Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Embrace the Opportunity to Make Bold Choices

First, I want to say that I feel completely broken-hearted at the ongoing loss of life due to the cycles of violence we seem to be trapped in as a human race. It feels like a tide of violence and rage that just rises and rises and never recedes. I send my care and condolences to all of those across our communities (both local and global) that are suffering from the loss of loved ones, feeling unsafe, and/or are threatened with violence at this moment in time.

May we all be safe. In order to see this tide ebb, we are in need of collective healing. But that cannot happen until we all honestly face the traumas we are all holding. I think it is important for us all to understand what is happening on the level of individual and collective experience so that we are all able to start to heal ourselves as individuals and as a global community. I honestly believe that this is the only way to find true peace for all. I hope to help us explore this in this blog.


Please don’t re-traumatize yourself with this newsletter/blog. If reading about trauma feels like too much, please respect that instinct and jump past the discussion of trauma to the suggestions for healing.


What is it that creates the cycles of repeated trauma and violence in our communities and between nations?

I believe that trauma is an underlying factor that plays a role in perpetuating violence and harm both at the individual level and at the level of societies and systems. I think we are usually most familiar with how trauma works on an individual level. We can understand that individuals who have experienced trauma may be more prone to resorting to violence as a way of coping or as a learned response. For example, individuals who have been exposed

to violence might develop a belief that violence is an acceptable or necessary means to resolve conflicts, perpetuating a cycle of aggression.

But this is also true of whole groups, communities, and societies. When trauma is widespread within a community or society, the collective experience of distress and emotional suffering can amplify tensions and contribute to a culture of aggression and conflict. This then becomes a norm and is passed down from generation to generation. We inherit the traumas of our ancestors if they are never healed. Here are a few terms to consider.

Historical/Transgenerational Trauma:

Historical trauma refers to the long-lasting and often transgenerational psychological and emotional effects of traumatic events experienced by a particular group in the past. These events can include colonization, forced migration, war, slavery, genocide, and other systemic injustices. Global conflicts also often result in long-lasting trauma that can be passed down through generations. This transgenerational trauma can affect the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities, impacting future generations. There is no area of our globe where people have not experienced some of this over time.

My own father and grandparents escaped Europe just after WW2 because their village (in Italy) had been leveled and there was no food. It might be interesting for you to explore why and how your family came to live here. In many cases, it involved trauma. Maybe your family’s trauma is as recent as mine, or maybe it is further back but the bottom line is that we have inherited some of the impact. We now know through research in the field of epigenetics and intergenerational trauma that trauma can lead to genetic changes that are passed on to subsequent generations. So this is not just behavioral – it is cellular.

Community Trauma:

Community trauma refers to the psychological and emotional impact of traumatic events experienced by a specific community or group. These events can be recent or ongoing and may be caused by natural disasters, violence, discrimination, or other crises.  When trauma is widespread within a community, the collective experience of distress and emotional suffering can amplify tensions and contribute to a culture of aggression and conflict.

We are currently all coming out of the collective trauma and isolation of the COVID pandemic.  Ecological devastation and disasters are also becoming more prevalent in our communities, as are mass shootings. Each of these types of events can add to our overall overwhelm and creates more trauma for our bodies and minds to hold and handle.

Just as historical trauma, community trauma can also be passed on and spread if it is not healed.

Impact & Expression of Trauma:

On the societal level, trauma can contribute to cycles of violence. Trauma can also be exploited for political gain. Political actors might use the trauma experienced by communities to stoke divisions, perpetuate conflicts, or further their own agendas. Individuals who have experienced trauma might be more susceptible to being involved in or perpetuating violence themselves, continuing a cycle of conflict.

On the individual level, when we are victims of trauma we experience two roles – that of the victim and that of the perpetrator. This is where we see that “hurt people, hurt people.” Resmaa Menakem explains, “Most of us think of trauma as something that occurs in an individual body, like a toothache or a broken arm. But trauma also routinely spreads between bodies, like a contagious disease. …someone with unhealed trauma… may try to soothe his or her trauma by blowing it through another person—using violence, rage, coercion, deception, betrayal, or emotional abuse. This never heals trauma” (R. Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands). Passing trauma off on others also happens with whole groups inflicting (and perpetuating) their trauma on other groups. This might show up as a dysfunctional family or as a culture of hate that is propagated--as we have seen in or own country’s laws that have at various times targeted specific ethnic and racial minorities.

