Navigating Through Sociocultural Trauma and Change 

Sociocultural trauma happens from the impact of being a part of a marginalized group. Cultural differences impact our interactions with our society, but they also impact the families who help us grow up. People have to individually learn to navigate through this reality. However, there are several other complex elements that make change very difficult. There is often a tug of war with people who say that their history impacts them and meeting others who say that history doesn’t matter anymore. There are power struggles. There are egos. There is politics.

These issues impact all of us. Unfortunately, there were lessons in our society that taught us that we need to avoid talking about these tough topics. As if we just avoid them, they’ll vanish. That didn’t happen. So I have come up with some considerations for people to start re opening dialogue and developing connection. Books can be and have been written on these cultural issues. So this is a very simple guide, but you can always read more or use this as a springboard to talk, share, and even disagree. 

The Images

Images of violence or watching people die are traumatic. They jolt our nervous system. They can make us get reactive without knowing we’re doing it. Worse, it can cause disconnection. So it’s imperative to do some trauma first aid to ground, orient, and center. 

Orienting-reconnecting with your surroundings.

Centering-preparing yourself mentally so that you are prepared for challenges. 

If you are struggling to leave those images where they are, then it is a good idea to seek out a trauma therapist, EMDR therapist, or somatic therapist. 

Storybuilding

There are a lot of assumptions about other people and especially groups of people going on. Sadly, a lot of this occurs on social media. It is OK to have discussions, but keep in mind that you’re talking about delicate issues on a forum where tone is hard to interpret. At the same time, this doesn’t mean you can’t have discussions and share differences in perspectives. 

However, social media by its nature promotes the inflation of egos. Therefore, you’ll find people who are using delicate situations to promote their own agendas, who are seeking revenge, who are using slander for politics or professional gain. If you’re interacting with someone and they are using social tragedies as a platform for dominance, it’s best to leave the conversation where it is. 

People are making assumptions about people who they don’t know. People are being categorized for various things and tidbits of information. There is also a lot of misinformation out there. This is categorizing people without knowing much about their actual stories. It is also shutting down conversations. Dominance and shaming are not acts of advocacy or social justice. AND we all do it at times. I’ll discuss circling back later. For now, just know that when you do that, it’s not actually fully about the cause. It’s about your baggage. 

My recommendation is to first ask for clarification. But watch out for gossip, rumors, and lies. Rather than filling in blanks with assumptions, ask for what you might have been missing. Build stories about people with the information that they give. Practice identifying where you have finished a story with assumptions and potential misinformation.

Embracing Context and Complexities

There is so much BS out there. That’s the world we’re in. When people don’t like something, they just say it doesn’t exist. Or they say something else exists. Often this is without evidence. However it’s becoming more common that it’s based on fake evidence that was made by someone else.

In couples therapy, when a partner is dismissed over and over again, they are likely to get louder or belligerent. This can happen in cultural issues as well. If you say I believe that there is this particular problem, and you’re met with denial over and over again, your threat gauge will fill. It can feel as though the only way to be heard is to get bigger or louder. (If you’re making an assumption about my point here, please see the point above about asking for clarification). People need to be heard. Not in your experience, but rather their own. People tend to believe that listening to someone else means they have to completely agree. That couldn’t be further from the truth. You can hear and understand other people and disagree. 

Learn about what is underneath the surface. Challenge your own thinking or beliefs. This doesn’t mean you have to give them up. Things are usually more complex than they appear to be on the surface. Some things you can ask yourself:

  • What might you be missing in what you read, see or hear?
  • When you consider those possibilities, what does that change for you? 

If you find that you’re saying words like “they,” “always,” or “never,” you’re likely missing important context. Get more information from reputable sources. 

Don’t Be a Critic, Show Up

Rather than criticizing, identify how you can make a positive difference. This means that you’ll have to be vulnerable. If you’re just judging and criticizing other people, you’re possibly avoiding the work you need to be doing to make a changes for yourself.

Look inward, then look outward.
 

Figure out what you’re struggling with and why you feel critical. Then own those feelings and share them with someone. That is what showing up is all about. You’ll be amazed of the connections you can build. 

Struggling is OK and normal. 

