Updated: Feb 23, 2022
We (Sebastian and I) are currently reading It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes who we are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn. There are many important and informative themes that have emerged, of which are useful in our work with clients, but can really be applicable to each reader’s everyday lives. There is a great deal to learn about how your family history and past experiences may be informing your current life experiences.
One of these concepts outlines what Wolynn calls our core language. Our core language references the words we use in our everyday interactions with ourselves and others. It can also be expressed in non-verbal ways, such as behaviours, physical sensations, emotions, impulses, and even symptoms like illness.
Wolynn provides an analogy for us in the form of a fairytale. Remember Hansel and Gretel? They are led astray down a path into the dark forest away from the safety of their home. Worried they’ll never find their way out, Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs in the woods to ensure their safe return home. Similarly, if we are deep in our own forest of fears, or experiencing some type of distress, we too leave a trail of crumbs that can help us find our way. But, instead of breadcrumbs we leave a trail of words – words that have the power to lead us back on track, make connections to our past and what came before us, and understand our experiences in a deeper way.
When we, or people before us in our families, face traumatic or distressing experiences, these are stored in our internal system and in our bodies. Then, years or generations later, these unspoken experiences that live in our unconscious appear all around us. They emerge in the words we use, our chronic symptoms, and unexplainable behaviours. They resurface in the repetitive struggles we face in our day-to-day lives. These unspoken experiences are the basis of our core language. Failure to recognize our core language as messengers (or breadcrumbs) means we miss the pathway to understanding and unraveling the mystery behind our struggles.
This concept stood out to me as a tangible way to inform ourselves of how our past is impacting our present. It aligns with my underlying trauma-informed approach to therapy, and gives people useful language to help make sense of what they are experiencing. I encourage you to reflect – what might be signs (or breadcrumbs) of your core language? Wolynn explains that each of our core languages are typically the intense and urgent words we use to describe our deepest fears. We can hear it in the complaints we make about our work, our health, relationships, and other life situations.
If I were to ask you, what feels burdensome right now? What is bothering you? What doesn’t feel settled? Or, what do you believe is the worst thing that can happen to a person? Likely, the language you use to answer these questions, or the bodily sensations or emotions that come up for you are all signs of your core language and can be traced back to past experiences. Recognizing this language is the first step in understanding these responses, and the history that is alive within us every day. It also allows us to look at our responses in a curious, open way. They are the breadcrumbs we can follow to make connections to our past, and ultimately lead us towards creating distance and relief from distress we may be feeling.
Is this something you’re interested in exploring further? Book a free consultation with one of our therapists at WCPS, or pick up your own copy of Wolynn’s It Didn’t Start With You to learn more.