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Rules of Engagement for Race Related Trauma

How to empathically respond to those experiencing race-related stress and trauma.

social justice
social justice

RACE-RELATED TRAUMA

All over our nation, the black community (along with countless non-minority communities) have been traumatized as a result of witnessing black and brown people being killed right before their very eyes because of video recordings, public cameras, and even Facebook live footage going public and viral.

Emotions are running high and even out of control for many but understandably so. But how can we empathically and peacefully move toward others who are externally exploding and internally imploding? How can we move toward those who are having a hard time managing their emotions in healthy ways BECAUSE OF their RACE-Related TRAUMAS?

This is a time when we must use wisdom when drawing close to the weary, wounded, angry, and broken-hearted. This requires us to better trauma-informed and trauma-responsive in our approach to the hurting. We must understand how trauma activates the fear response in our brains. And when fear hijacks our brain,—many people can no longer remain calm or rational–thus causing them to emotionally erupt and act out of their pain, anger, and frustration in harmful and destructive ways. This is a fight response. A survival response. And it will perpetuate more fear, chaos, and destruction if the traumatized are not heard and helped with regulating and managing their emotional distress in healthy ways.

FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE

As a trained trauma-informed psychoeducator (who also happens to be a bi-racial woman), I wrote this post to help others understand how we can better SUPPORT and SERVE our black and brown individuals who are experiencing systemic racism and or race-related trauma and stress.

First, we need to know how TRAUMA hijacks the ‘rational’ brain and causes some people to lash out in fits of rage through rioting. Dr. King said this so well when he said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The human FEAR response is driving many into a FIGHT for LIFE or FLIGHT for FREEDOM response because they fear for their lives and the lives of those they love. Minorities are acting out in fits of rage because they feel like no one (no system) is listening to their pain and need to feel safe, loved, accepted, and valued as a HUMAN BEING. They are wondering “Where are these truths that are to be self-evident in that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?”

We must recognize this survival (FIGHT AND FLIGHT) instinct at work and help those who are emotionally stuffing or exploding to learn HEALTHIER ways of managing their anger, pain, and trauma. Because SO many of us have never been taught (or shown) a healthier way.

EFFECTS OF POOR EMOTIONAL SELF-REGULATION

Overwhelming and distressing emotions when suppressed, disregarded and ignored will not only make us sick physically and psychologically, it will eventually spill out onto others in harmful ways (1) IF we don’t learn how to regulate (calm and relax) ourselves in healthy ways AND (2) IF we don’t find healthy role models who can show us and teach us a better, healthier and more productive way to cope with our trauma and emotional distress.


Drawing from the trauma and brain research of Dr. Bruce Perry, the way to engage with others who have experienced trauma begins with the 3 R’s of Engagement: REGULATE first, RELATE second, and THEN REASON. Before we can engage in race-related conversations in a healthy way, we must regulate and process our own emotions first (and help others regulate their emotions through modeling and co-regulation). Then we must learn how to empathically relate with those who are different from us by choosing to lean into the discomfort of race-related conversations, seeking first to understand, listen,v learn, and do no harm. THEN and only then, can we even begin to peacefully REASON with each other and work together toward personal AND systemic change and cultural progress. 

Let’s NOT retraumatize others and perpetuate race-related trauma because we fail to become trauma-aware and trauma-responsive. Let’s learn how to better respond to those who have experienced race-related trauma and who may be stuck in an emotional crisis because they feel unloved, unseen, and unheard. With our actions, let’s help them know they are VALUABLE HUMAN BEINGS of immeasurable worth.

Let’s help one another cope. Let’s strengthen the emotional abilities among those experiencing race-related stress and trauma through modeling, empathy, and co-regulation. Let’s learn how to regulate (manage) ourselves first and then help others regulate so we can ALL begin relating to AND reasoning with one another from a place of LOVE, instead of fear.❤

To use the words of Dr. Seuss,

Unless someone like you (AND ME) cares a whole awful lot, NOTHING is going to get better. It’s not.

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