Healing Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome
with Dr. Lydiana Garcia
9 Ways to Help You Heal from Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome
1. Family. Family is the foundation but depending on your situation, you can establish good boundaries with your family members. You might have come from a family that was disruptive, was toxic, or put all these different labels that you cannot spend time with them because of all these different interactions that continue to make you feel oppressed. It’s important that you know when to separate from your family to be able to heal and be stronger enough, then then later on, you may want to integrate back while still establishing good boundaries. On the other hand, if you’re starting a family, it’s important that you find ways to explore and change the patterns especially if you came from a family where some models and some behaviors were not necessarily helpful. There are a lot of parenting resources you can explore and learn from.
Some of the resources I love are Consent Parenting with all this information about teaching consent from an early age and changing those patterns, and there’s also Latinx Parenting and their non-violent communication. Latinx Parenting has this idea of the hashtag #EndChanclaCulture which for me is really important. For the most part, with physical punishment your child might listen and do what you ask right away. But in the long term, it’s not one of the best parenting skills to use. Parents go through so much chronic stress that even though we might not want to use physical punishment, we resort to it because it's gives us the results right away, and for some it’s just the only way of parenting they know. That's why it's important to learn about the other models of parenting that can teach you not only philosophical but the actual skills to help you do something different.
One of ways that Dr. DeGruy talks about in her book was creating virtual villages. If you think about our ancestors, they have that idea of being raised by a village and everybody supporting each other. It might be hard to create one at this time because of the pandemic but we can create a virtual village and make a list of people we can go to for support. Rosalia from Consent Parenting also talks about creating this list of people that are the safe people to be with your children and whom they can resort to if they're going through something in their lives. It's something that you can do to bring that sense of stability, and help shape a different progeny and a different future.
If you don't want to have children, even changing those things for you and creating those boundaries and creating your relationship with your own family, can help anyone that comes in contact with you. Some people might think that because they don’t have children, they don’t have to care about these things which is not the case. They probably are still in contact with some younger generations that might see them and get inspired with their way of being.
2. Food. I love that Dr. DeGruy added food as one of the healing methods because it can impact us so much. A lot of the food that you ingest have a lot of toxicities, and those pesticides, toxicities and all those kind of things can impact the way that your body is functioning. If your body is not functioning well, your ability to rationalize, to think clearly, to make better decisions is also going to be impacted.
It’s very interesting that a lot of Black communities, have a lot of chronic illnesses and the rates about diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other serious illnesses are really high. There's even some stomach illnesses like Crohn's disease, that my fellow brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico are experiencing. One of the places that had the most cases is my little island, which is very interesting that they go and do studies there to learn more about the illness. And these illnesses speak a lot about what is going on, what can we not digest all these years of abuse and oppression, and then they kind of really mess up with our digestion, with our gut system which is so important.
I also have shared that I struggle with some gut issues and part of it has to come from my ancestors. It was also because of how I was raised to continue to live in the hyper vigilance, that sense of urgency and having to do everything, and being in that fight or flight. When we're constantly in those states, our body's not processing food properly and can go to places they're not supposed to. This can even create autoimmune diseases if they pass into the blood system. But if our bodies are in that relaxed mode, then it can really do all the processes needed to digest the food properly and us receiving the right amount of nutrients.
It's really important that we can get empowered in a way of what we eat. And I know that a lot of minority, especially African Americans in the US and even Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, a lot of them are affected with low socioeconomic status, low SES, and poverty that they don't have access to healthy food or their access to be able to afford healthy foods is limited. This is also part of the systemic piece that needs to be worked on. But there still are ways where you can integrate, maybe a little bit of the salad combination with the other fast food. That way you start combining and you start changing little by little. Start educating yourself about the foods that are nurturing, and even the foods that even your ancestors were used to eating.
It's also important to not only to think about what we ingest, but also the state in which we do. It’s not only about what you eat but also how your body is like when you're eating. Are you eating while in that fight or flight mode? Are you paying attention and allowing the body to rest and digest? You can be eating healthier foods but if you're eating in a rush, or eating in anger and in fight or flight, most likely, your body's not going to digest it properly.
Dr. DeGruy talks about creating an urban garden or finding ways with your community to collaborate with the food and the cooking. I cannot imagine how, because of the pandemic, many children are not even going to school and are just relying solely on the cheapest fast food out there. And that is really sad. Because even though they're “protecting themselves” from this virus, they are increasing probably the rates of diabetes, the rates of chronic illnesses, the rate of staying in that state, because food is so important, and the state of how we eat it.
3. Learn efficacy. Learn efficacy to combat learned helplessness which is that internalized thinking that you can’t do anything, it’s like the lose of hope. Many people just feel that there’s nothing they can do, they were brought this way and that’s just how they’ll leave. If we even think about hope or things that we can change, a lot of parents or ancestors pushed us against this idea because that was a part of survival.
