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Healing Ancestral Trauma, Recovery, & Resilience

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

From Surviving to Thriving, Adaptability, & Resilience

As the cold weather settles in, the light recedes, and the snow begins to cover the frozen ground, many of us feel the niggling of an age old survival stress, not to mention the well known modern concerns and stresses that can come up over winter holidays as we seek to enjoy life and connection.

In today's world, the survival instincts of our ancestors, that can get stirred when it’s cold and dark, are compounded by rapidly changing economic, social, and environmental variables that can be difficult to manage. These shifting variables tend to be stressful for many of us and impact the sense of stability in our lives.

Change, for humans, points directly at the need to Adapt.

Thankfully, that is one of the things we do best.

It’s also a place where we can get stuck.

Unprocessed Trauma erodes the innate adaptability of our nervous system but well processed Trauma can increase our adaptability.

This is Resilience - our body’s innate capacity to recover from stress, trauma, adversity, illness, ruptures in relationship, & breakdowns. Resilience and adaptability make it possible for us to both enjoy the playful, celebratory qualities of Life and face into the challenges with the inner resources to meet them.

Trauma comes from a loss of sense of safety.

So, anything we perceive as life threatening can potentially be traumatic. Physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual danger can become traumatic. As Trauma expert Gabor Mate says, “Trauma is not what happens to you, it's what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. ” For humans, lack of connection & attunement is interpreted

biologically as a threat to our survival and this can be particularly traumatizing for a child - a trauma that often goes unrecognized.

The symptoms of trauma can cause you to become hypervigilant (always on the look out for danger, which could include relational rupture), and be bracing for the threat of danger, reactive, and on the defense.

It can make you feel disconnected, confused, anxious, alone, hopeless, and ashamed. It can impact every aspect of our lives, including our ability to regulate emotions and stress, making it difficult to find clarity, to discern appropriate behavior, speak up for ourselves, create attuned connection, and healthy boundaries.’

Thankfully, just as our brain and nervous system can adapt to survive the trauma, we also have the ability to heal and develop more resilience.

We Grow Like Trees, Insights on Trauma & Resilience

We are like trees and our lives are interdependent with them. Humans and trees rely on one another to breath. Our lives depend on one another, yet trees also mirror and influence us in profound ways.

Let’s look in the “tree mirror” and imagine, for a moment, a beautiful ancient forest of trees, some at least a few hundreds years old. Their majesty, beauty, and power come from living and growing through many changes in weather and habitat; wind and rain storms, lightning, drought, other trees falling, bear scratches, and so much more.

As life disrupts their growth, trees find new ways of reaching toward and conserving nourishment, growing in ever more beautiful twists and turns; sinking and reaching their roots toward life giving water and nutrients of the soil, listening in, connecting with one another, with the whole forest, through the mycelial network.

They give and receive signals about how they may need to adapt to changes in the environment, reaching for and receiving what they need, bringing healing and protection to wounded areas, moving, and growing around and through barriers toward the light, sprouting leaves and breathing, Creating flowers, fertility, and the seeds of new life.

Trees move in rhythms. Everything moves in rhythms like the in breath and out breath. Moving with cycles of Receptivity to Activity; From awake, vivacious, and growing to sleeping, resting, and replenishing;

taking in nourishment from Source, presencing what is, healing wounds, growing in new ways, and contributing to the great web of Life. Syncing with this natural rhythm through the breath is one of our most powerful gateways to healing.

Through our relationship with the trees, it can be helpful to see that the, sometimes painful, disruptions of life are part of a natural cycle of growth re-patterning that can help us expand into new possibilities in ways we may not have been able to without those hardships.

For humans, when we are in the depths of traumatic activation, it can be difficult to “see the forest for the trees,” so to speak, yet taking some nice deep breaths and turning toward this wider view of growth cycles can bring some insight and hope to our experience.

We can learn to trust in life through our own life giving cycles of expansion

and contraction. We can enter the mysterious operating system - the autonomic nervous system that automatically controls breath by consciously controlling our breath and thereby regulating our nervous system and influencing our state of being.

People need to feel safe and supported to process trauma, heal, and grow. Connecting with our breath is foundational. Another key step is seeking and reaching out for support. Sometimes our age old relationship with the trees can be a good place to tune in, receive nourishment and prepare to reach out for human support.

