Book Recommendation: It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn

Recently we had the opportunity to read Mark Wolynn’s latest book, It Didn’t Start with You, and it was really insightful. For anyone dealing with issues from the past that won’t seem to shake loose, this is a book to read. It’s also fascinating. We recommend it, especially for those of you, like us at Happiness Series, who are deeply interested in human behavior.


Below is an excerpt from Mark’s book: It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle 

“I never set out to create a method for overcoming fear and anxiety. It all began the day I lost my vision. I was in the throes of my first ocular migraine. No real physical pain to speak of—just a cyclone of dark terror, within which my vision was obscured. I was thirty-four years old and stumbling around my office in the murk, fingering the desk phone for the 911 buttons. An ambulance would soon be on its way.

An ocular migraine is generally not serious. Your vision becomes muddled, but usually returns to normal in about an hour. You just don’t always know that while it’s happening. But for me, the ocular migraine was just the beginning. Within weeks, the vision in my left eye began to disappear. Faces and road signs soon became a gray blur.

The doctors informed me that I had central serous retinopathy, a condition without a cure, its cause unknown. Fluid builds up under the retina and then leaks, causing scarring and blurring in the visual field. Some folks, the 5 percent with the chronic form mine had turned into, become legally blind. The way things were going, I was told to expect that both eyes would be affected. It was just a matter of time.

The doctors were unable to tell me what caused my vision loss and what would heal it. Everything I tried on my own—vitamins, juice fasts, hands‑on healing—all seemed to make things worse. I was flummoxed. My greatest fear was unfolding in front of me and I was helpless to do anything about it. Blind, unable to take care of myself, and all alone, I’d fall apart. My life would be ruined. I’d lose my will to live.

I replayed the scenario over and over in my head. The more I thought about it, the deeper the hopeless feelings embedded in my body. I was sinking into sludge. Each time I tried to dig myself out, my thoughts circled back to images of being all alone, helpless, and ruined. What I didn’t know then was that the very words alone, helpless, and ruined were part of my personal language of fear. Unbridled and unrestrained, they reeled in my head and rattled my body.

I wondered why I gave my thoughts such power. Other people had adversity far worse than mine and they didn’t dwell in the depths like this. What was it about me that stayed so deeply entrenched in fear? It would be years before I could answer that question.

Back then, all I could do was leave. I left my relationship, my family, my business, my city—everything I knew. I wanted answers that couldn’t be found in the world I was part of—a world where many people seemed to be confused and unhappy. I had only questions, and little desire to carry on with life as I knew it. I handed my business ( a successful events company) over to someone I had literally just met, and off I went, east—as far east as I could go—until I reached Southeast Asia. I wanted to be healed. I just had no idea what that would look like.

I read books and studied with the teachers who wrote them. Whenever I heard that there might be someone who could help me—some old woman in a hut, some laughing man in a robe—I showed up. I joined training programs and chanted with gurus. One guru said, to those of us gathered to hear him speak, that he wanted to surround himself with only “finders.” Seekers, he said, remained just that—in a constant state of seeking.

I wanted to be a finder. I meditated for hours each day. I fasted for days at a time. I brewed herbs and battled the fierce toxins that I imagined had invaded my tissues. All the while, my eyesight continued to worsen and my depression deepened.

What I failed to realize at the time is that when we try to resist feeling something painful, we often protract the very pain we’re trying to avoid. Doing so is a prescription for continued suffering. There’s also something about the action of searching that blocks us from what we seek. The constant looking outside of ourselves can keep us from knowing when we hit the target. Something valuable can be going on inside us, but if we’re not tuning in, we can miss it.

“What aren’t you willing to see?” the healers prodded, provoking me to look deeper. How could I know? I was in the dark.

One day, I was waiting in line to have a satsang—a meeting with a spiritual master. I had been waiting for hours in the white robe that everyone in line at the temple wore. It was now my turn. I was expecting the master to acknowledge my dedication. Instead, he looked right through me and saw what I couldn’t. “Go home,” he said. “Go home and call your mother and your father.”

What? I was livid. My body shook with anger. Clearly, he misread me. I no longer needed my parents. I had outgrown them. I had given up on them long ago, traded them in for better parents, divine parents, spiritual parents—all the teachers, gurus, and wise men and women who were guiding me to the next level of awakening. What’s more, with several years of misguided therapy under my belt, of beating pillows and tearing cardboard effigies of my parents to smithereens, I believed I had already “healed” my relationship with them. I decided to ignore his advice.

And yet something struck a chord inside me. I couldn’t quite let go of what he had said. I was finally beginning to understand that no experience is ever wasted. Everything that happens to us has merit, whether we recognize the surface significance of it or not. Everything in our lives ultimately leads us somewhere.

The great teachers understand that where we come from affects where we go, and that what sits unresolved in our past influences our present. They know that our parents are important, regardless of whether they are good at parenting or not. There’s no way around it: The family story is our story. Like it or not, it resides within us.”

Mark Wolynn, director of The Family Constellation Institute in San Francisco, is a leading expert in the field of inherited family trauma. A sought-after lecturer, he has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the Western Psychiatric Institute, Kripalu, The Omega Institute, The New York Open Center, and The California Institute of Integral Studies. His forthcoming book IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle will be published by Viking/Penguin in April 2016. His articles have appeared in Elephant Journal and Psych Central, and his poetry has been published in The New Yorker

For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.


Filed Under: Things We Love


About the Author: These articles were posted by a member of the Happiness Series staff, if you have any further questions or want a response to a comment, please contact us!

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