Your Ancestors Live Within You: The Wisdom of Epigenetics with Johanna Lynn


Johanna Lynn, a clinical therapist, draws on epigenetics to help you understand how your family stories are your stories – in every way your ancestors live on within you. The challenges you face and the gifts you have in life are not yours alone, they are shared across multiple generations.

We discuss what she calls emotional inheritance and how we can shift how we hold that past within us. Epigenetics shows us that our ancestors are a part of our wilderness that we can remember and explore as a path towards greater wellness, shifting from one of separation to one of wholeness.

Our conversation covers:

  • an introduction to epigenetics
  • how our ancestor’s life experience affects our own throughout DNA
  • how we can shift painful patterns explore mysterious and stubborn symptoms
  • the ways we are resourced by our families histories
  • how our children can guide us towards what is unresolved in our family lineages
  • how ancestors of place, or our mother lands, are a part of our family systems too 
  • and how we can forge a creative belonging by taking into account our whole selves

Joanna Lynn is a clinical therapist focusing on epigenetics or how our family story is our personal story and the way that it lives on within us. As she says, science tells us that our biography becomes our biology. She works with clinicians and coaches to integrate the wisdom of epigenetics and sees clients in her international practice so you can work with her individually or as a family to shift painful patterns, or to explore mysterious and stubborn symptoms.

More Information

Book a session with Johanna

Connect with Johanna through her website

Hear more from Johanna on other podcasts episodes

Paper on the role of epigenetics in mental health


Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.

Allie  00:00

This week I’m talking with Joanna Lynn, a clinical therapist focusing on epigenetics or how our family story is our personal story and the way that it lives on within us. As she says, science tells us that our biography becomes our biology. Her fascination with what mothers share with our children, what she calls emotional inheritance is so palpable, and her passion and working with individuals and families to release and shift how we hold that past within us is inspiring. epigenetics shows us that our ancestors, the family systems that live within us are a part of our wilderness that we can remember and explore as a path towards greater wellness. By bringing in curiosity like Joanna talks about in this episode, we can include our past instead of separating ourselves from our wholeness in our mothering journey.

Joanna, thank you so much for being here today and sharing your expertise on epigenetics.

Johanna  01:45

It’s such a pleasure, Allison, thanks for having me.

Allie  01:47

I really relate to your work, and especially highlighting that looking at epigenetics helps us see the whole individual instead of just seeing kind of a small part of him or her. So can you tell me more about epigenetics and why it’s important to understand the science as a mother? Mm hmm.

Johanna  02:06

I think for me, as a mom, myself, it was really eye opening to understand that what’s unresolved in me as a parent, I can pass on to my child, relational things, fears, phobias, experiences that I’ve had in my own life that I haven’t quite come to terms with. And so epigenetics as a field of study, really supports that beliefs and traumas that we carry are almost always handed down from a previous generation with to the to the next.

Allie  02:42

So how does our grandmother’s life experience affect us today?

Johanna  02:46

Mm hmm. What happens when there’s an experience that is either traumatic or just greatly stress inducing, it really changes the way that DNA is shared. So if we could say it in a different way, when an experience happens, that really changes us, it then changes the way our DNA is shared with our children. So it really informs the trauma Response Center in the brain of the one who experienced it. And we know now that that same expression goes through the DNA to the children and the grandchildren. So it’s like a memorized trauma response. These things that are not talked about, but they still carry on. It’s, it’s literally a part of us. And we might think, well, this is just me, I, you know, I get nervous around a lot of people or my relationships just don’t go very well. It’s just how things are for me. And we’re starting to understand that it’s connected to something that came before us.

Allie  04:01

The one of the things that I see with my clients and friends and myself, is this distrust of ourselves as mothers? So that seems to be one of these patterns that may be connected to these expressions of our DNA or behaviors. What do you think about that? Could that be something that epigenetics could shift

Johanna  04:22

100% this whole idea of, you know, I distrust my mothering instinct, we can look back and I would want to get really curious, asking questions about what can you tell me about your relationship with your mom? What are your first memories as a child? And also getting really curious, what does your mom say about her mom? What I see a lot in my practice is a significant loss of a child, an accident that may have happened, and here we have a grandchild that this is not at all In their own experience, and yet it’s carried through that mother line. And that feeling of I may harm a child, I won’t give them enough of what they need. And it it can sometimes really get in the way of just loving fully, because we’re so preoccupied with causing harm.

