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The Complexity of Trauma

Complexity of Trauma

I saw a post in my feed today, and it said, "Sometimes it hurts too much to feel".

The next post across my feed was about the "privilege of turning off one's feelings" followed by a "how dare you!" sentiment. I understand that this was meant for certain people in a certain context, however, one thing was clear. It doesn't take into consideration the complexity of trauma. For many people experiencing trauma, turning off one's feelings is not a privilege. It is an involuntary happening… it is a trauma response.

Let's take a moment to look more closely at the complexity of the current events we are seeing in the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

There is direct trauma that of the innocent lives being lost. The suffering of families, the deprivation of food and water… and all of that layered on a longstanding history of oppression and displacement of an entire group of people from their homes and their land.

Then there is the vicarious trauma for people around the world who are watching, especially those who have been historically marginalized.

I, as a Black woman, will experience the pain of watching a longstanding group of oppressed people be taken off this earth and deprived of basic human necessity differently than my white counterpart because it is layered inside ancestral trauma, lived experience trauma, and the day-to-day traumas of doing the work as a DEI and Anti-Racism practitioner and educator. I know I am not alone in this experience.

But what's critical to get is that the brain doesn't discriminate direct from indirect trauma. It doesn't care if the trauma is primary, secondary, or vicarious. Not everyone experiences this trauma the same, and trauma responses are not something people choose.

Some people's trauma response is to confront, while others may initially freeze. Still, some experience fatigue, and others flee and avoid altogether. As an activist, I understand it is our responsibility to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. I understand the importance of speaking out, holding people accountable. However, as a trauma informed educator, I also understand the complexity of the human response. We must allow for this complexity and hold space for the "both/and". That means finding the balance between calling people out (or calling them in) and allowing them to calibrate and work through their initial trauma responses. 

As a Black woman, I can share that I am fatigued. While I have checked in on as many as I can think of, my capacity to share is limited by my emotional bandwidth and cognitive dissonance that I experience as a result of my own experiential traumas, the traumas of Black people at the hands of our oppressors, and that with the vicarious trauma of seeing the harm and oppression that is happening in such a horrible way.

Now, I am not everyone. But I also know that I am not alone. My point is that trauma looks different in different people. What happens when we don't hold space for these complexities is re-traumatization. When we shame those for what is their own trauma response, we create an environment where no one feels safe to speak up… ever. And that is the most dangerous space of them all. I'm not saying we have to walk on eggshells or let people off the hook for turning a blind eye or even being complicit with their ongoing silence. I'm simply saying that silence doesn't always mean indifference, or ambivalence.

To those out there who are doing the work and experiencing fatigue, I say to you. Please take time to take care of yourself. You cannot fully make the impact with others if you are yourself burned out. To everyone else, consider the complexity that is trauma…and have some grace.

Bring Trauma Informed Listening and Speaking to your leaders and staff at large. Learn more Dr. Maiysha's trauma informed communication course. Click here to learn more: https://mindremappingacademy.com/courses/ticc/ 

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Wednesday, 29 November 2023