December 16, 2014

Ancestral Trauma: the Missing Link Behind Modern Day Depression & Anxiety?


Since 2004, when I experienced two episodes of psychosis, I have progressively healed myself through a combination of yoga, meditation and a wide variety of healing techniques.

As I went through this process, my old coping techniques slowly but surely fell away— in the past I’ve used everything from drugs, alcohol, exercise and relationships to distract myself.

Dropping these various distraction techniques was never easy.

I didn’t give up marijuana until I was pregnant. When life got really tough and I found myself in a locked down, irritated, rigid state of being for no apparent reason, a few puffs on a joint would melt everything away and I would feel completely relaxed and at ease again. I felt like me again.

Yet I knew using marijuana like this was unsustainable and an illusion. While weed provided immediate relief, the demons causing the painful state of being remained, always coming back eventually.

Being pregnant forced me to let go of that crutch and it was painful. Now, when those incredibly difficult times came around, I had to find something else to help shift my state of being. Yoga and meditation helped enormously. But so did other less healthy methods like working hard and moving location often.

Without realising it, I switched from socially unacceptable methods of distraction like drugs and alcohol to methods of distraction that masqueraded as adventuring and a solid work ethic.

I was able to keep this up for three years. Three years where I poured all my anxiety and irritation and plain awful feelings of being alive into my work and into looking for the perfect place to live.

This year though, even those methods began to unravel. I first noticed it in Napier, shortly after I arrived. On the surface, everything was amazing. I had found a supportive place to live that fit my budget and also provided regular childcare. I was teaching at a local studio and loving it. I was making friends. My second book was almost finished.

The usual drama that had accompanied my life for nearly a decade had melted away and instead everything was on track, filled with ease and completely supportive.

And I was experiencing the worst depression in about eight years. Some days I struggled to get out of bed. Everything was grey, Nothing meant anything. And I didn’t get it at all. Why was I in this state of being?

I used my usual tricks—-meditation, yoga, healers, going into emotion, writing it out. And it worked. Eventually the depression cleared and I evened out again. Until I moved down to Wellington four months later—the last move before my son starts school early next year.

Again, the depression hit.

This time I wondered if it was because I wasn’t lived the life I’d envisioned I’d be living at 39. I was still renting, single, a single mother, and making less than $20K a year. Yet you could also say I was living exactly the life I’d envisioned at 39.

I was writing daily, I’d published two books, I publish an awesome yoga website, I’m teaching yoga and I’m in the first steps of a career as a professional speaker.

By now, it had been a difficult year. Throw in Power Living Teacher Training into the middle of it, which spun me out into a bad place for nearly two months, and I was beginning to wonder if I needed to seek professional help. Was I depressed? Was this chemical?

Yet in my world view, depression is a symptom of something that can be worked with. Any chemical reaction present in the brain is the result of the depression, not necessarily the cause. Now, I’m not saying this is true, I’m saying this is the world view I’ve adopted because it makes me feel empowered and I’ve found it useful to work this way with depression.

Then something extraordinary happened. I woke up one Friday and went about my day as normal… but as I did I realised I felt completely different. Something massive had shifted and I felt free and open and relaxed and… happy?

I felt happy?

I realised in this moment that I had not felt this way in years.


That feeling was extraordinary. And it lasted only half a day. But it was enough to show me that there is an entirely different way to feel as you go about life.

Fast forward a month or so. Samuel and I moved in with a good friend and flatmate two streets away. It’s a beautiful house with stunning views of Wellington and the harbour plus it’s much bigger than the tiny two-bedroom apartment we were in. I love it. We can stay here indefinitely—and with Samuel starting school just down the road in February, that’s the plan.

Again, depression hit, this time bringing along with it intense irritation. Under that intense irritation lay deep grief. By now, I was seeing a pattern and I was recognizing this layer of being as firstly Not Me and secondly, something that has been with me since at least my late teens.

In fact, I was beginning to realise that this layer of being was my default state of being.

Let’s call this layer Tense Irritated Grief, or TIG for short. In general, I had been in a state of TIG since my early teens at least. I could now see that everything I did in my teens was ways of getting out of TIG. I over-achieved. I filling up my life so I always had something to do. I went to the gym religiously, cycling twenty minutes each way to get there. I chased men.

Once I hit my twenties, my methods of getting out of TIG shifted. I started travelling. Discovered partying. Embraced life as a gypsy. Became a waitress in the busiest bar in town.

My thirties filled up with drama, more moving, difficult life circumstances, and work. All of it a way to distract myself and not feel Tense Irritated and the Grief that lay beneath.

Until now. Now, there’s nothing left to distract and everything is unfolding beautifully. Now, all that’s left is what was always there—Tension, Irritation and Grief.

