What have your ancestors passed on to you?


“Our genes have an innate knowledge of family networks”   Al Pesso

Could this possibly be true?  that our genes, as well as passing on to us all of our physical characteristics such as our eye and hair colour, and some of our mental capacities, also hold unconscious memory traces of our ancestral families?  That some of our behaviours and values are passed down through our genes, in some way?  Plenty of evidence is pointing in this direction: it is now known that certain personality characteristics are inherent and therefore heritable.  For example, extroversion and introversion, a fundamental personality difference that is determined by electrical activity on the brain surface; or optimism, now largely believed to be “hard-wired” in the brain.

But Pesso goes further, along with other thinkers, such as Anne Ancelin Schutzenberger, suggesting that we may be programmed to repay debts of the past, or to re-live moments of joy or sadness.   Pesso believes that an old injustice is “felt” (unconsciously) in the genetic field, creating a drive for completion – closure as the language of psychotherapy would term it.  This  is similar to the Eastern idea of karma, but across generations of a family, rather than re-incarnated lives.

Al Pesso is a wise and gifted teacher, who will be honoured next year with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to mind-body psychology, applied to emotional well-being.  His fundamental belief is that human beings are born to be happy; so his guiding question is: what stops us?  Pesso believes that we interpret our current reality through a tightly woven braid, composed of our genetic inheritance, our autobiographical history and stories….. The stories told about us by our families; the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the stories about people and the world that will have driven generations of our families to particular sets of beliefs and patterns of behaviours.

Dan P McAdam has written powerfully about the stories that form our identities in his book The Stories We Live by: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self  He shows how a heightened sense of our own ancestry, family and personal stories can create new options and perspectives for happiness.  And he shows practical techniques for “re-storying” our identities: why believe a negative story about yourself, when a positive one is equally true?  why make yourself suffer unnecessarily?

As I explore these themes in my novel in progress Honor’s Ghost, the questions become ever more complex… and fascinating.

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