Rules of Engagement for Race Related Trauma
Like many of you, I am outraged and emotionally exhausted because of the wrongful and race-related deaths (murders) of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Not only are many hearts on fire with anger, many businesses are on fire (right now) in Minneapolis because black and brown people do not feel seen, heard, loved, valued, understood, validated, cared for OR protected.
Emotions are indeed high and understandably so. How can we empathically move toward others who are externally exploding and internally imploding? How can we move toward those who are having a hard time managing their emotions in healthy ways BECAUSE OF their RACE-Related TRAUMAS?
All over our nation, the black community (along with countless non-minority communities) are being traumatized as a result of witnessing their black brothers and sisters being killed right before their very eyes because of video recordings, public cameras and even Facebook live video footage going public.
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 our brains. And when fear hijacks our brain,—many people can no longer remain calm or rational–thus causing them to emotionally erupt and act out of their pain, anger, and frustration in harmful and destructive ways. This is a fight response. A survival response. And it will perpetuate more fear, chaos and destruction if the traumatized don’t know how to regulate/manage their emotions in healthy ways.
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 people who are experiencing systemic racism and/or race-related trauma–repeatedly.
We need to know how TRAUMA hijacks the ‘rational’ brain and causes some people to lash out in fits of rage through rioting. Dr. King said this 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 they fear for their lives & the lives of their loved ones. Any they feel like no one is listening to their pain and need 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.
EFFECTS OF POOR EMOTIONAL SELF-REGULATION
Overwhelming and distressing emotions when suppressed, disregarded and ignored 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.
- If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check out my Facebook live video HERE YOU
- And for my non-minority friends who have been reaching out to me and asking me how they can help, check out this resource guide that shares 75 things you can do to promote racial justice.
- Uncovering the Trauma of Racism: Psychology Today
- The impact of Race-Based Trauma can lead to internalized devaluation and voicelessness, an assaulted sense of self, and rage (Hardy, 2013).
- Common traumatic stress reactions that reflect racial trauma include increased vigilance and suspicion, increased sensitivity to threat, sense of a foreshortened future, and maladaptive responses to stress such as aggression or substance use. Further, racial trauma can have a negative impact on individuals’ physical and mental health, including negative mood and depressive symptoms, and hypertension and coronary heart disease.
“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).