I sat in this state of being for about ten days. I used my usual tools—yoga and meditation. Music and cooking. But it didn’t shift. And more than that, I realised I didn’t want to shift out of it, I wanted to go as deep as I could into it so I could finally release that layer of Not Me and create a new default.

Maybe a Relaxed, Easeful and Joyous default.

By this point I knew I needed help; I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed to have someone hold the space for me so I could enter deeply into this layer of being and release all the emotions and energy that had been clogging up my being for decades.

I called on my good friend Ben Ralston. He’s an extraordinary healer and I’ve worked with him before, twice. Both times were immediately effective. His technique is deceptively simple. In our session, Ben set up a safe space, bringing both him and me into the present and into our bodies.

From there an intention was set. Then he talked me into my body, into the feelings, into what’s happening. The trick is to get out of the mind completely—no intellectualizing what’s going on, but instead feeling it and describing those feelings.

As I went into the feeling states, Ben also asked me to notice any memories or images that came up. We were doing the session by Skype and as emotion started to emerge and my natural tendency was to choke it down, Ben suggested turning off the video.

You need to go into this. Whatever emotion comes up, feel it completely and let it come through. Don’t blow your nose, don’t even wipe the tears away from your eyes, just let it come.

This was a challenge and I felt incredibly vulnerable but I was also determined to get to the root of this layer. I didn’t want to suffer anymore—three decades is enough!

So I dove in, I let those tears come through, opened myself up completely to the experience and described in detail what I was feeling and seeing to Ben.

As we worked, I went down through layers and layers of feeling. Ben noted:

This is old ancestral trauma. It’s strong, it’s deep and it’s old.

In that one sentence from Ben I felt a wave of relief come through me – that this wasn’t me, that this was something incredibly strong beyond me.

It gave me both the courage and the curiosity to go down, knowing that in freeing myself from this ancestral trauma I would also be freeing all those who come after me, and paradoxically, all those who have come before me. (Time is a nebulous concept.)

The sensations become stronger and a few images flashed through, including one of a near-naked, filthy, feral woman crouched in a stone cell with water dripping off the walls. She was me and I was her. I went deeper and fully felt the craziness and fear and this sense of wanting to rip something off myself, but there was nothing left to rip. It was myself I was trying to free myself from.

Waves of tears were coming through, along with all kinds of physical sensations including intense heat in my upper torso. I felt like I could go deeper and further into this woman – who was she? Why was she there? What was happening to her? But Ben pulled me out and instructed me to come back into my room, grounding me with specific instruction.

Coming back into a Wellington evening in 2014 was a shock. I blinked several times and followed Ben’s instructions, feeling myself calm down into a state of being I hadn’t experienced in months.

I was back again.

But the healing was only half over. Going into whatever is happening within the body is only the first part. Then Ben takes a more active role and acknowledges everything that has happened, putting it into words and in doing so both honouring me and freeing me.

He has a knack of knowing exactly what to say, what’s important, what’s needed. The session finished after about 45 minutes, but it felt like five minutes – like I stepped out of time and place and then stepped back in again.

On Ben’s recommendation, I took a long, hot shower and let everything wash over me before heading straight to bed and into an extraordinary deep sleep. I awoke the next morning feeling like I’d been hit by a bus—dazed, almost slightly adrift, like something that has been with me for a long time is… gone.

That morning as I walked my son down our path to the car to take him to Montessori I spontaneously sang made-up songs about the day to the tune of Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess. Samuel joined in, offering a line here and there, or repeating my lines.

Tension, Irritation and Grief were not present. Relaxed, Easeful and Joyous feelings were peeking out from behind the clouds.

Later, as I sat in meditation I mused on my experience.

I have no doubt that all the yoga and meditation I’ve done have helped to release many layers of Not Me yet I also know that there are times where I need help to undo particularly difficult knots. Especially those that may involve things like ancestral trauma. Without Ben to hold the space and help my past my natural tendency to choke down emotion, I wouldn’t have been able to descend fully into the feeling state required to release this layer of being.

I can’t know for sure what happened in that healing or who that woman was. Was just a figment of my imagination, a way for my psyche to put something into an image, or a way for a part of myself to communicate with the conscious part of myself?

Was she an ancestor who experienced something so traumatic that the energy of that trauma was passed on down from parent to child all the way to me?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that something major has shifted in my life. Something that was suffocating me and stopping me from stepping fully into my power and potential as a human being.

Thanks to the support and healing I received from Ben, I’ve finally let go of something that shaped my life for three decades.

That work happened two months ago and I’m still marvelling at the deep shift in my default state of being that I’m experiencing. I have never felt such ease with life, or with myself.

That deep sense of Tense, Irritated Grief that was with me for so long—gone.

And for that, I am so grateful. Ancestral trauma or not, I am profoundly different.

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Author: Kara-Leah Grant

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Helga Weber at Flickr 

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