Meet the Ancestral Dragons that Haunt Generations

Ancestral Dragons

By Daniel G. Amen, MD

Content updated from previous publish date.

Do you have fears or anxiousness that you can’t explain? It’s one thing to experience some form of trauma and then have anxiety related to that incident. But why do some worries seem to exist for no apparent reason? Irrational fears, anxiety, and worries are often due to Ancestral Dragons, the inner “mental dragons” that are inherited from your parents or other relatives.

With these dragons, the issues you have are in fact not your own, but rather passed down to you from your ancestors.  They’re some of the sneakiest dragons of the 13 Dragons from the Past that can continue to haunt you. Unless you recognize and tame these dragons, they can run wild in your brain and ruin your life.

Irrational fears, anxiety, and worries are often due to Ancestral Dragons, the inner “mental dragons” that are inherited from your parents or other relatives. Click To Tweet


Issues that can be passed down to you through your ancestors’ genes, behaviors, or cultural expectations include:

If you experience these signs, you may have Ancestral Dragons that are related to your parents, grandparents, or earlier ancestors.


Ancestral Dragons are far too common in our society. Through a process called epigenetics, you can inherit your ancestor’s fears, worries, or even prejudices without ever being aware of it. The anxiety or trauma is written in your genetic code.

For example, children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have a higher risk of anxiety disorders and PTSD. In a similar way, 9/11 survivors; children of the Cambodian and Rwanda genocide survivors; children of those who survived abandonment; people who have had a loved one die by suicide; anyone who has lived in a war zone; children of refugees; or those who have experienced the early death of a child, parent, or sibling often have their nervous system so deeply affected that it changes the nature of their genes to impact their offspring for generations.

Research confirms the impact of generational trauma. Children of a parent struggling with PTSD are three times more likely to have PTSD themselves. Thirty percent of kids with a parent who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and developed PTSD had similar symptoms. Native American teens on reservations have the highest suicide rate in the Western Hemisphere. In some places, it is 10 to 19 times higher than other American teens and young adults, according to a 2015 article. It is as if the endless massacres against Native Americans continue. Some scholars believe generational grief is fueling the epidemic.


It’s often unknown what triggers the Ancestral Dragons. It can be any unconscious reminders of stressful times stored in our genes. It can be when you were the same age as a parent or grandparent when they had the original trauma. Take a look at this Amen Clinics patient, who is a prime example.

She stayed in an abusive marriage for 20 years because she could never sleep alone after the age of 22. During therapy, while searching for her Ancestral Dragons, she revealed that her mother had been raped at age 22 causing terrible anxiety and insomnia. Knowing the origin of her fear of sleeping alone helped her heal and move on from the toxic relationship. Sometimes your anxiety is just not your own.


Generational trauma can cause changes in the brain. In a large study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children of depressed parents had smaller volume in the pleasure centers of the brain, making the children more vulnerable to depression themselves. And the societal traumas keep coming. A 2020 paper in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that the aftermath of physical distancing and COVID-19 will bring a rise in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, loneliness, and domestic violence. It is likely that global trauma will impact future generations.


Ancestral trauma can affect generations, but it can be stopped with the right strategies. To tame the Ancestral Dragons:

  1. Know your family history. Get as much detail as possible, so you will be aware of past traumas experienced by your ancestors.
  2. Talk to your parents, grandparents, or family historian. It can help you understand some of your own automatic reactions.
  3. Work to separate your ancestors’ issues from your own issues. This can help you to live in the present rather than the past. This may require professional help. If you sense Ancestral Dragons breathing fire on your emotional brain, read It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn.
  4. Reduce exposure to triggers. This doesn’t mean avoiding your family’s past or pretending it didn’t exist. Rather, it means you don’t have to subject yourself to painful reminders that cause you to relive the trauma over and over.
  5. Design a new future. Focus on creating a future for yourself that is no longer stuck in the pain of ancestral trauma. Imagine yourself living in a way that you are not weighed down by the chains of your ancestors. When you can envision this, you may break the cycle of generational trauma.
  6. Try somatic experiencing. This type of trauma psychotherapy involves paying close attention to your inner body sensations as a way to regulate emotions. It is similar to mindfulness practices that help you tune in to your body to achieve a desired emotional state. A mental health professional can guide you through the process more effectively.

Learning about your Ancestral Dragons can help you stop being stuck in the pain of the past, so you can create a brighter future for yourself and your offspring. With practice, you can stop the cycle of ancestral emotional pain and make the next generation better and stronger.

Emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I would like to know more about this subject

    Comment by Deborah Norris — February 27, 2021 @ 9:23 AM

  2. I’m wondering how many of the ancestral dragons are learned behaviors from generation to generation?

    Comment by Susan Carleton — March 3, 2021 @ 3:44 AM

  3. Fascinating. Please share more research as it becomes available as well as strategies for surfacing and slaying these traumas.

    Comment by Stacy Pendergrast — March 3, 2021 @ 3:53 AM

  4. My Mom had post baby psychosis, I said I would not inherit my Mothers. Dragon. However genetics is powerful. Diagnosed Bi polor depression. Sometimes I feel like hell on earth. But put myself under the care of a psychiatrist. I hoped the older I get i would not need this. In a Christian and. Enjoy my Church. But deep. Depression still comes.

    Comment by Lee breedlove — March 3, 2021 @ 4:52 AM

  5. The concepts in this article remind me of what the Bible talks about regarding generational curses…to the third and fourth generation. In my mind, this is an example of modern science validating what the scriptures declared as fact thousands of years ago. Interesting!

    Comment by Kerri Eaton — March 3, 2021 @ 5:29 AM

  6. I would like to know more and just how to beat the dragons

    Comment by Monique Kearney — March 3, 2021 @ 5:47 AM

  7. I want to hear more about this topic. Is it the same/similar to intergeneration trauma?

    Comment by Eileen — March 3, 2021 @ 5:50 AM

  8. I would like to know more about how to spot and overcome the ancestral dragons.

    Comment by Colleen — March 3, 2021 @ 6:05 AM

  9. At age 63 I walked into a Functional Medicine Physician’s office. Life changing! Life embracing! I have what is now known as an ACES score of 9. I’m trying to advocate for better TIC for survivors. In my area people have access to care that is ineffective and inappropriate.

    Comment by Priscilla Nieman — March 3, 2021 @ 6:19 AM

  10. I went through the Amen clinic last summer with my wife down in Los Angeles, CA. After months of taking the supplements and still abusing alcohol and marijuana I gave up on the treatment. Felt really disappointed and even thought it was a scam to take our money. I have since come back around, stopped using alcohol and marijuana, and am adjusting to the sober life.
    I don’t know if I will take the supplements again but the whole process was very therapeutic. In relationship to this article I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life from a young age. Most recently my dad committed suicide several years ago and our whole family was affected . These “dragons” are a good analogy because the thoughts haunt you. I am interested in gaining more insight into how to overcome these internal struggles in my mind and bad habits. I am seeing 2 counselors now and walking through some stuff. I liked what Daniel Amen had to say on the subject. Interested to maybe get his book.

    Thank you,


    Comment by Nicholas Carver — March 3, 2021 @ 6:45 AM

  11. can the Anxiety, Depression and Grief course for $149 be paid out over time?

    Comment by shelley solomon — March 3, 2021 @ 7:06 AM

  12. This describes me to a T. I want it to stop I have felt terrible my whole life and I’m 67′.

    Comment by Sue — March 3, 2021 @ 7:27 AM

  13. I had a panic attack during the beginning of covid. We did IVF in October last year and my wife is 5 months pregnant. How would you suggest I explain to our daughter if she has anxiety stemming from Covid.

    Comment by James Bridges — March 3, 2021 @ 8:02 AM

  14. Dear Dr. Amen –

    Many thanks for this article! It helps me feel seen and validated after years of feeling invisible when it comes to this subject. It confirms something I’ve been curiously suspecting for years about my baffling emotional instability that neither of my younger brothers ever seemed to exhibit growing up.

    I was literally born to a grieving family. In 1981 my mom’s youngest brother committed suicide at the age of 18, one month before I was born; John took his life on 4/25/81 and I was born 5/29/81. This occurred only several years after another of my mom’s brothers was hit by a drunk driver in 1974, and had serious TBI after being in a coma for 35 days. My dad also grew up with a mother battling breast cancer and lost her when he was 15, and then lost his older sister to breast cancer when he was in his mid-20’s. I’ve been growing increasingly curious about if/how my uncle’s suicide affected my brain’s development, as I continue to struggle with pervasive emotional instability despite actively being in some level of treatment since 2012. I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, MDD, GAD, and have experienced suicidal ideation multiple times, once leading to hospitalization. I also had a drinking problem for many years, but have been 100% alcohol-free since my hospitalization in 2017. I’ve also felt like something has always been blocking me from living up to my potential, such as my desire to go to law school. Reading about how additional trauma experienced by my parents could’ve been passed down to me is eye opening to my baffling emotional life.

