Emotional State Of Mind

All sorts of physical attributes can be traced back to your ancestors. But did you know your temperament and emotional state can also be a product of your DNA? Well it can, at least according to a branch of science called Emotional Genealogy dedicated to the subject.
Text by Dena Roché | June 1, 2018 | Lifestyle

You get your blue eyes from your mother, your height from your grandfather and your propensity for worry from your great-great-great-great-grandmother. But how can that be? You’ve clearly never met the woman.
It’s shocking but true, a new field of science called Behavioral Epigenetics has found that our ancestors pass down not only physical traits, but psychological and personality ones as well through DNA. This means that good and bad events in your ancestors’ lives didn’t just matter to them, they matter to you.
If your grandparents survived the Holocaust or Great Depression, the scars have been passed down. On the flip side, if your great-grandparents were nurtured in childhood, struck gold or enjoyed other positive experiences, that also gets handed down the line. Epigenetics helps to explain why family traits and patterns persevere. If your mother was poorly parented, it’s likely she repeated that with you. It also helps explain how alcoholism and substance abuse tend to run in families.
But even if our DNA is a blueprint, we can learn to deviate from the design by knowing our family history. “There’s always an interplay of nature vs. nurture,” says Judie Fein, author of The Spoon From Minkowitz, which chronicles her personal journey into her family’s emotional genealogy. “You need to look at your family patterns with a cold eye,” she says. “You’ll either decide to transform or transmit the traits of the past.”
Behavioral Epigenetics can also help explain why your ex-husband couldn’t get over a bad childhood, why your friend can’t snap out of her depression or why you just can’t get over your trust issues. Neuroscientist Eric Nestler showed the theory in action when he exposed male mice to 10 days of constant bullying by other mice. Afterward, the test subjects were withdrawn. To test if this depression would be passed down, he bred these mice with female mice and never let them have any interaction with their offspring. Despite no contact, the next generation of mice were remarkably more susceptible to depression.
A Dutch study provided similar results. At the end of WWII, there were food shortages known as the Dutch Hongerwinter. Famine was severe and thousands were born malnourished. Scientists found that not only did the ones who survived experience health issues, but that their children despite being well-fed, were significantly underweight.
So how can you beat your DNA and the negative traits your family has gifted you with? The first step is to learn more about your ancestry. Companies like FamilyTree DNA and can run different tests to determine where you come from and provide detailed information on your paternal and maternal lines.
But knowing that information is simply one piece of the puzzle. To change family patterns and any bad traits you have, you must understand your ancestors not as statistics, but as living, breathing human beings — and that requires some detective work. “The first thing a person should do is call the oldest person in the family and start asking questions,” advises Fein.
In many families, the shared family history isn’t discussed, and in some families there are many secrets. For this reason, Fein suggests a deft approach. “Start by asking gentle, benign questions like what they did on a typical Saturday night, or how your parents met,” she says. “Then move on to tougher topics like whether or not your parents got along, was there a black sheep in the family, how did your parents raise you.”
When Fein started her journey, she knew only 6 facts about her family history. From there, she researched more and eventually made a roots trip to her grandmother’s hometown, Minkowitz, in Ukraine. During that trip, one of the most stunning nuggets she uncovered was that her husband’s ancestors came from this same minuscule village. “Talk about a soulmate,” she says with a laugh. “Taking a roots trip is the most important vacation you can take.”
A roots trip means that you make time to actually visit the land your ancestors came from. Before the trip, you need to obviously know where you come from. The best way to accomplish this is by talking about it with living relatives, looking at old photos and arriving armed with as much factual data as you see fit. “It’s a chance for you to connect deeply to your origins and the people who came before you,” says Fein. “Let your imagination go where it wishes as you walk the land, breathe in the air and taste the foods in the area. It’s likely you’ll feel a bit of what their lives were like. Often people get messages from their ancestors, or meet people who knew them — it’s a very moving kind of trip.”
Once you start learning about family relationships, a good way to keep track of the information you gather and the patterns you notice is via a genogram. This is basically a graphic family tree that displays essential data on all kinds of relationships, yet goes far beyond a traditional tree in that you can analyze the psychological factors of each relationship you input. In general, a genogram can contain important information like social behaviors, illnesses, nature of relationships and major life events.
In the end, just like a tree without roots, people aren’t grounded. “Most people focus on leaving money to their children and grandchildren, but almost no one thinks about leaving a legacy,” concludes Fein. “Teach your kids where they come from — it’s as important as a financial inheritance because it gives them legacy and roots.” And that’s something we all need a lot more of in our lives.