I know a lot about trauma. Over the past few years, I have been lucky to have learned so much about trauma, in all its forms. Learning about trauma has served several purposes for me. At one point in my career, I worked closely with traumatized youth, many of which were children of color and had been physically assaulted, emotionally abused, neglected, homeless, sexualized, and harmed in ways one could hardly imagine. I don’t do that type of work anymore, but I’ll always be grateful for those experiences. More recently, the role trauma has played in my professional life has helped me to better understand all the ways that Black people and communities have been impacted by trauma. The answer to this question is remarkably profound, as our community has been impacted by many forms of trauma (i.e. single traumas, complex traumas, collective traumas, racial traumas, intergenerational traumas-similar to Dr. DeGruy’s theory of ‘Posttraumatic Slave Syndrome’).
The layers and depth of our trauma are real and I found myself digging deeper and deeper into the layers. I don’t think I was alone in this. I noticed a collective “call to action” in the Black community to unearth the truth regarding all the ways in which we have been harmed throughout our history. Many of us were learning more of our history by reading and teaching others. We watched Root. We watched videos of police brutality. We performed spoken words of our pain. We listened to Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, and Solange. Even our artists, athletes, and beloved celebrities were in on the awakening. It was actually a magical time. We all collectively became conscious and “woke up”. No one could take that knowledge and awareness from us. We are a much better people for this awakening.
I continued to dig deep into the understandings of our traumas and pain, until I realized that with anything, balance is needed. I noticed myself moving in a direction that also elicited a different type of pain. In the world of clinical psychology, we call it secondary or vicarious trauma, which occurs when one becomes traumatized by the witnessing or secondary experiencing of a traumatic act. In my studies and deepening understandings of trauma, I became moody, emotional, and I had difficulty relating and socializing with people who did not look like me. I felt worried about the well-being of my family, friends, and community because we were Black. I did not feel safe. Again, I was not alone in this, as I also noticed a wave of collective re-traumatizing as we all worked to increase our awareness of our trauma and pain. I noticed more students of color come into my office, with complaints of symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that was brought about by their own new awareness of their world. Very quickly, our awakening had turned into something painful and difficult to manage. This led me to wonder: What does healing look like for Black people?
Ironically, I know that many of us are reluctant to shift our focus from trauma and pain to healing. I understand that for some, contemplating that sort of shift in focus can feel like one is “selling out” or that we aren’t able to handle the pressure of staying awake. Being conscious is like wearing a badge of honor or declaring some sort of prestige. It’s something that many of us brag about because we know just how difficult it is to keep your eyes open to the injustices of the world. But like many things, our concept of wokeness and consciousness needs to change, and instead should include an aspect of wellness. Instead, our awakening should be necessitated by essential self-care and wellness so that we are able to sustain our new found knowledge, insights, and education about ourselves, our history, and our community.
Imagine a world in which Black people were consciously aware of our history, struggles, pain, while also keenly aware of the value and need for healing and taking care of ourselves. Imagine what it would be like for us all to start taking our healing and wellness so seriously, that it has no choice but to greatly impact our children and their children. We will be better parents, better leaders, better teachers, better friends, and better people. We will be better to ourselves. The healing will be exponential, as the impact of our growth and improvement begins to impact the lives of others around us. I get excited when I consider the power and strength that may come from our community as we begin to make this important shift to healing. For me, this does not seem unattainable or impossible. I believe it is possible for us to begin to shift our focus to healing, so that we can begin to experience life in a much healthier and well-adjusted way. We deserve this. We need this!
Our healing must be holistic, meaning that it must encompass every and all aspects of health and wellness. In my clinical work, I frequently teach others about the eight domains of wellness- physical, emotional, social, environmental, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, and financial. Being aware and giving attention of all eight of these areas of wellness will ensure that we are achieving healing and wellness holistically. A great way to begin approaching holistic healing and wellness would be to ask yourself the following questions:
In what ways can I enhance my (insert each aspect of wellness here) health?
Where can I establish more healthy boundaries in my life?
What brings me joy?
What will move me forward in life?
What is good for me?
What does it look like when I take care of myself?
Another great way to begin approaching holistic healing and wellness would be to take part in the #21DaysofSelfCare challenge. This is a challenge I created to help myself and others jumpstart a self-care journey. It teaches you about all eight domains of wellness and how you can begin to incorporate these aspects into your life now and for the future. You can learn more about the #21DaysofSelfCare challenge here.
It would be hypocritical for me to ask you to challenge and commit yourself to healing without doing this for myself. So what does my healing look like now?
So what will your healing look like? How will you begin the shift from trauma to healing in your life? Let me know here, here, here, or here and please encourage others to join us in this collective move toward healing.
Want to hear more about trauma and its effects?
Listen to Ep. 8 of 'A Different Perspective' podcast.
*Subscribe to the podcast, on iTunes, Google Play, or Soundcloud.
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.