    I don’t know what point I am trying to make right now, other than to show my gratitude for this article, as nobody has ever really taken me seriously (therapists, psychiatrists, and my pediatric NP mother included) about the potential affects my uncle’s suicide had on me and my brain. I am going to share this article with my psychiatrist and my therapist.

    Thank you again for helping me feel validated. I wish I could afford to become a patient, as I’ve been super curious about what my brain looks like ever since I saw your program about ADHD on PBS in 2014.


    Kerry Flood-Mellen

    Comment by Kerry Flood-Mellen — March 3, 2021 @ 9:18 AM

  15. My mother was a severe chronic alcoholic, was taught to drink by her father and older brothers. I’ve learned that the practice of heavy drinking at an early age was passed down for 4 or more generations. The Civil War, Gettysburg, may have been the start of it. All kinds of drugs and alcohol were used for what we know as PTSD. Genetics and learned behavior.

    Comment by George Sterling — March 3, 2021 @ 9:19 AM

  16. Will this book be available in an audio version?

    Comment by Pj — March 3, 2021 @ 9:58 AM

  17. Hello Susan, thanks for reaching out. For more information on ancestral dragons you should check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. You can find his book here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 10:19 AM

  18. Hello Monique, thanks for reaching out. For more information on all of the dragons you should check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. You can find his book here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 10:22 AM

  19. Hello Eileen, thanks for reaching out. For more information on ancestral dragons you should check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. You can find his book here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 10:22 AM

  20. Hello Colleen, thanks for reaching out. For more information on ancestral dragons you should check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. You can find his book here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 10:23 AM

  21. Hello Nick, thanks for reaching out. For more information on ancestral dragons you should check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. You can find his book here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 10:24 AM

  22. Hello PJ, thanks for reaching out. Yes Dr. Amen’s newest book, Your Brain is Always Listening, is available in an audio version. For more information on where to find the book, click the link:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 11:03 AM

  23. Would love to hear more of this dragon, and how to concure it!

    Comment by Lisa — March 3, 2021 @ 1:00 PM

  24. I have always felt as if my brain was broken and would never be ok. I have suffered so much abuse my whole childhood and into my adulthood. I’m still at the point where I can’t leave my home. My prayers have been to be on the Dr Phil show but fear keeps me home. I seen the show where Dr.Amen was on there and wondered what my brain would have to say. I think about what Dr. Phil says, when he says if you could screw the top of their head off it would scare you to death. I’m positive mine would do just that. Most of my family are gone, so I have no one to talk to about their dragons. I’m going to keep praying for myself and all of you who are also suffering and buy Dr. Amen’s book. God Bless.

    Comment by Jackie — March 3, 2021 @ 2:06 PM

  25. Hello Lisa, thanks for reaching out. For more information about the ancestral dragons, check out Dr. Amen’s new book, Your Brain is Always Listening. Here’s the link to find the book:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 3, 2021 @ 2:22 PM

  26. Why is there seemingly always reference to negative, toxic emotions when dealing with past generations? Are we not able to inherit positive traits and positive, robust emotional effects from our ancestors? Wouldn’t these positive influences also have an affect on the epigenetic’s? Thank you for a response.

    Comment by Elaine Hedden — March 3, 2021 @ 2:52 PM

  27. I wonder if my constant concern over food and what I should eat and dieting and weight gain might be related to my parents’ food insecurities as young people during the Great Depression.

    Comment by Laura Dell — March 3, 2021 @ 3:03 PM

  28. Hi, my 11 old daughter was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old. Please advise me on how your spect process can help her. Include det3. Thanks

    Comment by Tyrone Mullins — March 3, 2021 @ 9:28 PM

  29. Does this book address those of us who were adopted out at birth and have no idea what problems/issues were in their genetic family?

    Comment by Linda — March 4, 2021 @ 5:29 AM

  30. Does your book cover how to talk to parents about this newfound logic?

    Comment by Angele Nettles — March 4, 2021 @ 9:29 AM

  31. I feel from my experience that there are methods in addition to eating appropriate for yourself such as Release Technique, Meditation, Prayer and other modalities. Also, Karol Truman published a book about the cells retaining information from previous generations. Check her book out.

    Comment by Jean — March 4, 2021 @ 10:07 AM

  32. Dr Amen,
    Your description fits Reward Deficiency Syndrome.

    Comment by Silvia Hinojosa — March 7, 2021 @ 11:42 PM

  33. Recommendations for those of us who will never be able to afford a brain scan or treatment. With me it is probably AADD, definitely social anxiety & difficulty with verbal expressiveness. Appears to be a generational- father, me, son. Also 2 of us have had known head trauma & concussion.
    Appreciate suggestions.

