Healing and Wholeness After Racial and Cultural Trauma

War. Genocide. Slavery. Destruction of cultural practices. Institutionalized violence and sexual abuse. Forced migration and relocation. Ecocide. Mass incarceration. Torture. Medical experimentation. These experiences brought about because of racism, xenophobia, and colonialism have been shared by many communities and result in cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that carry across generations. The impact of these is called historical trauma.

Many communities continue to have complicated relationships with the societal mechanisms that inflicted these traumas (churches, schools, military, courts, government entities, healthcare, industries, etc.) and as a result, community members struggle to access needed supports. The descendants of these communities (including their multi-racial/ethnic/cultural descendants) carry continued mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. This means that historical trauma is not just about the past, it is about what is still happening.

When an incident occurs, its impact not only causes direct harm, but also heightens the cumulative effects of historical trauma. It is not the objective severity of the incident, but how the incident is experienced that determines traumatic stress responses.

Despite the impact of historical trauma, people and communities are persistent, resilient, resourceful, and adaptable. It is these characteristics that are the core of our health and well-being, anchoring us with centeredness, authenticity, and strength on our individual and collective journeys to wholeness.

Returning to Wholeness After Trauma, Hate, and Bias

Safety and Stabilization

When you are impacted by trauma, it is common to feel unsafe in your body and in your relationships with others. Regaining a sense of safety can take days, weeks, or months. Finding safety and stability are the first steps toward resilience and recovery. Some people need to disconnect, insulate, and turn inward in a peaceful space. Others need to reach out and connect with their community in a space that feels safe. Creating safe and/or peaceful settings is a form of self-care. Examples of safe and peaceful settings healing practices:

Processing the Feelings

Putting words and feelings to the emotions of trauma and making meaning of the experience is a crucial part of regaining control over your ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ instinctive responses. It is easy to become emotionally overwhelmed when talking about trauma, so a lot of people prefer to undertake this process with a counselor or therapist in a group or individual counseling session. During this time, many people experience feelings of anger and grief that need to be expressed to be able to move on toward healing. Hearing other peoples’ stories, having shared lived experiences with “people who have been there,” and feeling commonality are important aspects of healing. During this time, support from friends, community, and counselors are important to helping you heal. Examples of support healing practices:

  • Connecting/talking with peers or others who have shared lived experiences
  • Participation in support groups (transgender support group, POC support group)
  • Attending workshops and conferences with people who have gone through similar issues
  • Story sharing/narratives
  • Poetry/spoken word slams or open mike
  • Seeking nurturing from those who love and understand you
  • Support from family or a loved one/partner
  • Dancing or working out to get out extra energy

Reconnecting and Becoming Whole

As you return to wholeness, the trauma will become part of your life story, but will not be your only story. The final task is to reposition the meaningful relationships in your life, so the trauma no longer defines you. This is a time to embrace your self-empowerment and a self-determined future. Empowerment healing practices can include:

  • Community activism
  • Finding role models
  • Helping others
  • Getting educated on your rights
  • Learning about your culture and getting involved politically
  • Creating selfcare rituals to prepare for those times you know will be hard
  • Accept things that are good, invite in the good, celebrate the good

Racial and Cultural Trauma Care Resources