Devoting time to be with the trees, is one of our greatest re-sources for rejuvenation, insight, inspiration, and resilience; And like the trees, our connection with our roots is key to a thriving life.

Our Roots

Trauma & Resilience of Ancestral Experience

Feeling, remembering, and restoring our relationship with our roots, our ancestors, family, and friends is an important way that we receive the nourishment we need to feel fully alive, for growth, creativity, play, joy, resilience, and fulfillment.

It’s no surprise that many cultures that originate from places where there are four seasons have traditionally taken time out to remember and honor their ancestors at this time, when the light recedes, the cold comes in, and the vegetation all around is passing into the death mystery of the Cycle of Life.

From the lens of Science, it seems that there is some powerful wisdom in this, from the point of view of building Resilience, since many studies have now shown us that we are deeply influenced by those who came before us in ways we often barely realize. It makes sense that many traditional cultures incorporate the remembrance of our ancestors in numerous ways year round.

We can inherit both the strengths of well integrated experiences and the difficulties of unprocessed trauma from our ancestors, and it gets passed down through generations behaviorally, relationally, genetically, and biochemically until someone takes responsibility for doing the courageous work of healing.

You are probably aware of this on some level. It may be easy to see, for example, through noticing how our relationships with our parents impact who we become. There are many different ways we are influenced by our upbringing and it’s always helpful for our healing process to seek insight around this.

Taking it a step further, and getting curious about what experiences shaped our

parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, how these experiences influenced

them, and were passed down, widens the view. This can help us to see some of the dysfunction or hurt we may have experienced through the eyes of compassion, and develop understanding for everyone involved rather than staying stuck in blame, which in a way, keeps us hostage to our suffering.

Sometimes finding compassion for people we feel were, in some way, the cause of our hurt, or even connected to it, can be a big step in healing which is often more of a gradual process and it’s something we’re not meant to do all alone - connection and support are key in processing old wounds.

Biological Inheritance

As we take a deeper look through science, we see that the influence of our ancestors’ experiences goes beyond the behavioral and relational, it’s also inherited biologically.

Infants in utero share the same emotional experiences as their mother, literally the same biochemistry, and this will impact the gene expression and the actual development of the baby’s nervous system.

For example, if a mother experienced major losses or stresses, was grieving, depressed, or filled with anxiety and having difficulty shifting into more uplifted states or attuning to the baby, during pregnancy and after birth as the child grows, this can have a harmful effect on the baby’s development which can show up in a myriad of ways throughout a persons lifetime.

Of course our mothers’ emotions are impacted by the experiences of their relationships, as well as the qualities of the family, society, and the environments they live in. This is another huge reason why it’s so important to respect, support and nurture life givers, our Mothers.

Healthy, balanced, resilient nervous systems develop from empathically attuned and responsive relationships.

So with all of this in mind, consider that, “In your earliest biological form, as an unfertilized egg, you already share a cellular environment with your mother and grandmother. When your grandmother was five months pregnant with your mother the precursor cell of the egg you developed from was already present in your mother’s ovaries. This means that before your mother was even born, your mother, your

grandmother, and the earliest traces of you were all in the same body - three generations sharing the same biological environment. … your inception can be similarly traced in your paternal line. The precursor cells of the sperm you developed from were present in your father when he was a fetus in his mother’s womb” (Mark Wolynn, It Didn’t Start with You.)

These astonishing facts are just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to what modern science has come to understand about the profound influence our ancestors have on us.

Unprocessed Trauma and the Journey to Resilience

With a healthy balanced nervous system, our adaptability is intact and it’s normal to experience many changes in states throughout a day as we respond and adapt to different situations.

For people who have been traumatized or carry ancestral trauma, (which is a huge and growing percentage of the population), moving through state changes and adapting, can be very challenging.

There's often a tendency to get stuck in over or under activation:

A state of “Fight or Flight” or a “Freeze state”, making it difficult to flow between states and

for our autonomic nervous system to return to a state of safety in which our bodies can rejuvenate and and we can feel clarity, connection, possibility, flexibility, creativity, and the ability to solve problems.

Left uncared for, the tendencies of a traumatized nervous system can be self re-enforcing and compounding, getting stuck in “fight, flight, or freeze responses” with ongoing bracing responses, mounting inner tension, and misattunement, all adding to a lens of perception that is skewed toward fear and distrust.

