If you’ve found yourself often triggered by racism, you are not alone.
In fact some doctors suggest that the trauma from racism is long-lasting, but there are ways to cope.
“Racism affected me in ways I didn’t even realize,” said Joe Johnson, PhD, of Joe Johnson Group.
Like many people of color, 39-year-old Johnson lives every day with the trauma of racism and the triggers that might reignite it.
“In terms of Black people, particularly, we never had the opportunity to heal from all of the trauma that was done to us,” he said.
That trauma has manifested in the way he carries himself, dresses and even speaks.
“I’m always watching my back. I’m always recognizing and understanding where I am so I can navigate correctly,” said Johnson.
The trauma of racism can be generational. Johnson calls it CTSD, or continuous traumatic stress disorder.
“My great grandfather dealt with this. My grandfather, my father, me. Now my sons are dealing with this,” he said. “I have an 8-year-old son, a 6-year-old son. Black boys. They know what it looks like. My 6-year-old, when he hears the police siren he’s scared like, ‘Daddy they’re gonna come get us!’”
For some, police sirens can trigger or reignite trauma. For others, it could be the sight police officers or being pulled over. Microaggressions also are considered triggers while social media is filled with videos of racist incidents -- such as George Floyd’s murder -- that are continuously traumatizing for some.
“Any kind of traumatic occurrence or experience is going to occupy itself in your nervous system. It’s in your soul. It literally plants itself in your soul, in your physiology, in your nervous system,” said Dr. Brandi Pritchett-Johnson.
Pritchett-Johnson is a psychologist who helps counsel people who are dealing with the trauma of racism.
“Each and every one of my clients, and I’m not being extreme,” she said. “The cumulative impact over time may not show up for weeks, months, years later. You can have trauma triggers.”
Johnson is anything but average. He has a PhD in counselor education. He travels the country speaking to businesses and groups about diversity, equity and inclusion. When he is not traveling, he is spending time raising his two sons with his wife, Dr. Pritchett-Johnson. This pair of psychologists have been married for 10 years. They have years of experience helping people heal.
“It’s important for us to acknowledge the pain that was caused to Black people,” said Johnson.
Crying is good
For Johnson, healing from the trauma of racism begins with one thing.
“I believe as Black men, we need a good cry. We don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “In 2020 I cried a hell of a lot. A hell of a lot.”
His wife agrees.
“Crying is one form of catharsis, like release. You know? So you have all these deposits that are traumatic and not necessarily good. So crying is a way of expunging or expelling that,” she said.
Both of them explain to clients that crying is natural. Still, it’s just the first step in dealing with trauma from racism and that triggers that bring up those hurt and anger feelings.
“First I use the trigger, and then we soothe the trigger,” said Pritchett-Johns. “So you use the trigger and then you soothe the trigger and then we come up with a customized wellness plan to help them first validate their own feelings.”
Dr. Pritchett-Johnson suggests journaling, exercising or speaking to someone about your trauma and triggers. It’s part of what she refers to as a “wellness plan,” which can always begin with a good cry.
“For Black men, we don’t wanna do that because that makes us look like we’re not tough,” said Johnson. “Your body holds in trauma and the biggest thing we can do is honor ourselves by saying there is something wrong with me, and figure out what that is, and being able to release. Now you have to figure out what you have to do to heal so that you can become who you’re supposed to be.”
If you need help dealing with trauma from racism and soothing the triggers, it’s OK to seek help. Maybe your business needs someone to speak about diversity, equity and inclusion.