Coping With The Reality Of Racial Trauma

Individual Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

All people have an infinite number of things in common. One thing in particular everyone shares is an array of feelings caused by stress. Differences between people, however, arise in regard to the cause of their stress. People of color, for example, can feel stress based on how they perceive people reacting to them simply because of their color. The situation is exacerbated when someone is the victim of verbal abuse or even physical violence because of their color.

A Black man dealing with stress

In an article for the American Psychological Association (APA), the negative effects of stress induced by racial trauma are detailed: “In the past few decades, many prominent psychologists of color have studied the effects of racial trauma, and how it leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. It has also been linked to posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and other serious psychological conditions. Experiences of racism against people of color build on each other and over time, can chip away at one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual resources.”

As with many mental health issues, signs of trouble can range from subtle to overt. In the case of racial trauma, the APA indicates that signs to look for include:

  • Avoiding situations that are related to racism or reminders of past racist experiences
  • Distrusting others due to multiple losses or letdowns
  • Feeling triggered by reminders of a racist experience, which can lead to strong emotional or physical responses (e.g., crying or rapid heartbeat)
  • Experiencing difficulty controlling emotional responses
  • Being hypervigilant, overly alert, or paranoid about potential dangers or negative experiences because of one’s race

Recognizing that you may be dealing with racial trauma is only the first step. The next steps in coping with the trauma involve:

Sharing Your Pain. As with most any type of trauma, verbalizing your feelings is a critical first step in coping. The opposite is equally true: suppressing your feelings can often lead to more serious mental health issues.

Acknowledging Your Anger. Anger in response to injustice is not only common, it is wholly appropriate. The key is to channel your anger into productive and helpful action.

Protecting Your Mental Health. In these volatile times, news reports can seem to be filled with negativity, even if it is accurate. That’s doubly true for information garnered through social media. It can be overwhelmingly toxic no matter how accurate it is. Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, whatever its source.

If your feelings of stress caused by racial trauma linger an inordinate amount of time, consider seeking professional counseling. In the end, that may be your surest route to overcoming your trauma and regaining optimum mental health. Read the full APA article on racial trauma here.