Holding Space for Those Impacted by Racial Trauma

This past week has been an exhausting whirlwind of explosive emotions.  If that’s not true for you, you probably haven’t turned on a TV, read the news online or talked to another human about current US events.

In the middle of an already high stress-inducing pandemic, America witnessed a murder captured on cellphone video and played (and replayed) for all to see.  It was the Molotov cocktail thrown on to the fire of so many other racially-motivated events and broken systems of the last few weeks (and many years). 

Horrified and heartbroken, ATN’s staff and board have stood wondering, discussing, praying about what we could or should be doing AT THIS MOMENT.

The answer is clear: We should practice what we preach.  The Nation is experiencing a collective trauma and seeing clearly the deep systemic injustices that have led to generational traumas for people of color throughout this country’s history.  For many, racial trauma has been an unrecognized emergency for decades.  But for some, whatever was keeping people from seeing this huge gaping wound has been peeled back and here it is…it can not be ignored.

Behavior is communication… the outrage and anger are boiling over…and America is burning.

Practicing what we preach means that trauma-informed, attachment-focused parents and professionals focus on what we know to be the triage of trauma: building relationships and helping people to regulate their emotions.

AT THIS MOMENT, therapeutic parents of raging children impacted by trauma know that holding space is what’s needed.  And holding space starts with getting ourselves as emotionally calm as possible…as regulated as possible, to make the space in our own emotional bandwidth to listen and really be present for those most impacted by the toxic stress.

Dr. Bernice King drove this message home for me today, when I heard her on our local news here in Atlanta.  She addressed her father, Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about rioting. “He said to us, ‘Riots are the language of the unheard.’ And the part we often miss when people use it is the part about the unheard. This is a time when we all have to listen, we have to listen to the cries that are coming out of the hearts and the souls of my young brothers and sisters in the streets of America right now and in our city.”

We often say at ATN that “you don’t get to pick their trauma.” This means that we can’t judge what traumatizes or doesn’t traumatize another person.  We also can’t judge what another’s reaction/feeling to events should or shouldn’t be.  Feelings are not about “should”…feelings are what they are and are communicated through our behavior.

We can, however, use what we know about trauma and the importance of relationships and holding space to build resilience.  We can stand with and learn from those who have experienced racial and systemic injustices and who have suffered cultural and generational trauma. 

AT THIS MOMENT, we’re here to listen.  We invite anyone who wants to share their experiences with us to reach out.  We especially invite people of color to share blogs or other writings with us that we can publish on our website/social media. 

Note: to submit a guest blog or other writings, email them to our blog manager: laura@attachtrauma.org


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