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Legacy Stress

So often when people come to therapy, they don’t know exactly what is bothering them or what is not working in their lives. They just know they’re super anxious and not happy. This can be baffling because the client is left asking him or herself, “why am I always so stressed?” “Why can’t I just appreciate what I have?” “Why am I not comfortable in my own skin?” Or “Why am I so angry?” The client doesn’t know what to change since the specific problem isn’t clear.

Frequently this sense of free-floating discomfort is due to events that happened long, long ago. In fact, sometimes it is actually not even their stress to carry. They are carrying their parent’s or grandparent’s stress or pain. I refer to this as Legacy Stress.

Just like we can inherit mom’s blue eyes or the way dad’s eyebrows arch, we can also “inherit” or take over our ancestors' unresolved emotional issues. You may

have heard this process referred to as epigenetics. What this means is that although our parent’s DNA did not change, the pathways in their brain did change due to the stress or trauma, and the coding for this pathway is passed on to us. These generational traumas and the resulting genetic expression that is passed on is not irreparable but can lead us to act in the same ways our parents might have acted. For instance, if Dad was traumatized by Mom’s infidelity, we may find that for some reason we have difficulty trusting in intimate relationships. Or we may find that as we get close to a romantic partner, we start to pull away or we just feel anxious.

I was raised by Depression Era parents. They came from a time in history where money and jobs were scarce, many people lost their homes and stood in breadlines for food. My mom’s family had a little more than most and she shared stories of feeding hungry and homeless people who came to their door. They were, of course, only able to feed them their leftovers. My mom’s family was not rich by any means, but my grandfather had a job at a private club, so he was able to keep feeding his family. By living through the depression my mom grew up with lots of money fears and insecurities. She had fears of scarcity and the need to ration.

My dad was also raised during the depression and his fears came out in his risk aversion when it came to work. Many times, he was offered promotions, which he did not take because he was concerned that the new positions would not offer the same job security.

Some of this fear filtered down to me and has been a legacy that I have been working on changing so that I do not pass it down to my daughters. Carrying my parents’ stress and fears of scarcity do not match my reality. I was not raised during the depression and my family has always had enough, but the legacy stress can make it hard for me to know

that I have enough and to ‘feel’ that I have enough.

What legacy stress might you be carrying? What old family traumas might be impacting how you approach your relationships and your day-to-day happiness level?

One excellent therapeutic method for exploring and resolving these old, hidden issues is EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR provides a way of healing old emotionally charged experiences that may be influencing our current day emotions, sensations, and thoughts. EMDR helps remove the roadblocks to healing.

If you would like to learn more about EMDR or other types of therapy that might help you resolve your legacy stress, feel free to call me at 818-309-7780 or check out my website:

And, to receive updates on my future Therapeutic Musings please subscribe to my blog at:

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