Letting Go of Generational Trauma in the Black Community
Updated: Nov 21
Imagine going through life holding the weight of all the hurt you experienced throughout your years. Imagine not being able to enjoy the life the universe has blessed you with because you can’t seem to get over something that at this point, is well outside of your control. Imagine being upset more often than not, seething and not seizing all the amazing moments of life because you haven’t made the intention to heal from generational trauma. Imagine not being happy and simply basking in whatever life has to offer you because you can’t let go of something someone did to you 10 years ago or maybe even 10 days ago. Imagine giving someone that power over your life. Sounds crazy right? Well, as crazy as it sounds, this narrative is more common than not in black families.
Historically, in the black household, we have all experienced trauma. This can range from trauma bestowed upon us intentionally or this trauma can reflect trauma we experienced as a result of our familial ties simply not being emotionally and physically equipped to bare and raise higher functioning generations. Whatever the case is, at one point is it appropriate for us to take accountability for the trauma we’ve experienced? When do we take accountability for our healing? These are tough questions for some because black culture has generally cultivated this space where parents don’t apologize, we are to listen to our elders “because they said so”, and speaking our opinion or just our thoughts would be synonymous with disrespect.
As a millennial, I can say that my generation and generations hereafter have diligently tried to break free of this extremely one sided and skewed non-sense. We have found our voices that most of our parents and grandparents didn’t have. The same voices that they inadvertently took from us. Now, this by no means is any disrespect to my parents or yours because I wholeheartedly feel they were working with what they had. They were not given the tools to be emotionally intelligent while asserting their personal rights therefore, my generation didn’t come across that narrative easily. We had to discover 2 things: 1. emotional intelligence and advocating for ourselves is a thing and 2. we had to find our jam in how we could implement that while experiencing all of this secondhand trauma America had to offer us (911, the Oklahoma City bombing, police brutality against black people, mass shootings, the war in Iraq, a pandemic, with a few recessions sprinkled here and there just to name a few).
With all the discord going on in the world coupled with how black children were brought up (generally, not all), where does our peace lie? As a therapist, a fellow black woman, and just a decent human being, I would never try to invalidate your experiences, in fact I encourage you to acknowledge them. But don’t stop there. After acknowledging [childhood] trauma, how someone may have wronged you, disrespected you, or disregarded you, it is imperative to your own healing that you recognize ways in which you can take power from that person or situation and place it [back] into your hands. How can you no longer allow the narrative given to you, be the narrative you live in your fullest potential with? Generational trauma in the black community is running rampant so doing this is certainly no small feat. Here are a few ways you may be able to release your hurt while taking control of your life and your mental and emotional stability. This can also be applicable even if this is an internal journey that seeks no validation or accommodation from outside people or situations that may have wronged you.
1. Define your personal values and especially identify the ones that go against “toxic” family tradition. Release people and situations that do not uphold the essence of these values. This can be done by setting personal boundaries (explicitly conveyed or not). Always value your values while recognizing people and situations that are not mutually beneficial.
2. Make a conscious decision every day to live your life how you want to live and not how you feel forced to live. Life is too short to do otherwise.
3. Go to therapy to process through the trauma and receive insight on how you may be able to emerge from each situation as a better version of you.
While there is no perfect remedy that solidly addresses the generational trauma black people continuously experience, there are certainly ways in which we can mitigate the impact that trauma has on our emotional wellbeing and our daily functioning. When we begin to understand how the shift in the narrative is imperative to birthing future generations of emotionally intelligent, well-rounded, healthy, and eventually unscathed black people, then is when we will be able to take assertive accountability for our own shortcomings.
In this moment, what/who do you need to take power back from?