There is a well known study of a population deprived of food that happened in the Netherlands. It showed how this deprivation was carried on to their offspring for years to come. It was called the “Dutch Winter” which was produced by the Nazis, and devastated the population. This was external deprivation rather than pure genetics. But it was carried on as though it were genetic. A current study asked the question, “how was it imprinted and what were the mechanisms by which that happened?” (The memory of starvation is in your genes. Science News. Aug 1, 2014, see for ex: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140731145845.htm) And I must add that this is important because it has implications for us humans who were not starved but were deprived; i.e., starved for love, for example. How does this affect the children who grew up with deprived parents?
My point is that the mechanisms involved may well be the same or similar; that is, as soon as there is deprivation of basic needs, dating back to the beginning of life , those mechanisms begin their work. That deprivation sends a signal to begin to defend and compensate; to change to meet the disaster to come. The brain begins to “borrow” some methyl to produce methylation to help dampen the pain of deprivation. And the biochemicals, such as serotonin, also jump into action to help in the repression. The whole system is swayed, and not just for the moment but organically. Those changes are imprinted just as the food deprivation in the Netherlands was. They shape us for lifetime; they determine our later illnesses and our subsequent behavior. This and relevant studies are learning the exact mechanisms involved.
One key mechanism is known as “small RNA inheritance.’ RNA molecules are produced by the DNA templates that tell the system that needs are not being met: lack of oxygen from smoking mothers, for example. Something is missing; something is amiss. We are warned, and later symptoms tell us about early deprivation but we have no idea what that might be. In migraines, for example, the vessels during the birth process where heavy anesthesia is delivered to the mother, are depriving the newborn of oxygen; the vessels contract and block blood flow, sometimes resulting in a lifelong battle against persistent migraine headaches. And what is one key therapy for these headaches? Oxygen.
And what is the cure for later obesity? Deprivation again. How diabolic: We are starved in the womb by external circumstances or a mother on a crazy diet, that deprivation is imprinted and makes us hungry for life. Then when we are too fat we have to deprive ourselves again. We see how useless this all is. Of course there will be regression toward the imprint because it was life saving early on against the memory of extreme deprivation.
We might believe it is genetic because it happened when we could not even see the hurting fetus. We just assume that it comes from some mysterious source…..genetics. Rather, its source is epigenetics; how life experience plays on the genes. So we spend so much of our lives unconsciously responding to memory; obeying its dictates and never even knowing we are being ordered around by our history and its imprints.
Do we have free will? Not so long as that will is being driven by our history. There is more and more evidence of the imprint, as there should be, because it is crucial to our understanding of the human condition. How can we ever conduct psychotherapy without including the imprint in the mix?