Rules of Engagement for Race Related Trauma
Like many of you, I am outraged and emotionally exhausted because of the wrongful race-related deaths (murders) of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Not only are many hearts on fire with anger, many businesses are literally on fire all over our nation because black and brown people do not feel seen, heard, understood, valued, cared for OR protected in this country.
Emotions are indeed high and for good reason. So. How can we empathically move toward others who are externally exploding and internally imploding because they experience hate by others merely because of the color of their skin? How can we move toward our black and brown brothers and sisters who are having a hard time managing their emotions in healthy ways BECAUSE OF their RACE-Related TRAUMAS?
All over our nation, the black and brown communities are being traumatized as a result of witnessing their black brothers and sisters being killed right before their very eyes because of private video recordings going public and Facebook live video streams.
This is a time when we must use wisdom when drawing close to the weary, wounded, angry, and broken-hearted. We must be trauma-informed and trauma-responsive in our approach. We must understand how trauma activates the fear response in the human brain. And when fear hijacks our brains,—it’s difficult to remain calm or rational–thus we emotionally erupt and respond out of our pain, anger, and frustration in harmful, unproductive and sometimes destructive ways. This is a fight response. A survival response. And its this response that perpetuates more fear, chaos and destruction if the traumatized don’t know how to regulate/manage their emotions in healthy ways and if they fail to receive the empathy and emotional support they so desperately need.
FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE
As a trained trauma-informed psychoeducator, I wrote this post to help others understand how we can better SUPPORT and SERVE our black and brown communities who are repeatedly experiencing systemic racism and/or race-related trauma.
We need to understand how TRAUMA hijacks the ‘rational’ brain and causes some people to lash out in fits of rage through rioting. Dr. King said it so well when he said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The human FEAR response is driving many into a FIGHT for LIFE response because black and brown people are fearing for their lives & the lives of their loved ones. They feel like no one is listening to their pain and mistreatment and they long to feel safe, loved, accepted, valued and HUMAN.
We must recognize this survival instinct at work and help those who are emotionally stuffing or exploding to learn HEALTHIER ways of managing their anger, pain, and trauma. Because SO many of us have never been taught a healthier way. We must listen. Validate their experiences. Express empathy. And create space for them to share their lived experiences without trivializing, minimizing or disregarding their experiences.
EFFECTS OF POOR EMOTIONAL SELF-REGULATION
Overwhelming and distressing emotions when suppressed, disregarded and trivialized will not only make us sick physically and psychologically–BUT it will eventually spill out onto others in harmful ways (1) IF we don’t learn how to regulate (calm and relax) ourselves in healthy ways AND (2) IF we don’t find healthy role models who can show us a better, healthier and more productive way to cope with our pain and emotional distress.
Before we can engage in race-related conversations in a healthy way, we must regulate and process our own emotions first (and teach others how to self–regulate if needed). Then we must learn how to empathically relate with those are different from us by choosing to lean into the discomfort of race related conversations, seeking to understand, learn and do no harm. THEN and only then, can we begin to peacefully reason with each another and work together toward personal and systemic change.
Let’s NOT perpetuate race-related trauma because we resist becoming trauma-aware and trauma-responsive. Let’s learn how to better respond to those who have experienced race-related trauma and who may be stuck in an emotional crisis because they feel unloved, unseen, and unheard. With our actions, let’s hope them that they are VALUABLE HUMAN BEINGS of immeasurable worth.
Let’s help one another cope. Let’s strengthen the emotional abilities among those in need through modeling and co-regulation. Let’s learn how to regulate (manage) ourselves first and then help others regulate so we can ALL begin relating to AND reasoning with one another from a place of LOVE, instead of fear.❤
To use the words of Dr. Seuss,
Unless someone like you (AND ME) cares a whole awful lot, NOTHING is going to get better. It’s not.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justicefor those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).