My first book review of the year, and it’s a controversial one…
It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn introduces how inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle.
Let me start off by saying that this book has been on my TBR pile for over a year.
Shameful I know. I bought it towards the end of 2020 after months of inner turmoil, pushing through mindset blocks and practising self-love.
So, I guess I’ve been putting off reading it because I knew it would be an uncomfortable and challenging read. As well as force me to face questions about my parents, how they parented me and how they were parented.
This would have opened up a whole new can of worms and even more questions and answers to add to my healing journey. I just didn’t think I was ready.
It can get emotionally exhausting constantly looking inwards and trying to better yourself.
Sometimes there comes a point when you just want to be.
You don’t have to spend each day being an ongoing self-improvement project.
But now that I’m finally living a life of remote work and travel, something I’ve dreamed about since March 2020, I feel happier and more fulfilled. As though I can tackle more discomfort and growth.
And so, reading It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn last month felt like the right time.
Here is my long-awaited book review, and the first one of the year.
I recommend reading through it with an open mind, as the ideas, facts and research can seem slightly controversial.
Table of Contents
- The lowdown on It Didn’t Start With You
- How easy is It Didn’t Start With You to read?
- The 3 biggest key points and takeaways from It Didn’t Start With You
- Final thoughts
The lowdown on It Didn’t Start With You
Essentially, this is a self-help book. It explores the psychology and science behind traumatic experiences and how it is passed down.
It Didn’t Start With You teaches us how to become aware of our inherited family trauma but also encourages us to go on a healing journey so we can end the cycle of trauma that has been carried through generations.
Mark counterbalances the argument between nature versus nurture. He says that we can inherit trauma through the actions and behaviour of our parents, our grandparents or great-grandparents.
But on the other hand, he suggests that trauma lies deep inside the unconscious and it can be passed on long before we are even conceived.
Inherited trauma can look like unexplained depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, obsessive thoughts and PTSD.
Throughout the book, Mark provides us with the tools, exercises and questions we need to map out our core language and discover the obstacles that are holding us back so we can start to overcome them.
Spread over 14 chapters, It Didn’t Start With You is split up into 3 parts;
- Part 1 looks at the web of family trauma and the science of inherited behaviours
- Part 2 guides you through the four steps to constructing your core language map
- And part 3 explores the pathways and practices we can do in order to reconnect and heal
The core language map
In part 2 we are introduced to the core language map and how to construct it.
Your core language is the distinctive words and sentences used to describe our deepest fears. These fears are what provide us with clues leading to the source of unresolved trauma.
Each step in part 2 offers a new tool designed to extract new information.
The tools are:
- Core Descriptors: These are the adjectives and short descriptive phrases that reveal the unconscious feelings we hold toward our parents.
- Core Complaint: Our main issue, whether internalised or projected onto others. The core complaint is often derived from fragments of a traumatic experience.
- Core Sentence: A sentence that expresses the emotionally charged language of our deepest fear. It carries the remains of unresolved trauma from our early childhood or family history.
- Core Trauma: This is the unresolved trauma in our early childhood or family history. It can unconsciously affect our behaviours, choice, health and well-being.
Sounds pretty full-on huh?
“… the very words alone, helpless and ruined were part of my personal language of fear. They echoed traumas that took place in my family history before I was born. Unbridled and unrestrained, these words reeled in my head and rattled my body.”Mark Wolynn | It Didn’t Start With You
How easy is It Didn’t Start With You to read?
To be perfectly honest, I found It Didn’t Start With You pretty difficult to read, and because of this, I regularly zoned out. It’s full of scientific information, technical terms and complex language that can be hard to absorb and make sense of.
‘It Didn’t Start With You’ also consists of long chapters and bulky paragraphs so it can be hard to digest at times.
There is a glossary included at the back with all the relevant core language terms used, which is useful to refer back to as you progress through the book.
Out of 10, I would give this book a difficulty rating of 7.5!
So if psychology and self-help books aren’t your usual type of book, then I would suggest reading an easier book in this genre, like The Gifts of Imperfection or Eliminate Negative Thinking to help ease you in.
Trigger warning: It Didn’t Start With You contains some pretty heavy real-life case studies from Mark’s own patients that stem from The Holocaust, 9/11, slavery, The Khmer Rouge, and other tragic events.
