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A Trauma Therapist Explains How Racial Trauma Affects Mental Health

Trauma is our emotions’ natural response to distressing experiences. Experiences like brutality, crime, and disasters can lead people to experience trauma at different levels. However, nobody seems to talk about how traumatic racial discrimination and injustice can be and how much they affect the mental health of individuals subjected to them.

Racial trauma is the physical and mental response to experiences of racism, violence, or injustice. It doesn’t only come into play when a person is directly exposed to the experiences, but also as a relayed form of experience that they’ve been put through.

Anyone who has experienced racism is open to being affected by racial trauma. From police brutality and harassment, to hate crimes and discrimination, anyone whose race has been used as a reason for maltreatment may experience racial trauma. In fact, racial trauma can also affect multiple generations. People can experience racial trauma from listening to true stories of genocide, slavery, and racial discrimination.

Image of the side profile of a Black woman. The woman in the image represents how healing from racial trauma can take place with a trauma therapist in Los Angeles, CA. 91006 | 90071

Racial Trauma Shows Up Differently in Individuals

Just like other mental health issues, trauma caused by racial experiences can show up differently in people. For some people, a horrifying experience of police brutality will take a toll on their mental health for years. For others, racial trauma can be a collection of discriminatory experiences that they endure daily. Or it can be experienced through stories they’ve had to experience vicariously.

There are many ways that racial trauma can that can affect individuals’ overall mental health. And again, trauma symptoms show up differently in people. Additionally, there’s a chance you may not be able to trace trauma back to its root sometimes. Racial trauma can take different forms.

Fear and Apprehension

When you’ve been in situations in which you’ve been unsafe or threatened, you may have heightened fears and apprehensions. So being around certain people, like police officers, in certain environments, like areas with reputations of racism, will automatically tick off alarms in your head. This makes you extra vigilant. And the thought doesn’t even have to be farfetched. It may just be as simple as tensing up when you hear police sirens or seeing a security guard staring at you.

In fact, apprehension and fear can go as far as causing nightmares, especially when you have those traumatic experiences. Even hearing stories of people who have gone through similar events can cause you to have recurring nightmares. This can cause fear that the same may happen to you.

Substance Abuse

Dealing with racial trauma can lead many people to consume a lot more alcohol than they should. And with time, it can turn into a habit as they may see it as the only way of coping with the distress.

Aggressive Behaviors

While a number of people can contain how they feel about the experiences or find alternative ways of protecting themselves, some others result in fighting back as a means of protecting themselves.

Image of an Asian man laying down and holding his arm to his forehead in exhaustion. This image illustrates the numbness that those with racial trauma may experience before starting trauma therapy in Los Angeles, CA with a trauma therapist. | 90504 | 90505

Anxiety and Depression

Those who experience racial trauma are at an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Continuous exposure to racism can start to affect emotions negatively, and people subjected to racial discrimination may start to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.


It’s not unlikely that you feel a total loss of enthusiasm and numbness about life. Being labeled and treated unfairly is reason enough for some people to lose their hope in the future. It leaves them hopeless about the future and getting anything good out of it.

How to Heal from Racial Trauma

As we continue to gain more clarity on the link between mental health and racial trauma, it is important for racially abused individuals to carefully consider the effect of the experiences they have on their mental health. As we move on, we’ll discuss how to heal and slowly move on from racial trauma.

Racial trauma is a huge issue that all minority and racial groups deal with today. And groups have been dealing with it all throughout history. It encompasses all the impacts of racism, harassment, discrimination, racial violence, and hate crimes on the mental and physical health of people on the receiving end of these acts.

As the great emphasis is now being shifted to the impact and symptoms of racial trauma, there’s the need for a discussion on how to understand and heal from it. From anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, to aggressive behaviors, lack of enthusiasm, and negative self-image, there’s a lot that racially abused people have to deal with and heal from.

When we discuss trauma in general and specifically racial trauma, the focus can often be centered on societal and political issues. This is very relevant and the facts of the history of oppression, discrimination, and isolation are true. Today, we will lense ourselves to look closely at the individual’s impact of the racial trauma and ways to deal with the internal struggles of the mind, body, and emotional impact of racial trauma.

