Updated: Nov 10, 2020
By Cheyanne Beaumont
There’s something in the value of a name, along with the burden of the weight it carries. A surname, the cherry on top, the finishing touch for the coagulation between our parents’ DNA that we have no say in choosing. Children spend their whole adolescence seeking answers from others - who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I the way I am? What am I going to be? A lot of these questions are answered by family members. Frequently, the answers are aligned with the family’s core values and expectations, some of which have been passed on from generation to generation, like favorite recipes and family names. In modern times, topics of trauma and mental health have become normalized, to a point to where we may now ask the question: trauma something that can be passed down through generations too?
There’s something in the value of DNA, besides the fact it’s the coding that wires us together. The study of epigenetics suggests that during our lifetime, our genes could undergo changes in expression and readability, potentially causing a shift in our DNA that could then be transferred to offspring. Most commonly studied is the way environmental factors influence gene sequences and how that affects genes generationally. Through different studies, most evidence comes from wars, famines, genocides and other major collective traumatic experiences. There is direct evidence from control group experiments that prove differences between collective traumatic experience groups is visible and present. However, what about intergenerational struggles with mental health and PTSD not from catastrophic events.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. All prominent side effects of existence. When it came to diagnosis and treatment, family factors were consistently brought up. What’s your family history? I hit a strong blank. Later, over long conversations and brewed coffee, family secrets would be exposed to me. With epigenetic studies on my mind, I’d wonder, so this is where it all comes from.
I have fear, much like the women before me. I sometimes worry how much of my mother’s fears reside inside of me. And how many of her mother’s reside in her. The touch of a man, fearsome. The tune of a man, scurrysome. All due to the heavy hits mauled into the compounds of my mother’s brain, and the brain before hers. My mother’s brown eyes encompass pain and struggle, the same eyes people recognize in me. You have her eyes. What of them do I have? A washed over glaze of exhaustion from being a mother at 21. The wrinkles they make, squeezing tightly shut, in pain. All at the hand of a man who has probably forgotten her name? Men tend to have an abstract way of showing affection. Oh surely, any touch is love, even with the ugly underbelly of abuse showing it’s upperhand. And men in my family, frequently, showed their upper hand. The body that is my body, was traumatized before birth. The shock and the horror in the lives of my mother, my father, their parents, and so on, I inherit. No Punnett square is needed to define it. Composed of chemicals and stardust. Predisposed to the unsavory, seedy, benefactors of life, I am. How can I loathe the traumatizer, from which another traumatizer bred into them the same imbalance? How can I be sure that the way they are, is not different from the way I am?
I ponder if the intergenerational trauma my family has suffered has altered our genes. I could explain a lot of things. It’s a horrifying reality that a lot of children, particularly in my family, had been abused. On the entire spectrum of what abuse can be defined as. I would consider myself a lucky one, only really dealing with mental and verbal abuse. And I can’t explain it, but I can almost feel those burning imprints of those fiery, hell-bound men on my own skin, even though it’s not my life they’ve touched. The women of my family would disclose their traumas to me, a striking similarity within them all. Domestic violence, antidepressants, wretched adolescence, broken families and homes. It had become almost like a checklist, “got that, got that, mhm..” to see if you really even were a part of the family. My siblings would even show how not even raised together, we suffer the same ailments of relation. Same DNA, different toxic environment, same outcome. One has to consider, is it a generational curse? Destiny? Is it even preventable?
History is the most expansive account to show the true nature of humanity. These behaviors are all a natural byproduct of the human experience. Lying, cheating, stealing, filled with lust, greed, and envy. The violent delights too frequently indulged in do indeed meet their violent ends. The harsh, brutish nature of man-kind does not have to be a continuous fate. Whether or not the science exists to undoubtedly prove that environmental factors cause gene sequence alterations, we can be the change the next generation may need. It’s that crystal clear reflection, that changes with the light. I look and I can see myself, and all the lives that live inside me. Where they’ve come from, where they’re going, and how we’re all entangled. And I know that I can make sure the ferocity will not fester on within me to another. I say it ends here.