It’s ok to struggle through change. It’s uncomfortable and it can lead to difficult emotions like anger, sadness, and fear. We often tell ourselves that we should just be content and happy or there is something wrong with us. However, it’s normal to have periods of struggle. It doesn’t mean you’re defective or weak. It actually means you’re brave when you look at these things. Seek out help and support from those close to you. Find safe people in your life who you can talk to with an open mind. 

Shame

Shame is likely to emerge at times of intense and vulnerable change. Shame can make us feel like we don’t belong. Like we’re not worthy. It can also push us to overcompensate rather than take responsibility for ourselves. 

We often try to protect ourselves from this feeling by ignoring others, avoiding, bullying, and overcompensating. Shame is extremely painful. It’s the emotion that can make us truly question whether or not we belong. 

Rather than trying to avoid it, learn about shame in your life so you can navigate through this emotion. You can’t truly connect without working through it. Our website is loaded with information on various elements of shame. So feel free to learn more about it.

The Responsibility for Your Feelings is Yours

It’s important to take responsibility for your own feelings. We can get reactive to our emotions and feelings whether we’re aware of them or not. It’s your responsibility to identify them, but also name how they feel for you. I also encourage people to learn about why they might be feeling that way. Sometimes it’s very clear, while other times it’s not clear at all. But don’t put your feelings on other people or groups of people. Don’t bury them. 

Boundaries

Boundaries are critical with all change. It’s important to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. We can’t make change and we can’t connect without them. However, you also need to identify the lines where you can’t continue with the conversation. For example, I won’t if someone insults my intelligence or denies my reality. Those may change over time. You can add to them or loosen them as time passes, but you need to be clear. Otherwise, you’re more likely to get into situations that are pointless and frustrating and that can make it difficult to continue challenging yourself. 

Orient to the Good

Wow this one is hard. When we’re activated by what is going on, we categorize. We also orient to the negative. This dismisses the good that is going on. Focus on the peaceful, positive, and good voices. Hold the dangerous ones accountable and recognize they aren’t the same. 

Talking with Bravery

You don’t have to agree with other people. But I recommend you to be brave enough to consider other possibilities, share your feelings with respect, and be open about your feelings. Rather than tearing down someone else’s perspective, you can discuss your feelings and take responsibility for them. 

The Power of Listening

True listening is trying to understand. In our culture, we are taught that trying to understand means that you have to give up your reality. This isn’t true at all. You can share how you view the situation and also accept that someone else’s reality and experience is different. You may build a connection, but not necessarily. Regardless, you’ll show respect. 

Exchange “But” for “And”

If you are having discussions and you keep saying “yeah, but” you might actually be saying “you’re perspective isn’t worth hearing or learning more about.” I recommend changing the word to “and.” This leaves room for multiple voices and perspectives. For example, you can say, “yes and here is how I see it.” This shows that there is room for both of your perspectives. 

Exchange “You” with “I”

When we’re having discussions, especially tense ones, we tend to use the word “you” a lot. This can come across as very judgmental. When you make “I” statements, you’re just speaking about your perspective and it’s less likely that you’re judging the other person’s perspective, reality, or intentions. 

Circle Back

If you let someone down or believe you should’ve shown up better, it’s human. We all do it. It’s human to mess up. The choice we have is whether or not we circle back around and check in with the other person. When we do this, it’s vulnerable. However, you can build connection as well. 

See Who Isn’t Around You

Who is impacted by what is going on? The impact may not be that obvious. It may seem like people are fine when they’re aren’t. Reach out and again don’t assume. Check in with people. And when you forgot or you got too scared, just circle back. 

Change Agents

Being a change agent is hard. Some may decide not to be change agents at all in our culture. If your values say that you want to be a change agent, you have to understand that you can’t will change to occur overnight. This is important because many people will shame, resort to call out criticism, and shut down conversations to rush change. Instead, find out how you can be involved and influence others around you. You might not get the satisfaction of seeing the change occur. It might be real small.

A side note. Don’t fall into the trap of faux advocacy. Faux advocacy is using a social justice cause to shield your own desires for personal or professional gain. This actually makes real advocacy more difficult. If you’re engaging in a social justice cause and you’re not a part of the group who you’re advocating for, make sure that the leading voices are people who are members of those groups. You should be taking orders and not leading those groups. Otherwise, you’re likely hijacking a cause for your own personal benefit. 

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