Trauma has a tremendous impact on peoples’ sense of themselves and relationships. It disconnects and causes loss of trust in self and others along with self limiting beliefs that you are in some way unworthy, not enough, inconsequential (don’t matter), or fundamentally flawed, and the world is dangerous - a lens through which we see world. Pain, loneliness, isolation, fear, and shame - all of this leads to comfort seeking.

Comfort Seeking - Is part of our animal instincts to seek comfort after getting hurt in some way but, for times when that comfort isn’t there, our human nervous system has evolved to store intense survival distress for later, until, at some point you feel safe enough to release the embodied traumatic memory through some form of self expression.

If you haven’t been able to find the support and sense of safety you need to feel to move through, and release the stored trauma, your sense of eminent threat and bracing for danger can intensify over time, diminishing adaptability, increasing a sense of separation, aloneness, stress, and pain. The comfort seeking instinct can turn into an all consuming need to control, manage, and sooth pain. This is often the root cause of addictions.

Let’s consider that our grandparents and great grandparents, our ancestors, lived through many different kinds of difficult, painful, and traumatic events such as war, famine, natural disaster, illness, accidents, losses of family members, oppression, brutality, poverty, prejudice, and immigration, to name a few of the big ones.

When the intensity and pain of a situation is too much for our nervous system and we

can’t find a sense of safety, we do what we can to survive and the pain gets buried in our subconscious, frozen in our body, and our nervous system as trauma.

If we don’t feel enough safety, the trauma won’t be processed and instead, its many impacts can get re-created in some way, passed down through the family line until there is enough safety to process it or someone finds the capacity to choose the healing journey and seek support.

When we are ready to break the cycle, our task is turn toward the pain, and care for those hurting places.

The ancient wisdom of elders teaches us that healing is not a cure to make pain go away. Healing is a journey that changes our relationship with pain over time. Become familiar with your pain so it can become your Friend, your Ally, and your Teacher. Then, the quality of what the pain means changes to Compassion, Clarity, Courage, Wisdom, and Connection.

Considering our ancestors’ experiences in this way can improve our capacity see that

the hardships we experienced with our parents and inherited go beyond the personal, and that the healing we are needing to do, perhaps feeling called to, extends beyond ourselves, into the past and the future.

From this profound vantage point, we can access a Compassion for the thread of experience that we share - our own part of it, and that of those who came before us, and are yet to come. Again, a beautiful meeting of ancient wisdom and what scientific research now shows us is the understanding that Compassion is an essential ingredient for healing.

This is a journey of deeper relationship with ourselves and others.

We need to feel that empathy, kindness, and care, that creates a sense of safety for healing to take place. We can learn to access Compassion from within yet, often on the healing journey we need help finding our way back home to this birthright. This is one of the reasons why seeking out people who are able to support you in a deep, skillful way is so important.

As in many ancient cultures, coming together with remembrance, appreciation, and gratitude for our ancestors’ lives brings us into states of being that support healing and help us face into the painful, difficult, denied, exiled and frozen parts of our familial past, that live within our own body so they can melt, and with compassionate presence, become wisdom, flow, connection, rootedness, and energy.

I have found in my personal life and in my counselling practice that some of the most powerful healing practices come from the ancient somatic (body based) traditions such as breathwork, meditation, Qi Gong, Yoga, and some forms of dance - and today modern science is proving this.

Entering into the mental and emotional healing process through the body is an important key because 80 % of brain/body signals travel from the body to the brain. Emotions and the impacts of trauma are felt and sensed in the body which signals the brain.

These ancient somatic practices help us develop the resource, connection, and awareness to turn toward the pain and stored trauma, so that it can be felt, processed, and transformed. They help us to dis-inhibit the bracing response of trauma, to come into deeper connection with self through the body, regulate our nervous system, induce our relational response, and open us to experience greater connection with people, and with all Life ~ which is a spiritual experience felt through the body.

Healing never brings us back to what we were, it transforms us into something new, more refined, wonderful, beautiful, and powerful. It brings us back into communion with ourselves and the world.


Rebecca Ruth Goutal,

Co-Creator & Transformational Facilitator of

LoveAlive Transformative Arts & Therapy

Registered Therapeutic Counsellor

I welcome you to connect with me for a Free Initial Consult

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