If you live in a condition that's being oppressed, you might not be able to instill some hope to your child because you’d want to prepare them for the world which may include modeling and saying all these messages about the world not being safe, or about people not caring about you. A lot of it is justified by actions, too. Many of our ancestors tried to revolt and change things but still nothing happened. At this time, there is still police brutality, more African Americans are still being killed, there are still way more African Americans in the job institutions, and we can go on and so. And these can definitely give you that sense that there's no hope.
But there is a way that you can start working slowly if you have that privilege to do it. That way you can model it to other and it can be passed on. It's that learn efficacy that you do have the potential to change the things you do. There is definitely a way that you can start working slowly, it’s that learn efficacy that you do have the potential to change things.
4. Generational lessons or resiliency. A lot of times we focus so much on that generational trauma and forget that our ancestors come from this very strong lineage. One of the things we can learn from them is having a good work ethic. One side of that work ethic can be damaging, but there's that other side that can really help you to move out of things. Another of the generational resiliency and lessons is becoming very creative. Our ancestors were given so much difficult circumstances in their life that they had to be creative with what they had in order to survive.
Dr. DeGruy talks about forgiving people as part of the generational lessons. You don't necessarily have to forgive to heal. But when we don't, we still are attached to our oppressor in many different ways. Dr. DeGruy also talks about our ancestors being spiritual but was taken out as part of the colonization. They have all this wealth of spirituality, that in many cases were considered as dark magic but a lot of it is just a beautiful tradition about family, about helping others, about community. It’s more about really knowing where you come from, exploring and owning these different lessons from our ancestors, and knowing how to make good use of them.
5. Becoming healthier. Aside from food, taking a rest is also important to our health. This also includes exercise, moving our bodies, and keeping a weight that is helpful.
6. Building up the self-esteem. This is our sense of worth and value, and this could go back to the old beliefs or one of the symptoms of post-traumatic slave syndrome, which is having that internalized belief that you're not good enough, or that your work is not valuable. A lot of times we think that not until we got this X, Y and Z job that we’ll feel valuable but that is a white way of what success is. It's really more about being of value wherever you may be, and also increasing the awareness of the value that you produce. But how can you start working with yourself first and validating how valuable your work is.
Dr. DeGruy talks about how being valuable and having the awareness of the value we produce is the way to build up your self esteem. Explore how you can be valuable to others, and then you start exploring how you're being valued. When I go to places, like the supermarket or government offices, and I've been served or treated by someone that treats me so nice, that changes the course of the day because I felt seen, I felt validated. And that can change lives.
7. Regulating yourself. It is so important to know where you are in your regulation because if you're more in that fight or flight, or freeze response, then you're easier target to be manipulated. You're not tapping into your highest potential of rational thinking, problem solving making decisions, and you're just reacting out of that crisis mode which is not necessarily going to be necessarily the best option unless you're in a real emergency or crisis.
By being able to learn to regulate yourself, then you're able to make better decisions, and you're able to start applying all these different things. There's so many information over here that can help you stay regulated. There’s the Self-Regulation Plan which I talk a lot about this on different episodes. It's always a work in progress, especially right now with this pandemic, it can be so hard to think about ways to regulate myself in the midst of this chronic stressor, but there are definitely several ways.
8. Managing your finances. Manage your finances in a way that creates stability and wealth. Some people might think that they don’t know anything about finances because they didn’t go to school, and this is actually part of the idea of the oppressor, that you need to have a degree and not having one limits your opportunities. There is so much vast information from the public library, there are apps you can download books for free for a certain number of days. I also recommends Linda Garcia and her newer endeavor, which is about the stock market and for the community. You can find her account over on Instagram. She’s been teaching people about healing financial wounds which it's so important that we all work towards that.
9. Telling our story. Sharing our story and that vulnerability can be so healing.But this one will definitely be for someone that has already done some of the work. If your “wound is bleeding” then it will not necessarily be the best moment to share your story because then you're gonna get very dysregulated, you might get into all the emotions, and you might even feel very traumatized.
I want to share this piece from Dr. DeGruy’s book, it starts at page 180. It was a research where children who knew a lot about their families are better when faced with challenges. The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self esteem, and the more successful they believe their families function. So this is so important and something really interesting that happened was that two months after they did the research, September 11, 2001 happened. And once again, they were able to see that the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning that they could moderate the effects of stress better.
As they explore this, they got to this conclusion that the answers have to do with a child's sense of being part of a larger family, that the children who have been the most self-confident have a strong intergenerational self. They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. And as I'm sharing about this, I realized that this is one of the reasons I feel like I am where I am, because I do know a lot from both sides of my big family. I had that sense of a village, I had that sense that if I made a mistake, I was not only going to let down my parents, I was going to let down my aunt’s, my uncle's, my cousins, my grandma. I had that sense of where I come from, that I’m from this lineage a family that is a big one that I want to make proud, and that I felt supported. I think this is all super important.
Read Part III of the blog HERE where I share my personal journey on healing from Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.