Kujenga Wellness

Healing Race Trauma

Black communities have survived profound historical events that has further shaped the trajectory of the future generations. Some of these experiences are related with the Atlantic Slave Trade, colonization (in Americas and Africa), and industrialization. While much of the slave trade ended by the close of the 19th century, the disruption of Black communities across the world continued in varying degrees. This situation has led to intergenerational trauma. According, to the Trauma Toolkit, when, “Cultures can be traumatized when repeated denigration, attempts at assimilation and genocide occur”, it impacts generations moving forward. Trauma is defined as, trauma is defined as experiences that may impact an individual’s capacity to engage in their regular functioning (BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council, 2013).  The different types of trauma include single-incident trauma, complex or repetitive trauma, developmental trauma, intergenerational and historical trauma. 

Every individual responds differently to traumatic experiences, and the extent of their symptoms are individualized in terms of its frequency, intensity, and duration (BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council).  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that results from trauma, and is categorized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual -V (DSM-V) into four categories defined as: avoidance, arousal, negative cognition and mood, and  re-experiencing (BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council, 2013), and also contribute to other mental health disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorders (Jensen, et al., 2013).

When people experience adverse life events, such as race trauma it can be difficult to recognize the impact us. The toxic stress caused by adverse life events such as discrimination, racism, low socioeconomic status, neglect, and abuse all impact how the brain is wired and have harmful effects on the body. These changes can have a further impact on our daily functioning which is why it is helpful to utilize trauma-informed interventions. Trauma-informed interventions allow us to understand how previous and current trauma impact our thoughts and behaviour while also being mindful of how our environment impacts our functioning.

When supporting someone in a trauma-informed way, the conversation changes from “what is wrong with you” to “what happened to you”. Often we do not consider how something we have encountered could be causing changes to our bodies, including our brain. Which is why it is important to understand how your interactions within their systems such as neighborhood, school and work community, and household have an impact on your overall well-being.

Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche.

Kenneth Hardy

Healing the Impact of Trauma

When healing trauma, it is important to use a holistic approach to healing. This can help address all aspects of one’s life, where the experience of trauma has created disruptions. Some examples include:

Spiritual Wellness: spirituality does not mean religion. This is your connection with your inner self and soul, your reason for being on the planet, your belief and faith system, and your inner passion and desires. Reconnect and nurture your spirit and create wholeness within your being. Engage in activities that soothe your soul, and bring you inner peace.

Physical Wellness: take care of your physical body, the trauma symptoms you may experience, and address chronic disease and pain. Trauma can manifest itself within your body, leading to physical under wellness. Define how you care for your physical body. Speak to your medical doctor, holistic practitioner, dietitian, massage therapist, naturopathic doctor, medical marijuana physician, and other wellness practitioner for suggestions and recommendations on addressing trauma symptoms and physical pain. Eat well. Make sure you sleep. Exercise. Swim. Dance.

Emotional, Family and Cultural Support: healing is a journey that includes: surrounding yourself with friends and family who conditional support you, and build a safety net. Second, engaging in cultural and social practices that incites your soul and builds your energy. Third, learn to create balance with your pain, and infuse joy within your experiences, and allow difficult emotions to flow through you. Finally, continue to engage in building your wisdom and knowledge.

Further Resources

Race Trauma is now developing interest, but it is not a new term. There are many resources and articles complied on this topic, and suggestions to how to heal.

The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk is a book that describes how our brain and bodies are impacted by trauma. The book is an effective resource for caregivers who want to be trauma-informed. The book uses case studies to illustrate what these changes may look like as well as provides trauma-informed interventions that may be helpful.

Trauma disrupts a child’s emotional and cognitive development which can have an impact on the family.  Some of the behaviors you may see from your child are listed in: Helping your Child Heal.

As there are many levels that you may be impacted by trauma, Racial Stress and Self-care: Parent Tip Tool address’ racial stress and trauma for caregivers to understand the overall impact of these experiences on the family, and self-care tools.

When Black folks get together, we build our stories

Do not estimate the power of:

  1. Therapy and Support! Engage in individual counselling/psychotherapy and attend support groups to help you heal from your experiences of trauma.
  2.  Knowledge is Key! Seek resources such as books and videos with helpful tools. If you are having trouble sleeping, try using a relaxation video.
  3. Storytelling! Talking as a family about the things you have experienced and how to overcome those experiences is helpful! Share stories as a family, and amongst friends. Debrief and talk through these experiences. Learn to adapt a process of externalizing your experience.

In healing trauma, we don’t say ‘what is wrong with you”, we ask: what happened to you.

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