Allie  05:17

Yeah, my family line carries with it some domestic violence experiences. And I know that lots of people like you did talk about how you can use epigenetics to heal inter generational challenges like this trauma. So how do you help someone heal something that wasn’t in their life experience, but maybe their grandmothers or great grandmother’s or their ancestors passed?

Johanna  05:42

Mm hmm. The first step is to get really curious about what lives in your family tree. And so each and every client that comes to work to do this work, I start off with a three generation Gini diagram. And so it’s not like building your average family tree. It’s more about the relationships, it’s more about where love stopped flowing, or where things got really tangled up. And from a relationship perspective, we want to understand what’s behind mom’s critical nature? Or why was she so quick to anger? What was it that caused dads need to numb out in whatever form? And so often, what ends up happening is we the individual who has whatever challenges were faced in life, we tend to take what our parents said, or did truly as personally, they think, wow, you know, my parent did this. And we don’t tend to include what happened to them as a part of that understanding. And because I’ve been in this work over 10 years, really, what I recognize is, if mom or dad was emotionally cruel, or shut down in some way, often if we track that back, some experience happened, that had them shut off emotionally. And so we can notice that where that loves stops, where we might be in self protection, or there’s a strange bent or shut down. This is where we see repetition happen over the generations. And so sometimes turning towards a mom that has been cut out of our heart, with compassion with looking at, Wow, I didn’t put together what had happened to you, of course, informs how you have shown up, then we really start to see some of those edges. Some of that hurt some of that built up anger, really just soften and unfold. And then something outside of our patterned way gets to show up.

Allie  07:56

Yes, I do family therapy with moms and daughters. And adding that layer of compassionate understanding shifts the daughter’s understanding of Mother, you know, because we’re all told mothers are supposed to be a specific way and always available. That’s right, it reflects on their self compassion, and they’re able to see themselves more fully.

Johanna  08:15

Exactly. That’s exactly what I see each and every day.

Allie  08:20

I love how you state that our families live within us and that we’re we can think of it as emotional inheritance. And those imprints continue to influence us. So if we shift from focusing on the challenges, are we also resourced by our mother line, Father line and our ancestors? So what about the gifts that we get through epigenetics?

Johanna  08:41

It’s so funny, isn’t it, you know, human nature, we, we focus on what went wrong. And if it ends up negating all the good, it’s just the way we’re wired. And so just like that idea of getting curious about your family tree, even your listeners, I invite them to take a moment to begin to consider parents and grandparents, you know, all parts of them, even their lives before becoming parents, you know, can you notice aspects of their courage, their natural curiosity, their intelligence, deep, deep generosities? You know, even ways that you know, maybe they are a real advocate for something they wanted to make a difference about something that was really important to them, or even how they overcame their personal challenges that we then mine, if you will, the resources throughout our family system. And and sometimes, you know, when I work with a client who’s been estranged from a parent for years and years, there’s this piece where there’s that one thing that they really respect about them. And so to say, when you feel yourself being a really great person in the world, you know, know that you’re saying Standing beside that parent, or you’re connected to grandpa’s curiosity or grandma’s inner resilience. And I think we begin to get to this bridge where even the challenging things that we’ve overcome, they’re now like the seeds of our own expansion.

Allie  10:19

So what is the best news, the brightest takeaway from your work and the knowledge that we are more than our own individual experiences?

Johanna  10:28

That’s a big question. You know, there’s so many different answers I could give. It’s almost even in where science has taken the understanding of epigenetics that similar to your last question that as we begin to remit the understanding, we have access to more of the resources and the resilience of what has come. But if I take this answer from from a parenting perspective, instead of this idea about wanting to change a child’s behavior, let’s say or looking at it through the lens of discipline, to consider that our child expresses in their behavior, what’s unresolved in us, or in their other part in their other parent, or even within the relationship itself. And so if we look at our child, and we might say, Okay, what is that behavior pointing to? And we start to think about our child’s reactions, or something that would cause them to melt down or their triggers almost as clues, clues to what we might need to look at in ourselves. And so for me, it’s just allowed so much more patience and understanding, because parenting is hard, you know, even on the best of days, and most of us are juggling our professional lives and our family lives. And when we can look at it through that lens, it just feels so much more holistic,

Allie  11:56

that approach centers the child in a new way as teacher and guide, can you talk a little bit more about that? Mm hmm.

