The Collective Trauma Of Racial Violence

Updated: Apr 29

Understanding Collective Trauma and How To Cope



The past 365 days have been challenging for many of us beyond the pandemic due to highly publicized incidents of police brutality and racial violence.


With the most recent killing of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Ma'Khia Bryant, we are again experiencing trauma as a collective. From uneasiness to hopelessness to sleeplessness, our bodies and minds are on high alert and exhausted at the same time.


Large-scale crises like the U.S. Capitol insurrection, COVID-19 pandemic, and increases of racial violence and police killing and brutality have lasting effects, particularly when trauma is repeated and prolonged. History proves the trauma will persist even if we are able to resume some normalcy and see justice.


In experiencing trauma as a collective, it is important to understand how it is different from individual trauma and how to cope. Read on to learn about how collective trauma can impact communities and individuals and how you can cope with collective trauma.


What Is Collective Trauma?

Simply put, Collective Trauma refers to the psychological and emotional trauma and response shared by a group who experience an event that may cause them to feel powerless. This type of trauma can be shown in two ways.


The first example of collective trauma is a shared emotional reaction to a frightening event such a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The most notable U.S. examples are The Great Depression, Hurricane Katrina, and 9/11.

The second is an ongoing collective physical and emotional harm due to repeated exposure to race-based violence and stress. Most notable U.S. examples are the U.S. Capitol Insurrection, the killing of George Floyd, and rise of violence against Asian Americans.

In both cases, these events can be witnessed firsthand or observed through the media. Collective trauma can create an ongoing reconstruction of the trauma in an attempt to make sense of it - causing long-term PTSD and anxiety.


How To Cope?

In being aware of the potential impact of collective trauma, we must also bring to light our responses that may help minimize the negative psychological effects of collective trauma.


Some steps that we can take that may help manage collective trauma include:


Talk Out Your Experiences With Likeminded Friends And Family

One of the most significant benefits of collective trauma is the feeling of being understood and our emotions validated, compared to possible isolation sometimes experienced with individual trauma.


Talking out experiences and feelings with like-minded friends and family creates a sense of belonging and also helps to confirm how common our experiences and our psychological reaction are.


Be sure to talk with like-minded friends and family to ensure the impact of your trauma, reactions, and emotions are not being minimized.


Do Not Minimize Your Trauma

One thing that I was guilty of during the pandemic was minimizing my trauma by saying statements like, "This has been a hard year, but at least I have not had XYZ happen" after being fortunate enough to stay employed, safe, and healthy.


This protective approach is often dismissive of one's trauma as a way to be strong and maintain the sense that you are doing okay. However, this can ultimately be detrimental because it prevents you from acknowledging your trauma and dealing and can actually prolonging or intensifying its effects.


This can be tricky to avoid because oftentimes we minimize our trauma as a way to cope. and minimize trauma can show up in a different ways, like powering through work or home life as if nothing happening. If you are unsure if you might be minimizing your trauma, check out these three signs.


Set Boundaries With The News and Limit Media Consumption

Consuming a steady stream of traumatic stories and updates can have an emotional toll. To limit emotional burnout, try limiting media consumption by:

  1. Turning off news alerts on your phone.

  2. Avoid scrolling through social media before bed by setting app limits or downloading screen-limit apps on your devices.

  3. Turn off auto-replay on videos on Facebook, Twitter, and your web browsers.

News cycle and social media coverage on the traumatic events can be endless, and if you do not limit your consumption, your mental health will suffer.


Take A Mental Health Day

If you feel like you have become increasingly frustrated, depressed, or angry at work or at home, it is time take a step back and see where it is coming from and figure out how to take control.


For when and how to take a mental health day, check out When You Should Take a Mental Health Day by VeryWell Mind.


Get Extra Help

You are entitled to your personal need to grieve even when you are experiencing a loss and trauma collectively. Be aware of your feelings and explore them with a professional, if needed.


Find A Healthy Outlet For Your Emotions

There is no one size fit when it comes to mental health and self-care. Although the trauma is experienced with a collective, your experience, reaction, and impact are on an individual basis.


As you make changes in your life to bring about less frustration, you will also need to find healthful outlets for dealing with these emotions. Watch out for unhealthy responses to stress, like increase drug or alcohol intake, overeating, or withdrawal from friends and family. Some examples of healthy outlets for dealing with emotions are:

  1. Physical Activity

  2. Meditation

  3. Seeking out opportunities for happiness

For a list of healthful vs. harmful ways of dealing with stress, check out this article from Mental Health America (MHA).

Collective trauma can change how we view and understand how the world works and our place within it. This type of trauma affects each person as well as society as a whole differently. It is unknown how long this pandemic will last or how many times we will witness racial violence. However, it is critical to plan now for mental health coping mechanisms to anticipate the emotional and psychological needs of collective trauma.

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