Practical Ways of Healing from Racial Trauma

While there are not currently any systems to entirely shield anyone from racial abuse and trauma, there are practical ways to heal from it. Healing may sound far removed from many of the internalized experiences of racial trauma. So these might not be a way that works for each of our collective and individual experiences.

We know now, through growing interest and research on race issues that the impact runs deep and wide across a spectrum of symptoms and pains. These are practical ways to start your journey towards healing as well as ways to aid yourself in the process of the journey.

Self-help & Self-care

There are a lot of ways self-care can help you heal from racial trauma. Prioritizing your mental and physical health can boost your healing process. Things like regular eating and exercise, taking frequent social media breaks, and doing exciting hobbies can help you stay refreshed and find an added meaning to life.

Living with racial trauma means that your mind and body are holding pain. And all the time, whether we may or may not be aware of it. Our brain keeps track of all the signs of distress and triggers related to our lived and shared traumas.

This means that in order for healing to take place, we have to actively prioritize ourselves. This includes the entirety of ourselves, meaning mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Pay attention to each day as you begin to implement ways of nourishing each part of you.

Join in Racial Justice Activism

Meeting up with people experiencing the same thing as you can positively impact your mental and emotional health. First, connecting with these people and sharing stories provides a sense of closure and empowerment amongst racially abused people.

This sense of connection is what our body and mind are actively trying to work against in a trauma brain. Our trauma brain isolates and traps us by sensing insecurities and dangers. This is why joining a movement and participating in activism to tell stories beyond just the pain and sadness is an important step of healing.

Coming together to demand social change and tackling the issue is a step in the right direction in achieving the change we seek. There’s strength found in channeling your energy into activism and unity of purpose. And that can go a long way in starting the healing process you seek.

Connect With Your Community

Even outside activism, getting to meet others in your racial community with shared experiences can help you deal with racial trauma. These communities could be your neighbors, friends, and family. And the small everyday connections you build can give you confidence that your experiences are important and deserve to be heard.

Getting validation from people who care about you can help you feel heard. And learning how they’ve coped with their own experience can be uplifting for you. When we get stuck with our own negative thoughts, sometimes talking things out loud and hearing responses from others can provide us with sources of creativity and energy. This energy can inspire us as we continue our healing process.

It’s also worth mentioning that the final solution isn’t in having to deal with the individual problem only. Instead, it’s about changing our communities and the world at large.

Start Trauma Therapy to Heal from Racial Trauma

Image of the side profile of a Black woman smiling. This image depicts how one can find freedom from effects of racial trauma after working through trauma therapy in Los Angeles, CA. 90404 | 90503

The impacts of racial trauma on our mental health are profound. And it can take a lot of work to recognize how far the impacts go. Despite that, there’s an urgent need to find effective ways of coping with it effectively. Be sure to experiment with these solutions and figure out which of the ways works best for you. If you are struggling with the effects of racial trauma and are considering trauma therapy, Yellow Chair can help.

In fact, working with a trauma therapist is usually the best-recommended option whenever anyone’s dealing with trauma on any level. With that said, we all have trauma in our lives. But living with racial trauma is a complicated addition to your daily struggles.

So, it’s important to find the right kind of support that fits your needs. And getting support from a therapist who has experienced something similar to what you’re going through can be really helpful. Our culturally sensitive therapists have the skills and experience to help you heal from racial trauma. If you are ready to start trauma therapy at our Los Angeles and New York City therapy practice, schedule an appointment.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

One thing to note about Yellow Chair is that our Los Angeles and New York City counseling practice was founded by an Asian American therapist. With that being said, all of our therapists share a passion for helping those with racial trauma heal. When you meet with us for anxiety treatment, EMDR therapy, or individual therapy, know that we are a safe place for you to explore the complexities of race and culture.

Relevant Resources

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Asian Racial Stress & Trauma with Sharon Kwon

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Healing From Trauma: Stanford Psychologist Dr. Christine Catipon Shares Tips to Nurture Yourself