So a warning that this book can be triggering and heart-wrenching.
The 3 biggest key points and takeaways from It Didn’t Start With You
1 | The relationship we have with our parents
It Didn’t Start With You is filled with a few “mic-drop” quotes that really got me thinking about how I treat and view my own parents.
The book has really helped me see that I can’t change my parents, their past, their decisions or how they behave. But I can learn from their mistakes and change the way I hold them inside me.
We can’t go through life being angry, resentful or embarrassed by our parents because we need them in our lives. We cannot reject them.
Likewise, we cannot love one more over the other. They are both a part of us.
“When we pit one parent against each other, we go against the source of our own existence, and unconsciously create a rift inside ourselves. We forget that half of us comes from our mother and half comes from our father”Mark Wolynn | It Didn’t Start With You
2 | Goes against the fundamentals of Stoicism
Mark suggests that inherited family trauma can not only affect the relationship we have with our parents, but also the intimate relationships we have and how we achieve our goals.
I’m currently learning more about Stoicism but the ideas in this book go completely against the fundamentals of stoicism.
This book says that our thoughts and actions are being controlled by unhealed family trauma whereas Stoicism would say that you are the only one in control of your thoughts and only you have the power to change them.
As a result, I found it difficult to accept the ideas. I would be more inclined to agree that a Stoic approach is more useful because regardless of our ancestor’s guilt or trauma, we can, if we put in the work, control and manage our thoughts and our perceptions about them.
“Not all behaviours expressed by us actually originate from us. They can easily belong to family members who came before us. We can merely be carrying the feelings for them or sharing them. We call these “identification feelings.”Mark Wolynn | It Didn’t Start With You
3 | Healing sentences we can say to ourselves
Mark includes a collection of healing sentences to help support “the parts of ourselves that feel most vulnerable.” And I must admit, this was probably my favourite page in the whole book.
I’m trying to practice self-love more and more every day and these healing sentences really help me be there for myself in tough or overwhelming situations.
I’ve made a note of them in my own Notion board so I can refer back to them whenever I need them and I encourage you to do the same.
Write them down somewhere in a notebook or on your computer or you can even bookmark this page. And when you start to repeat one or more of these healing sentences, place your hand on your chest, or other parts of the body and breath in deeply.
Healing sentences for when you need them most
- I’ve got you
- I’ll comfort you
- I’m here
- I’ll hold you
- Whenever you’re feeling scared or overwhelmed, I won’t leave you
- I’ll stay with you
- I’ll breathe with you until you’re calm
Overall, I would give It Didn’t Start With You 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Although the scientific research and information that Mark proposes in his book are super interesting I found it hard to really get my teeth stuck into this book.
It’s not an enjoyable book. It’s often, at times, difficult to read, challenging and rather triggering.
And I found myself craving more fiction.
It also took me over a month to finish this book as I just wasn’t excited to wake up in the morning to read it.
My reading suffered and picking up this book, unfortunately, felt like a chore.
So, if you do choose to buy this book, I recommend reading it alongside a more light-hearted fiction book and saving this for when you feel in the mood.
I also felt the clients Mark chose to include in his book fit the narrative that the root cause of our issues come from the traumas of our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. And unless identified and dealt with, the cycle cannot break.
But as a “wannabe” Stoic, I found it hard to accept that people aren’t in control of their thoughts and feelings. The fundamental practice in Stoicism is that the mind is the only thing you can control.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”Marcus Aurelius
I would also say you need to have an open mind when reading this book as it offers a new perspective on trauma and how it is inherited. Points you might not necessarily agree with.
On a more positive note, this book has given me some great guidance on how I can be more aware of the deep trauma and triggers that lie within my family.
This is super helpful for when and if I have kids. I can be more conscious of my behaviour and my attitude, and parent in a different way so I can “break the cycle.”
Until next week,
♡ Thalia xx
Let me leave you with one last quote from the book…
“In many ways, healing from trauma is akin to creating a poem. Both require the right timing, the right words, and the right image. When these elements align, something meaningful is set into motion that can be felt in the body. To heal, our pacing must be in tune. If we arrive too quickly at an image, it might not take root, if the words that comfort us arrive too early, we might not be ready to take them in and if the words aren’t precise, we might not hear them or resonate with them at all.”Mark Wolynn | It Didn’t Start With You
Learn more about It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn
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