    Comment by zSusan — March 11, 2021 @ 3:12 PM

  34. My parents grew up during the great depression of the 1930’s. Both suffered severe emotional trauma due to the hardships suffered by their families. No doubt many members of my baby boomer generation must have experienced the epigenetic result in terms of anxiety disorders, depression, and other psychological issues, inherited from our parents.

    Comment by Colleen Phillips — March 13, 2021 @ 9:13 AM

  35. I took so many drugs, I actually MET my dragons!!!!

    Comment by CANDY — March 14, 2021 @ 6:22 AM

  36. Concur with zSusan on recommendations for those of us who will never be able to afford a brain scan or treatment. Going back back 50 years to a failed suicide attempt followed by a series electroshock treatments and a diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder. Two motorcycle crashes resulted in brief hospital stays for head trauma and concussions. Have had several other falls over the five years at this address during the winters when I’ve fallen on my back and banged my head on the ice when shoveling snow. My mother died with an undiagnosed dementia at age 91. My sister Sarah age 73 has been diagnosed with a dementia. We grew up in a home with our mother who was a strong Christian. Dad was not. He saw too much in world war 2 and he never talked about it. My daily routine includes lose & find, even when try to be organized. it is becoming more challenging, but I’m still kicking the challenges in the teeth even though money is tight. I am following Dr. Amen as best as I can.

    Comment by Michael — March 16, 2021 @ 8:17 AM

  37. I find this not only intriguing, but makes a lot of sense and even spiritual sense! I’ve have paid attention to how it seems that certain character traits or personalities seem to run in families. However, with all that was said as an example, the author fails to mention how the 500+ years impact and trauma of slavery and Jim crow in the USA has on the decendants of the enslaved Africans.

    Comment by Tony Woods — March 6, 2022 @ 9:30 AM

  38. I would like to know more about reluctant compliance please…thank you

    Comment by Susan Miller — December 14, 2022 @ 7:15 AM

  39. Another thing to check out is whether family members have been involved in occult practices, witchcraft or Free Masonry. Curses from these practices can affect families for many generations. Fr. Chad Ripperger has much on You Tube about it. He also has a free app that has prayers to use to help, but you need to be Christian for it to work. I was freed of a Free Masonic curse that gave me insomnia, frequent colds and financial problems for my whole life. The curses of Free Masonry are specific and cause many issues. In my case, it affected my right ear, which comes from a curse in one of the rituals of Free Masonry. Don't get me wrong, diet, psychological evaluation and possible treatment and a good prayer life are essential before using the prayers that release these oppressions and curses. But in my case it was very real and breaking these bondages was liberating for me. I know it sounds weird, but I have no reason to suggest these things other than to help.

    Comment by Paul K. — December 14, 2022 @ 1:15 PM

  40. For those of us who are unable to identify their dragons, but experience what they have done, I think the best approach would be akin to the general absolution for sins not mentioned, given by a Catholic priest at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation ("Confession"). For those dragons, I today leaned by example from Dr. Amen to cross your arms and stroke the opposite arm a few times while saying or thinking. first words that, in general, rid yourself of dragons, then words that replace those with affirming words. Amazingly to me, another practice still exists, that of exorcism. Addressing a small group, but including the congregation, the priest says, in part, "do you reject Satan and all his evil ways?" [Collective response, "I do."] Then he goes on with words about acceptance of Christ instead. These parallels certainly surprised me!

    Comment by Richard R. — March 11, 2023 @ 10:52 AM

  41. A few years ago, at 68 years, I made this connection about my parents. Dad was in WWII and mum left Eire' to work in England during the Blitz. He came home and self-medicated with alcohol and she left her country and family and became an unwelcome Warbride'. Society and their religion expected them to get on with life as normal and at that time terms like Alcoholic, Psychiatric and Mental anything were taboo and carried shame. Both had PTSD. Parents and children were always pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and getting on with life, which isn't always a bad thing. Making these connections has enabled me to be empathetic and forgiving and to see how it all connects and explains. When my own brain and internal bootstraps finally collapsed it was frightening and I found hope and light that what I was experiencing had a solution in counseling, CODA and medication, after a maze of trial and error. Nowadays it seems that medications have become a quicksubstitute for good counseling and mental health education for med students, employers and consumers. Nick, hang in there you will get smarter and stronger each time you fall and exhale and get back up. Read all you can and be discerning in who counsels you.

    Comment by Kathleen — March 29, 2023 @ 8:01 AM

  42. nice article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 31, 2023 @ 2:38 PM

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