Evidence Shows Trauma Can Be Passed Down To Future Generations Through Epigenetics
When we think of what we inherit genetically from our parents, traits like our smile or hair may come to mind first. Or perhaps our laugh or stubbornness. But what if we also took on their traumatic experiences? What if our children inherit them too, along with our own? Would we pay more attention to the experiences we have? What about how we treat each other?
For the last few decades, experts have wondered about this too. While still experimental and more research is needed, the evidence we have so far shows intergenerational trauma is something we might want to start paying attention to. But there is some good news, intergenerational trauma appears to be reversible. Plus, traumatic experiences aren’t the only ones passed down — positive ones are too.
What is Epigenetics?
We all know the notorious Nature vs. Nurture debate. Thankfully, I think most people can agree that it’s not one or the other. Both our genes and our environments impact who we become. The nature side regards our DNA, the traits, and health conditions that are genetically passed down to us from our family lines, which in turn impacts who we become.
Genetics, like eye color, decides which proteins are made, while epigenetics chooses which proteins are activated. For instance, my mom has blue eyes, and my dad had brown eyes, but I also inherited a gene for green eyes from my paternal grandma. These are my genetics, and they created proteins for each color. Then my epigenetics instructed my green gene protein to “turn on” while telling my proteins for blue or brown eyes to “turn off.” As a result, I have green eyes.
However, not all types of epigenetics are irreversible the way eye color is. Some of them change throughout our entire lives. The ones we have at birth are different from those we have as adults.
Because when we change our habits — like picking up smoking or committing to an exercise routine — we also change our gene expression, which determines when and how often our genes instruct proteins to be made.