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  • Writer's pictureAbi Sims

Intergenerational Trauma: Core Language Mapping

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

In last week's blog post, we explored the science behind how intergenerational trauma passes through 3 generations. We learned about the four unconscious themes that show up in our words, behaviors, thoughts, health, relationships, and success that are typically passed down through the generations. It's important to understand the basics of intergenerational trauma before continuing on, so if you haven't checked out that post yet, you can click here to read it!

After learning about intergenerational trauma, you might be wondering " the heck do I heal that?" Thanks to the work of Mark Wolynn, the founder and director of The Family Constellation Institute and the author of It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle (2016), he's created a roadmap, called Core Language Mapping/Approach, to use that can help people uncover their intergenerational trauma and start healing it. We're going to explore the facets of the first part of that roadmap in this post and continue on with more of the roadmap in part 3 in the next post! (There's so much goodness to healing intergenerational trauma that we have to divide it up into another post! Healing is something that happens slowly, not all at once.)

The Core Language Approach

Things we're able to recall without thinking about, like riding a bike or driving a car, are so engrained in us. These kinds of memories are stored in what's called our implicit memory. Our implicit memories operate without our conscious being aware. Traumatic experiences are typically stored as implicit memory (also known as non declarative memory). When we've experienced an event that becomes so intense we can't even speak about, we lose access to the full memory of the event. Fragments of that traumatic experience go unnamed and out of sight, and they become a part of our unconscious. But our unconscious doesn't just hold the unresolved traumatic experiences of ourselves; it also holds the unresolved traumatic experiences of our ancestors.

When our memory function is inhibited, information that's emotionally significant doesn't process through the frontal lobes, therefore creating the inability for it to named through language or words. When language can't describe what we've been through, our experiences often become "undeclared", and are then stored as fragments of that memory through emotions, body sensations, and images.

This is why language to tell the story of our trauma is so important. Language gives us the ability to pull together our experiences into story form. Once the story is there, we're able to revisit that trauma without reliving the chaos attached to it.

The words we use to describe our deepest fears are the words that are our core language. Our core language can be heard in the complaints we have about our health, our jobs, our relationships, and other situations in our lives. Our core language is also shown in our disconnect from our bodies, from the core of who we are. Mark Wolynn put it perfectly when he says that our core language is "the fallout from trauma that has occurred in our early childhood or family history" (p. 57).

Core Language Mapping: The Core Complaint

Have you ever thought about the words you use to describe your worries or hardships? These words can tell us more than we realize, yet we don't often think about analyzing our words about our worries and struggles. Our core complaint will help lead us to the origin of our fears; it serves as a starting point. To find our core complaint, we turn to the language we use everyday and the deepest thread of emotion in the words we speak. There are some words we use that have an incredibly strong emotional resonance to them.

When the words of a core complaint are examined, we implicitly (there's that memory word again) trust those words. But the context can't be trusted. The words of our core complaint are true for someone, but that someone doesn't necessarily mean us. In order to figure out who that someone might be, we have to take a look into our family history. Grab a piece of paper or a journal, and write down the answers to the following statements/questions.

Investigating Your Core Complaint: (p.90)

  1. What's a problem that's most pressing in your life right now? It could be issues at work, problems with your health, disruptions in your relationship; anything that affects your well-being, sense of safety, peace, or security.

  2. What's the deepest issue you want to heal?

  3. What do you want to see shift? Don't edit yourself; allow your words to flow freely.

  4. What's important to you?

  5. Maybe you carry a deep fear of something terrible happening to you or someone you love. Maybe you fear the future. Whatever comes out, keep writing.

  6. If you're struggling, answer this question: if the feeling, condition, or symptom you have never goes away, what would you be afraid could happen to you?

Review what you've written, and read through it out loud. Allow yourself to freely read it without getting caught up in the emotions behind it. You want to keep your eye out for any words or phrases you've used that stick out to you as sort of unusual or strange.

Read through what you've written out loud one more time. Listen deeply. Your goal is to listen beneath the story line.

Grab your journal again, because we're going to dive a little bit deeper into generating your core language to get to the root of your core complaint.

Ten Questions that Generate Core Language (p.98)

  1. What was taking place in your life when your symptom or problem first appeared?

  2. What was going on right before it started?

  3. What age were you when the symptom or problem first appeared?

  4. Did something traumatic happen to someone in your family at a similar age?

  5. What exactly happens in the problem?

  6. What does it feel like in its worst moments?

  7. What happens right before you feel this way or have the symptom?

  8. What makes it better or worse?

  9. What does the problem or symptom keep you from being able to do? What does it force you to do?

  10. If the feeling or symptom never goes away, what would be the worst thing that could happen to you?

Read through what you've written and take note if you've written any of the following:

  • language that repeats

  • ages that repeat

  • events that repeat

  • emotions, behaviors, and symptoms that repeat

Is there something particular the complaint or symptom is trying to express? If we zoom out, our core complaint is actually an expression that's creatively trying to lead us to integrate something, heal something, complete something, or leave something behind. It can also guide us to heal a trauma or mend relationships that are broken.

Our core complaints serves as a signpost trying to point us in the direction of what's unresolved. When we take the time to explore them, what's unresolved rises to the surface, showing us what actually needs to be healed.

Next Time...

In the next blog post, we'll be continuing to work our way through Core Language Mapping by focusing on Core Descriptors and our Core Sentence.

Remember, it might not have started with you, but it can end with you.


Wolynn, M. (2016). It didn't start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle.


At Root Counseling, we help clients explore intergenerational trauma in a safe space, creating opportunities for them to bring to light what's been lost and heal what's been broken. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.

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