It’s commonly understood that physical characteristics and some personality traits are handed down from parent to child, but what about memories and the behaviors associated with them?
While the concept of ancestral wounding is not new, it has been accepted primarily as an energetic experience. Shamans and healers of various kinds perform soul retrieval ceremonies and bodywork techniques such as craniosacral therapy to address inborn patterns of psychological and physical pain.
Peter Scanlan, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Nashville, Tennessee, credits ancestral work as being at the core of his current healing work, which involves what he refers to as soul initiation. On his website, he says, “It is not uncommon for people who are working on their personal wounding to realize that some of the sadness and anger they experience is not totally personal. Deeper exploration uncovers the energies of wounded ancestors—for example, a mother, a great grandfather, or an ancestral collective—that have somehow been transmitted or handed down to the one now experiencing the emotions.”
And it would appear that the impact of our ancestors’ experiences goes beyond the energetic and psychic realms; it has now been observed in DNA and brain tissue. Recent research published in Nature Neuroscience shows that aversive events alter DNA in sperm, thereby impacting the genetic traits of a person’s offspring.
The research focused on scent memory in mice; the mice were conditioned to feel fear in the presence of a particular smell—in this case, a scent akin to cherry blossom—and once born, their offspring displayed a similar aversion to that smell. Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, examined the DNA of these mice and determined that there is a particular portion responsible for the encoding of this inherited sensitivity. Brain structure was also found to be affected in the offspring of the mice who underwent scent conditioning.
The report describes this phenomenon as “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.” In other words, a person’s surroundings and experiences impact his or her genetics, and those traits then have the potential to be passed on to subsequent generations. Among other things, these findings may prove useful in addressing conditions like phobias and anxiety.
- Dias, B. G., and Ressler, K. J. (2013, December 1). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience. doi: 10.1038/nn.3594. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nn.3594.html
- Gallagher, J. (2013, December 1). ‘Memories’ pass between generations. BBC News Health. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25156510
- Scanlan, P. Ancestral work. Retrieved from http://peterscanlan.com/ancestral.htm
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