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Racial Trauma

Uncovering the trauma of racism and how to cope

What is Racial Trauma?

Racial trauma is the ongoing result of racism, racial bias, and exposure to racist abuse particularly in the media or amongst peers. Racial trauma can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including their ability to have meaningful relationships, concentrate on school or work, and to also feel safe in their environment. The impact can be profound on one’s emotional growth and self-esteem (Psychology Today, 2020).

Discrimination can trigger racial trauma either directly or indirectly and it can cause PTSD as well as depression and anxiety. Chronic exposure to discrimination can be humiliating, frightening, and isolating and an individual may need psychotherapy to process these events and learn to realize that the racism they experienced is unacceptable and to process their thoughts and feelings (Williams, Pereira & DeLapp, 2018).

Symptoms of Racial Trauma

Some symptoms of racial trauma include (Williams, Pereira & DeLapp, 2018):

  • Distress relating to the trauma: This may cause a person to think about and relive an event continually. Some people have flashbacks or nightmares which are intrusive and distressing.

  • Avoidance behaviors: This can negatively affect a person’s life in many ways. For example, a person who experiences racism at work might leave their new job due to past experiences and residual trauma.

  • Anxiety and Depression: An individual might become very overwhelmed with anxiety and depression.

  • Feeling distracted by memories or thoughts of the traumatic racial experience: This will be very distracting and intrusive to one’s life.

  • Negative thoughts about self, others, and their current environment: For example, a person might lose trust in other people even those they trusted.

  • Increased sensitivity and reactivity: A person may startle easily and become more hypervigilant to their surroundings and feel an intense awareness.

The world was disgraced by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and this was one of the many crimes committed against an individual due to their race. The world was left traumatized by the event and for many black individuals globally it highlighted that systemic racism is all around us and we need to take action collectively and support the BIPOC as well as other communities.

How to Cope With Racial Trauma

Racism should never be tolerated but sadly it does happen from time to time. Coping with discrimination or race-based trauma might be hard if an individual experiences mental health stigma or lack of support.

Here are some ideas and tips in which you can cope with the impact of experiencing racism:

  • Being seen and heard is essential to healing. Connect with friends who can engage in discussions with you about your experiences of racism. At 7 Cups, you can join several group support rooms including Sharing Circles.

  • Practice self-care! What makes you happy and feel healthier?

  • Write down a list of triggers and solutions to those issues. Perhaps it might be certain places or people

  • Practice daily affirmations and keep a gratitude journal. An example of an affirmation could be, “I am worthy no matter what my skin color is” and you could write down 3 things you are grateful for each day.

  • Tell someone. This might be your employer, your school, or your friend.

  • Reach out. Today you might be feeling the impact of racial trauma and feeling all of the above symptoms of racial trauma. You are not alone. 7 Cups is a non-judgemental community with caring listeners, and you can also find support via the affordable therapy option at 7 Cups.

For more support, join our empathetic community, chat with a free trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.


Posted: 01 December 2020
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Lisa De Regt, MBPsS

Lisa is a licensed mental health counselor with an eclectic style of therapy to fit every client's needs.

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