What Is Intersectional Trauma And What Does Healing Look Like?

As pandemic numbers rise and the fight for racial justice continues, the thread that connects these crises becomes clearer. The intersectionality of those who are affected by both the viral and racial pandemic is coming to light, and with it the realization of how their trauma is exponentially amplified in intensity and complexity because of it. 

In its simplest definition, trauma is a “psychological, emotional response to an event or experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing.”[1] 

There are many different scenarios of intersectional trauma that occur and disproportionately so because we live in a society with a systemic issue; if the system is designed to ignore or attack people of certain communities, every part of it hurts them. With that hurt comes another layer of trauma.

There are many layers to the traumatic events that are unfolding, and because of it, everyone is at a different point on the path to healing. Some of us are primarily experiencing the trauma of life during a pandemic and can momentarily reach moments of solace where we can do the internal work to heal and move forward. But what about those who do not feel safe enough to heal?

Safety Is The First Step To Heal

Safety is essential for emotional healing to occur. As community psychologist and thanatologist Dr. Anne Black thinks, we could be careening toward a “mental health pandemic” if we don’t take a look at the mechanics of systemic trauma, what it does to the physical and mental body, and how we can overcome it.

“There is complicated grief and then there is trauma,” says Black. As founder of The Warrior Connection, an organization that helps rehabilitate traumatized veterans, what Black shares regarding veteran trauma paints a visceral portrait of how it can surface in other traumatic situations.

She explains that she “began realizing that when these combat veterans were in a war zone and things were happening constantly, they did not have the luxury to stop and feel, or to stop and process what was going on. It was almost like I imagined there was a zipper that they would zip down, jam in whatever they just went through, zip it back up and keep on going. They would do that as long as that thread of fear was there.”

That thread of fear is what varies from person to person—that luxury to stop and feel comes to each one of us at a different time, and for members of the Black or BIPOC, LQBTQ, and poverty-stricken communities or intersectional members of all the above, it will take systemic shifts for them to physically and emotionally be in a place where they can come to terms with and process their trauma.

Heal The System, Heal The Trauma

The weight of intersectional trauma is felt partly in communities that are subjected to “direct, indirect, and systemic racism.”[2]  For example, “people who experience race-based stress and trauma frequently have similar experiences to people who have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But where PTSD can be caused by a single event, racial stress is ongoing, pervasive, generationally transmitted, and affects both individuals and collective communities. Thus, beyond PTSD symptoms, racial trauma has enduring and retriggering cognitive, emotional, and somatic consequences.[3]

On a business level, we are committed to maintaining the BLM dialogue and representing all body types, skin colors, genders, and experiences in our marketing efforts and images, while continuing to work towards meaningful inclusive action and philanthropy. As individuals we are educating ourselves and working to uncover the unavoidable implicit racism within us as members of this system, while gearing up for robust participation in local and national elections. We hope that doing our part feeds into the larger shift that is occurring; a shift to a world where every person sees themselves celebrated, acknowledged, and treated equally—a world where everyone can feel safe.

 Once The Trauma Stops…

Once trauma stops, or is lessened to the point where an individual feels safe, what happens? 

“When we get a cut the body knows how to heal itself. The body also knows how to heal itself emotionally. Once that individual is safe, the body will start attempting to offload this material, it will come out in the form of flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares. This is a healthy way to try to release that. But it’s frightening because we have not been trained as a culture on how to deal with our feelings,” explains Black.

When processing uncomfortable and distressing feelings, it may help to work with a therapist, adopt stress reduction practices like yoga and meditation, and maintain open and strong lines of communication with loved ones for support.

“What we’ve come to know is that when people are supported and strengthened as soon as something happens, you can many times prevent psychopathology from developing,” says Black. “If anything painful we’ve experienced is not processed, it gets lodged in our body.”

The Mind-Body Connection

There are myriads of studies that support the mind-body connection and the mechanics of how trauma or repressed emotions can surface as inflammation, muscle and nerve pain, and disease in the physical body. There is even a theory of cellular memory that states our brains may not be the only place where our memory and personality traits are stored; they could also be stored in other organs like the heart.[4] 

Deepak Chopra explains this concept poignantly in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, "A basic emotion such as fear can be described as an abstract feeling or as a tangible molecule of the hormone adrenaline. Without the feeling there is no hormone; without the hormone there is no feeling ... The revolution we call mind-body medicine was based on this simple discovery: wherever thought goes, a chemical goes with it."

And so, after safety, the key to truly holistic health and wellbeing after a traumatic experience requires an awareness of the mind-body connection and a willingness to come to terms with difficult emotions.

“Whether there is anger or sadness,” says Black, “it is an opportunity to embrace, welcome, and acknowledge what’s there rather than avoid it and ignore it. In fact, our current situation is giving us an extraordinary opening for doing this. Many are still at home with the space and time for deeper inner work. For those the call of these times can be an invitation to create a safe space to stop and face ourselves and our world.  We are relearning how to go inward. And of course, we need to remember that for those with no frame of reference or skills to embrace their interior, this alone time can be overwhelming, especially as unconscious material surfaces, in which case help is needed. Another unconscious gift to our world is the surfacing of racial injustice. This spotlights the cleansing and healing that the wisdom of Life is offering us at this time. A wake-up call. A reset button. A recalibration to live in alignment with ourselves, each other, and our global community.”

[1] https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/what-is-trauma/

[2] https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2020/06/12/racial-trauma-can-leave-black-people-ptsd-symptoms/3160232001/

[3] https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2020/06/12/racial-trauma-can-leave-black-people-ptsd-symptoms/3160232001/

[4] https://sites.bu.edu/ombs/2014/11/11/is-the-brain-the-only-place-that-stores-our-memories/#:~:text=The%20theory%20of%20cellular%20memories,organs%20such%20as%20the%20heart.&text=The%20best%20way%20to%20understand,studying%20cases%20of%20organ%20transplants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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