a grandparent was traumatized by sexual assault, that trauma may still be in your genes. If your mother was in a car accident when she was 6 years old, you may have an odd fear of traffic or an unwarranted anger at drivers in the fast lane. You may feel suspicious around tall men or hate children with red hair all because of something that happened to someone in your family tree years ago!
Now I understand that many of us are still dealing with the emotional baggage we’ve generated from our own experiences—the tough divorce, the crushing career failure, the betrayal by a close friend. (If you’re still dragging that old baggage around, you’ll find help in some of my prior blogs about forgiveness and releasing baggage). How can we possibly be expected to deal with baggage that occurred before we were even born?!?
To deal with entrenched emotional baggage, whether it’s from a client’s own past experiences or that of their ancestors, I now use a technique called the Mental and Emotional Release® process (MER®). MER® is a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique and it is the most effective I’ve found for fully releasing the negative emotions and limiting decisions that make up emotional baggage.
I can’t explain the technique completely in this article. But basically, it’s a process that works with your unconscious and the memories that your unconscious has organized according to your individual “timeline.” Using a specific interview process, we uncover the “root cause” of the baggage (which may or may not appear to be a significant event to the client’s conscious mind). Then we guide the client back to the root cause, having them float over their timeline to retrieve the learning that they were supposed to gain from the experience and release the negative emotion.
Interestingly, when we first started using MER® with clients, they sometimes reported that the root cause was prior to their birth. (One of the tenets of NLP is to accept the client’s reality, so we honor whatever root cause they indicate.) These clients would describe an event from one of their parents’ lives that they could not have known about. We would work with that event as the root cause and the baggage would be completely released. Later when they asked their parents or grandparents about it, the event was almost always verified as having happened.
We didn’t have the research on genetic memory back then. But we did notice that the results were as reliable as using root cause events from the client’s own life experience.
I’m now working on a book that describes MER® in more depth and discusses some of the research. MER® is an incredibly powerful tool, but unfortunately not one of the NLP techniques that you can easily do by yourself. To get the best results, you should have a Master Practitioner of MER® work with you.
Just as there are ways to release emotional baggage from your own traumas and heartaches, you can release traumas from your ancestors. As a bonus, by releasing this baggage, you are helping other generations as well by not passing it on!
As Ariel Gore wrote, “I've been thinking about disowning some of my genes lately. I have a few healthy, happy, long-living optimists in my family tree - most of them fans of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, a major champion of positive thinking. But I've got plenty of ancestors who played out more tortured hands."
Until next time…
About the Author:
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about Mental and Emotional Release® Therapy (aka Time Empowerment®) click here.