So, there you are, thinking you’re just you and working on your Just You issues and not realizing that you’ve actually got DNA from your ancestors coursing through your veins that might be counterproductive to your journey.
Where genetics deals with heredity, especially how traits gets passed generation to generation in organisms, epigenetics deals with how genes get turned on and off. Ready to get a little science-y?
Epigenetic tags act like cellular memory. All cells have an epigenetic profile, meaning they have a collection of tags that tell genes whether to be on or off. Dozens of signals received daily, weekly and over months cause tiny changes in gene patterns inside a fertilized egg. As the fetus grows, signals keep coming from cells and their neighboring cells. (It takes a village!) Stress and nutrition deficiencies are important during this time.
After you’re born and all throughout your life, your epigenome is modified by your diet, hormones, physical activity, family life, social interactions and pretty much everything else. Your epigenome needs to be flexible to adjust to the changes in your world and help you learn from what you experience. Our entire lives, our cell’s experiences are transferred to the epigenome, where they shut down and activate specific sets of genes.
This changes how we think about information being passed across generations because we don’t just inherit our DNA from our parents. We also inherit their chromosomes, which are 50% DNA and 50% proteins. It’s those proteins that carry the epigenetic information.
In the womb, cells grow and divide and our cellular machine faithfully copies those protein tags right along with the DNA. Past experiences inform future choices. How does a cell know it’s an eye cell or a liver cell? How does it know which part of the eye it is? The epigenome allows cells to remember and pass the codes on even long after the signals fade away.
That brings us to Epigenetic Inheritance. This is when some epigenetic tags stay in place as genetic information passes from generation to generation. Again, we aren’t talking about the DNA here, we’re talking about those proteins associated with the DNA being turned on or off.
Studies indicate that traumatic experiences keep producing fearful memories in our cells which are passed down to future generation. For example, if you have a generation of poor people that went through a war or a famine and hard times and malnutrition, it can take three or more generations of abundant lives to turn those genes off and to reach their full potential.
What we want to do is figure out how to do it quicker, healthier and in our lifetime using intention. We can teach our cells that the famine is over.
Our health is affected by the emotions and energy surrounding experiences in our family dynamics. How we perceive our own life is strongly affected by what we’re given generationally.
Let’s create a scenario and look at how that might look: Let’s say your grandparents were affected by the Great Depression. Perhaps your grandfather committed suicide and left your grandmother alone to raise their children. Your grandmother might never want to talk about it. Her feelings are left unresolved around a grief too large to carry and her answer to coping is to not talk about it. Her silence makes her daughter, your mother, afraid to “stir up trouble” by talking about issues in the open because it might trigger anxiety, a flashback, intense grief or anger.
Alternately, perhaps your grandmother couldn’t stop talking about what happened and had many heart-to-heart conversations that were too frank and traumatic to your mother, resulting in your mother feeling like the world is a bad, scary place. In response, your mother’s world would, in fact, probably be an unsafe and fearful place and whenever anything bad happened your grandmother would take that opportunity to reinforce “the truth.”
In response to either of those scenarios, your mother might feel as if she needed to walk on egg shells to not cause pain to her mother. She might feel like any wrong thing said would hurt her and it would be her fault.
When your mother had you, she carried those beliefs and they were imprinted in your epigenetic code. You’ve had an inexplicable, heavy sense of foreboding your entire life, waiting for the other shoe to drop. As you grew up, you learned it was just better to plan for the worst because that would probably be happening and if it didn’t, it’s because you dodged a bullet, not because good things were supposed to be in your life.
So. Here’s what we’ve learned: Our beliefs and responses to stress and life are not entirely our own and have been passed down through our epigenome. If those genes can be turned off, they can also be turned on and vice versa. It will take confronting feelings and beliefs to find out if they serve us or we would be better off letting them go. This will not only help us, it will help any future generations.
How do we do it? If you examine your life to see where you keep having results contrary to your wishes (never having enough money even though you make an adequate amount for your bills) and use the free-style journaling technique to look for limiting beliefs that might be hidden to your consciousness (we will never have enough money and our needs will never be met) you can isolate those beliefs and ask yourself if they serve you or not. If you’d like to let them go, tell yourself so and use some positive affirmations or afformmations to replace them. (“I always have more than enough money to cover my bills and needs, with some leftover to put in savings for the future.” or “Why do I always have more than enough money to cover my bills and needs, with some leftover to put in savings for the future?”)
If you’re a religious person, it’s possible your church might have a program where they do generational healing. Ask around.
Our perception of our own life is key. If you can change the lens you view it with, you can change how you feel about it. An interaction with a co-worker who got on our case about an error in our TPS report either ruins our entire day or we breathe it out and let them hold the responsibility for their own irritation. The traffic on our way home is either the world conspiring against us or an opportunity to contemplate, plan a new adventure, or listen to a podcast. The rain is either trying to ruin our picnic or we’re giggling over how pretty the flowers look today and having our picnic on the living room floor. Create positivity in the world by changing your lens.
Practice Something Good
Practice talking to yourself in the mirror – even the rear-view mirror – and telling yourself what a great job you’re doing at everything. You’re just killing it! Look at you, You! And smile!