Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Coping with racial trauma

Race is a social construct, and the concept of race is often challenged, however that does not change the fact that racism exists and the impact it has on its victims can be severely traumatic. 

Different levels of racism

People of colour experience racism at different levels, including individual, collective and institutional. This means that racism-based stressors exist not just at an individual, but also at societal level which can make the world feel unsafe. 

Individual based stressors are when we directly experience racism (someone attacking you because of your race, shouting racial slurs). We can also experience vicarious racism when we witness racist events happening to other people of colour. Racial trauma is often triggered on day-to-day basis through racial microaggressions which can be experienced at work (an assumption of competence based on race), outside of work (a stranger touching your hair or asking to do so), school (labelling children of colour as problematic/or assuming a certain level of intelligence based on race). A systematic example could be the seriousness with which complaints from people of colour are taken and the expectation for us to decide what the consequences of racism are without clear policies in place.

The psychological impact

These experiences can cause us to feel overwhelmed and unsafe as they illicit a trauma response. This means that our brain perceives racism as a threat to the self and sends stress hormones to the body for us to protect ourselves. The result may be us being in a constant state of hypervigilance which can result in social withdrawal in order protect and remove further potential threats. This can also manifest into anxiety, low mood/depression, low self-esteem, fear of speaking out and so many more issues.

Racism can be exhausting to encounter, especially when most of the experiences of racism are denied by the perpetrators and others. Finding ways to validate your feelings and taking care of yourself is important

Tips on coping with racial trauma

  1. Finding safe spaces to communicate and explore these feelings and experiences might help in alleviating some of the trauma. 
  2. Finding ways to reconnect to your body and being reflective of your experiences in order to validate them.
  3. Connecting with family, friends and community members for support.
  4. Connecting with other people who have experienced racial trauma.

Further information

For more information about racial trauma, sign up to our webinar 'Understanding The Psychological Impact Of Racial Trauma' taking place on Thursday 24 February 2022 at 12 noon GMT.

Sarah Nghidinwa, counsellor/psychotherapist

Find out more about our webinar and book your FREE place today >

Sarah Nghidinwa is a counsellor/psychotherapist at First Psychology's Edinburgh and Online centres. She will be presenting the webinar 'Understanding The Psychological Impact Of Racial Trauma'.

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