Emotional Inheritance by Galit Atlas

A Therapist, Her Patients, and the Legacy of Trauma

“The people we love and those who raised us live inside us; we experience their emotional pain, we dream their memories, we know what was not explicitly conveyed to us, and these things shape our lives in ways that we don’t always understand.”


The people we love and those who raised us live inside us; we experience their emotional pain, we dream their memories, and these things shape our lives in ways we don’t always recognize. Emotional Inheritance is about family secrets that keep us from living to our full potential, create gaps between what we want for ourselves and what we are able to have, and haunt us like ghosts. 
In this transformative book, Galit Atlas entwines the stories of her patients, her own stories, and decades of research to help us identify the links between our life struggles and the “emotional inheritance” we all carry. For it is only by following the traces those ghosts leave that we can truly change our destiny.

What I thought

Emotional Inheritance is fascinating to say the least. I've always had a keen interest in this idea that we carry the traumas of others deep within us — but my knowledge on the subject was surface level and very limited. Until I read this book, I had no idea just how much past trauma can affect future generations.

In her intro, Dr. Galit Atlas states that the book “is about silenced experiences that belong not only to us but also to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.” She also mentions the effects of intergenerational trauma when it comes to physical and mental health, mentioning that it highly impacts these areas.

The book is nicely laid out, split into three parts, each one blending seamlessly together. I think the fact that it's sectioned so well makes this a good one to dip in and out of over time, allowing the reader to peek into each deeply thought provoking chapter and taking away the knowledge they desire at the times they want or need it most.

Each chapter and case study is deeply layered and completely filled with wisdom, with Dr. Atlas so clearly versed on trauma and its effects. Not every case study will resonate with you, but there's definitely something to learn and take away from each one.

Some chapters resonated with me more than others. I felt completely captivated by the chapter 'Sex, Suicide and the Riddle of Grief.' In this chapter, the author talks in depth about the effects of suicide on future generations. When I think of suicide, I've always seen it as something that might affect immediate family members, but I never thought that the result of a previous generation's act of suicide might result in you yourself experiencing suicidal ideation.

by K├╝lli Kittus, Unsplash

Dr. Atlas states “some lives, some loves, some races, sexual orientations are seen as less valuable or not recognized as lives at all,” and uses homosexuality as an example. 

Part three was probably the one that resonated with me the most. It's about ”the secrets we keep from ourselves” and breaking the cycle.

The author revealed a much more human side of herself in this part of the book which makes her more relatable to readers. I think we often (me at least) see our therapists through only a professional lens but Galit is completely raw and vulnerable in this section which is admirable. A reminder that our therapists are also human.

Finally, the book concludes with a statement, “we choose to unpack our emotional inheritance, to be active change agents in transforming our date into destiny,” she writes, “trauma is transmitted through our minds and through our bodies, but so are resilience and healing.”

To conclude, Emotional Inheritance made for an absolutely fascinating read.

I highly recommend this book if your life has been personally affected by trauma, or if you have an interest in learning more about intergenerational trauma. It's well written and highly researched and makes for a great addition to any bookshelf.

I also recommend checking out Dr. Atlas' website where she posts about upcoming lectures. You can also follow her on Instagram.

Dr. Galit Atlas
is a psychoanalyst and clinical supervisor in private practice in Manhattan. As an essayist and author, Atlas has published numerous articles and book chapters that focus primarily on gender and sexuality. Atlas has been also contributor to the New York Times. In 2016, her New York Times publication "A Tale of Two Twins" was the winner of the Gradiva Award. Atlas was the recipient of the Andre’ Francois Research Award and the NADT Research Award. She has served on the board of directors of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association and is currently on the editorial board of the journal Psychoanalytic Perspectives. Dr. Atlas lectures throughout the United States and internationally.

Emotional Inheritance is available for preorder (releasing Jan 25th) from Indigo and Kobo. Check GoodReads for additional retailers.

Thank you to Little Brown & Company and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.