Part I. The science
Last week I shared with you that in Family Therapy there's this cool tool we use called a Family Histogram.
Back when I practiced family therapy to obtain my Masters Degree in Counseling from Columbia, using this tool showed me how our ancestors' stories, both their struggles and their victories, get passed down through the generations.
Doing my own histogram helped me discover that my great-grandmother's forbidden love for my great-grandfather, their illicit affair, and their early deaths leaving my grandmother an orphan, had affected my life in ways I hadn't realized before.
But it's not just family therapy that says our family stories get handed down, the field of epigenetics has proven that they can in fact, affect mutiple generations.
Epigenetics, a fascinating branch of genetics research, has proven that we inherit more than just the color of our eyes or our height; we also inherit the marks and scars of our ancestors' lives.
If you'd like to read more about how exactly we inherit our ancestors' emotional baggage and beliefs, you can read this wonderful article: Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes.
Pause for a moment to think about the ancestral experiences that might be showing up in your life...
It is very possible for example, that your grandmother's heartbreak might make you inexplicably uneasy about being in relationships.
Perhaps your great-grandfather's failure in business, and his hopelessness at ever achieving his dreams might be playing into your constant struggle to reach your own.
Perhaps you inherited wounds like mine. I carried the wounds of being an outcast and profound grief from loss. I'll share my ancestors' tragic story and how it affected my life in a minute.
It is a fact that our ancestors' stories affect us in many ways, and sometimes in many layers.
If you'd like to explore and resolve the ways in which your ancestor's lives might be thwarting your life (be it relationships, health, career or finances), we can do it together.
We would start with your family histogram, and go from there.
We can in fact resolve the way in which old patterns and wounds might be shaping your life.
Part II. My story
Here's my ancestral story and its impact on my life:
In recent years, I became aware of a deep sadness and longing within me. I started to notice that in many ways, I had always had a silent hopelessness about life. In recent months, I realized that this sadness and hopelessness was actually a profound grief.
At first I tried to brush it off. I'd cry a little and rationalize it; get busy with life and move on.
But it was ever-present.
When I finally started paying attention, I realized that the feelings of grief, longing and hopelessness were SO deep, that they felt like they were who I WAS. The best way I can describe it is that they felt like my CORE VIBRATION.
As I did some of my own writing exercises to investigate the beliefs, feelings and life-events associated with that sensation, I found myself writing about my grandmother's and great-grandmother's stories of loss.
A few moments after I wrote that, I went looking for a picture of my great-grandfather, and as soon as I laid eyes on it, I started sobbing! I could feel ENORMOUS grief and I knew it wasn't mine.
My great-grandmother, Nini who'd grown up in Caracas, was living in Paris as a young woman with her stepmother. She had met my great-grandfather, Pedro Manuel back in Venezuela, but her dad and stepmother opposed the relationship.
While she was away in Paris, Pedro Manuel wrote her many letters, but Nini's stepmother kept them all from her, and Nini never knew he had written... until she found out he had married another girl in Caracas. Too late.
I could feel that my sobbing at seeing his picture was partly Nini's grief from the heinous interference and the loss of her love. As I cried, I could also feel the grief she grew up with, from having lost her mom and living as a second-class citizen within her family (being the only child of her dad's first marriage.)
Devastated, Nini moved back to Venezuela. Back in Caracas, she reconnected with Pedro Manuel, who was now married. It did not take long for them to rekindle their relationship and she became his lover.
As a result, her family pretty much disowned her, and you can imagine she was excluded from "decent" society in early-twentieth-century Caracas.
Nini and Pedro Manuel had four children. The third child was my grandmother, Mercedes. They were children born out of wedlock, and were therefore "illegitimate."
To deepen the tragedy, Venezuela was in the middle of a tyrannical 34-year dictatorship and Pedro Manuel was very active in the political resistance. Because of this, he had to go into hiding. We believe that it may have been after a visit to Nini and the kids, that he was apprehended and incarcerated.
At the same time, Nini was very active too, not only politically (visiting Pedro Manuel in jail and carrying correspondence for other political activists) but also volunteering with a local doctor, caring for people with the Spanish Influenza.
Nini caught the Spanish influenza and died in 1918. Pedro Manuel died a horrific death in prison not long after that.
My grandmother (who was about 3 years old at the time of Nini's death) and her three siblings were now not-only illegitimate children, they were also orphans. Nobody wanted anything to do with them and they had to beg on the streets for food... until my other great-grandfather (the father of the boy who would later marry my grandmother) took the kids home and put them up for adoption.
In my sobbing, I could feel my grandmother's grief and hopelessness at losing her parents at a young age. I also felt her grief over losing her siblings, when they were all adopted by different families.
The sadness, longing and hopelessness that ran through my grandmother's body were enormous. I can tell you because they were etched in my body too.
How these wounds affected my life, and what I did (and am doing) about it...
Firstly, I always felt like an outcast -even though there was NO reason for me to feel that way within the context of my own life.
For no good reason whatsoever, I always felt like an outcast at school, within every circle of friends, and even with my own half-siblings. My feelings only made sense when seen in the light of Nini's banishment from society and from her own family (since her monther, Jeanne had died when Nini was a baby.)
My grandmother too, who was finally adopted when she was 7 or 8 years old, was always tacitly and overtly reminded of her "origin."
It has been several years since I was able to resolve those feelings of being an outsider. I did it through journaling, EFT and NLP work. I no longer feel like I don't belong with my friends or family.
More recently, my discovery of the deep grief, longing and hopelessness has been eye-opening. It explains A LOT of the underlying gloom I've always noticed as the undercurrent of my life.
Again, the enormity of the gloom and hopelessness only make sense in the context of my great-grandmother's and grandmother's lives, not mine. And yet, I carried it with me my whole life.
We find ways to act out these patterns in our own lives...
The way our lives work, we end up unconsciously finding ways to create evidence that validate the feelings we were already feeling.
Over the years I created many different circumstances that validated why I felt like an outsider; or why my life was so hard or why I felt hopeless.
As of today, I feel that I have been able to resolve the bulk of the feelings of ancestral grief within me. I did it through a variety of writing exercises and tools I use with my clients, including EFT, NLP, and encodement work.
When you do this work, you start to feel reborn somehow...
It's a remarkable feeling when you are able to shed a weight that has been with you since before birth.
It feels odd because all of a sudden you feel like a new human. Something that's been with you your whole life is now gone.
It feels light, and odd, and sometimes unsettlingly good.
Your ancestral stories matter. They affect your life in many ways. The good news is you can clear them.
If you're curious, but you're not sure exactly why, or not sure if this is really something you need to do, send me a note. I'd be happy to explore it with you and see if there's anything really there for you to look into.
And if you're reading this and a part of you is feeling the tingles of truth, and you KNOW you have some ancestral stuff to clear, then let's get started.
Feeling the lightness of old baggage shed, is TOTALLy worth it.