Who are we? What is the self?
We all agree pretty much that our experiences and the way we learn to respond and react to them, shape the way we think and how we behave.. But what if our experiences shape us at a deeper level, so deep, it’s in our genes?
What we don’t know about our genes is far more than what we do. Several months ago, the startling reports that trauma actually changes our genetic material, our DNA, came out.
The effect is called “epigenetic inheritance” and it’s the shocking theory/fact that environmental factors that change you will be passed on genetically and affect your children.
I say startling, but the truth is, people who live with what I call “legacy trauma”, that is, trauma that is passed down through the generations, might already have had an inkling, a secret belief, that this was indeed so.
We know that trauma affects ones feelings and behaviors, and that this affects the children and even grandchildren. But trauma also can alter our bodies at the genetic level, actually alters our DNA.
Change, In General
What about life experiences that aren’t traumatic? Just unhappy? Or perhaps what about positive life experiences? Do these alter our DNA too? Logic would suggest the answer is “yes.”
The body. Something that we think of as static, or at least, growing only up until adulthood, dealing with bumps and bruises, even disease, but not changing at the core, the deepest part of us, our DNA, may be far more flexible and fluid than we think.
News Ways of Understanding Who We Are
A little under four years ago, we began to blog about the brain-gut. At that time, although there was some awareness of the concept that the brain and gut together acted as a kind of synergistic organ, practically its own planetary system, populated by flora and fauna, beneficial or not, in which what went on in the gut affected the functioning of the brain (cognition, emotions, and so on), we were on the cusp of the brain-gut explosion, where this newish idea entered the ether and suddenly there were quite a few important best sellers which focused on or mentioned the brain-gut.
We then learned that the brain-gut was just the beginning; there was another term, “microbiome”, coined by an American molecular biologist, which means “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space.” It’s the trending way to describe the relational system that may have an impact on virtually every facet of our mental and physical being.
Now that we understand that bacteria, for example, can affect our sense of “self” profoundly, we’re primed. It’s not that far a leap to see that these changes go deeper than the brain, the gut, even the cells, and may change the very stuff that determines so much of how we define ourselves: our DNA.
So, if our experiences which affect our emotions and mental self change our genetic material, and we pass that changed material on to our children, does this mean that that DNA carries it within it mental/emotional markers which change their mental health?
Please join the discussion: Your comments are welcome.