Trauma is not the events that happened in the past. Trauma is the impact those events had on a person’s mind and body, according to trauma expert Peter Levine. The impact is stored in the body, which is why so many trauma healing techniques are now focusing on physical approaches, such as somatic experiencing, developed by Levine in the 1970’s.
To understand trauma properly is to understand that saying, “Why can’t they get over this? It happened so long ago!” is not only uninformed but also asking the impossible. If trauma is stuck in the body, a person can no more “get over it” than they could “get over” having cancer or being overweight.
Given the right support, however, a person can heal from all of these conditions. In the case of trauma, one of the most important things is to acknowledge that what a person has experienced was traumatic and continues to affect their mental and physical well being. That’s step one. If that step is skipped, healing cannot occur. In the case of racialized trauma, this has been challenging.
Racism may look different today than it did fifty years ago, because our society has changed what it views as acceptable. Does that mean that racism no longer exists? Are these more subtle forms of racism less damaging to the human psyche than the blatant forms? If a person was resistant to acknowledging that racism and its effects on individuals in their community was alive and well, it would be tempting to say, “I don’t see it so it can’t be there.” End of story.
So perhaps there is a step before step one that we need to take. Perhaps step zero is addressing why we might be resistant to talking about and acknowledging the presence and effects of racism in our neighbours. If we could sit mindfully and observe ourselves when this topic arises, we might notice uncomfortable feelings. That’s a great start. Instead of shutting down the conversation at that point – to avoid the feelings – what if we could create a safe enough environment to explore those feelings together and move past them?
That is what true healing requires of us all. It’s about feeling our feelings. Some of the most healing conversations I’ve been able to have in recent years around the subject of racism have been very emotionally charged, but we persisted in our desire to understand one another and eventually got there. These are not easy discussions to have but we can’t avoid them anymore if we want to heal and grow as a collective.
It’s time to move forward together. Let’s have the tough conversations. We can create the safe spaces to do so but first we have to admit that there is a need. It’s not for “them.” No matter what your skin colour or personal history we will all benefit deeply if we can find the courage to enter into the conversation.