Johanna  12:05

I really like that image as the child as a guide, because really, this life is learning more about ourselves and our, our children can be that way to open and learn more about ourselves. And so our son is almost 12. And over the last couple of years, we really understood, he’s quite highly sensitive, and has some challenges with some sensory processing stuff. So as he gets older, and school has more demands, I started to look at this lens in our in our own son, and looking at my husband’s History, being born in Germany, and understanding a lot of the emotional shutdowns of his own father having to flee his country of origin, being told as a three year old boy, you know, don’t talk to others don’t trust others, there’s not the room or ability to feel. And so there’s a stoicism in the the men in my husband’s family line. And so this idea of what I cannot feel, son, you will feel on my behalf. And so that’s been something that we’ve been working with in our little family of three, instead of looking at it as an identity for our son as an example, or what are we going to do to quote unquote, fix his sensitivities, but to actually follow the line of words deeper, as I consider my son, as half of me and half of my husband. And of course, we bring in each other’s parents to widen the view even further.

Allie  13:46

Wow, that’s so beautiful. And it also supports that, you know, we’re all driven towards wellness, but also our systems are driven towards greater health and wellness to how does epigenetics guide us to be more respectful parts of our ecosystems, and be more relational with our ancestors of place?

Johanna  14:09

I think what I’ve noticed most in in my work with those who have immigrated from their home country, and made a new life for themselves, wherever they are immigrating to, that they bring the country experience along with them. There’s a Alliance there’s a loyalty and sometimes this can feel very dividing as if How can I live fully in Canada, let’s say this is where I’m living now, when my relatives my ancestors, still struggle in India or you know, wherever they’re coming from. I’m just thinking that of a more recent case. And so this understanding that We bring all parts of ourselves forward, the really sitting with, I am half my mom and I am half my dad I am where I am born, that that country of origin also comes along with me. And so I think those that find their way to wholeness do have a way to honor and celebrate that country where they were born.

Allie  15:27

Yeah, I work with a lot of people that really feel place very strongly, or they feel the loss of place. So there’s some grief around ancestral homelands are where the bones were buried, you know, of their, of their family line. So it seems like epigenetics as a path towards finding more belonging in life

Johanna  15:49

very much. So Bert hellinger is the founder of this work and has written my gosh, probably close to 100 books of how we hold the family inside. And belonging is a topic that finds its way into each and every one of those books. It’s an organizing principle, inside of all of us, yes, we have a need to belong, but what parts of ourselves might we hive off in order to belong? And, you know, even within myself, I notice, feeling at home in place has been a challenge. And so I’ve gotten very curious around what if home is inside of me. And that home coming to self is about an internal practice, that could look like things about breath and body awareness and remaining connected to self. That that perhaps it isn’t outside of us at all. Yeah,

Allie  16:55

that goes back to the, we have these families inside of us. So belonging, especially because we have you know, so many ancestors and so many places and you know vocations ancestors of vocations to to kind of incorporate that belonging can look kind of messy or creative.

Johanna  17:14

Yes, very much. And belonging is never the same thing for another, you know, it’s it’s its own unique path for each of us.

Allie  17:29

If you’re interested in this path towards holistic maternal wellness, you can find Joanna, which I’ll include in the show notes. She works with clinicians and coaches to integrate the wisdom of epigenetics and into our practices as a trainer and consultant. She also sees clients in our international practice so you can work with her individually or as a family to shift painful patterns, or to explore mysterious and stubborn symptoms. listening to my conversation with Joanne I’ve been so moved by how epigenetics sheds light on our journey to more holistic self. This science offers an evidence base counter narrative to the status quo stories we’ve learned about individualism, about our separation from one another and our ancestors, and about our role as healers within our family life, as we remember, honor and move into relationship with the family systems that live within us. We really are an embodiment of our ancestors. And this wisdom is vital guidance on our journeys towards greater belonging and mothering home for ourselves and our families. 

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