How then do we all heal from so much ubiquitous trauma?

On the societal level, breaking the cycles of violence stemming from trauma involves comprehensive interventions. These include taking a public health approach by providing widespread mental health support, education, community healing initiatives, peace-building efforts, and the establishment of sustainable peace and conflict resolution mechanisms. Additionally, teaching social and emotional regulation skills and creating environments that promote non-violent conflict resolution are crucial in preventing the perpetuation of violence due to trauma. This is our work at Awaken Pittsburgh. But each one of us can be advocates of legislation and funding for these types of interventions. Find your PA state legislators or US officials and let them know your thoughts. 

Although I think working for societal level change is important, I also think that the most important thing we can do is work to heal ourselves. I recently attended Somatic Abolitionist training by Resmaa Menakem, whose work has influenced me a lot. Resmaa works to explain and heal historical, intergenerational and community trauma. I can’t help but turn to him and his work in this time of heightened violence in our own country and in so many places around the world. 

One of the chapter titles in Resmaa’s book is “Changing The World Begins With Your Body.” This is the whole approach that we take here at Awaken Pittsburgh. Each one of us has the responsibility to heal our own traumas so that we don’t continue to perpetrate it on others and in this way we can stop the cycle and transmission of trauma. This can only be done through embodied practices.

In the words of trauma healer Bessel A. van der Kolk, “The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths: (1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being; (2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning; (3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving, and touching; and (4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive” (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma). 

In addition, when we are self-regulated and have a settled nervous system, it is also contagious—we can help to settle those around us through co-regulation. We each have a responsibility to be on this journey of healing so that we can stop the cycles of violence and re-traumatization.

What can each one of us do to promote our own healing?

Everyone’s healing journey is unique, and there is no one single way to start that journey.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Relentless self-care is a great way to get started – prioritize the basics like healthy eating, exercise, getting enough sleep, and whatever supports your

overall health and well-being.

  • Seek out connection and support – this might be therapy, groups of like-minded friends, a spiritual home, or family. Being with those we trust helps us feel connected and understood.
  • Learn about trauma symptoms – This can help normalize your experiences, but it might also help you recognize your triggers and symptoms, which can help you stop potential harmful reactivity and re-enacting trauma on others. This might require work with a therapist.
  • Set healthy boundaries to protect yourself from further harm and re-traumatization – again, get help to do this, if you need it!
  • Foster a culture of empathy, understanding, and compassion in your family, workplace, and other groups you belong to. Help to break the cycles of hate and harm when you are able.
  • “Nibble don’t gorge.” Resmaa explains that when we realize that there is a trauma we need to deal with, we sometimes want to jump feet first into the deep end with it. However, we can only hold our traumas (past, current, or generational) in bite-size pieces and stay regulated. So, just nibble and resource yourself [smr1] if you start to feel overwhelmed.
  • Don’t expect perfection. Healing is a life-long journey. It will not include progress in a straight lineup, but instead will be bumpy and involve backsliding. The important thing is to keep at it and, over time, train our nervous systems to be able to experience both the pain and the beauty of our lives with the hope of passing healing on to our children and their children and their children…
  • Seek solace in nature. Spending time in a forest, looking out at a body of water, or even watching the sun rise or set can help us settle our nervous systems and increase our mental health. Forest bathing has also been shown to help us heal.
  • Mindfulness and meditation practices can help you manage stress and anxiety, settling your nervous system. Mindfulness can also help you become more aware of your emotional and physical responses to trauma. Check out our current offerings to see if there is one that feels right for you.

The good news is that, just as trauma is passed on through generations, so too are well-being, health, resources, and healing. We can all work to stop the cycles

of violence and intergenerational trauma right here and now. See below for some resources to support you in your healing journey.

Resources:

Sometimes we really need the help and support of a professional to heal. Here are some places you can turn for support:


  • You can find education programs and support groups at your local NAMI. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org if you have any questions about PTSD or want help finding support and resources. Nami.org has lots of other resources.

  • If you want to explore mindfulness or meditation, here at Awaken Pittsburgh we are offering many open programs, drop in meditation sessions that promote healing, empathy and healing. Here is one practice that might help.



  • Contacting 988 (you can either call or text) will connect individuals to 24/7 free and confidential support if they are in distress or in need of prevention and crisis resources for themselves or a loved one.


  • If you or someone else is experiencing domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7. Languages: English, Spanish and 200+ through interpretation service at: 800-799-7233.

If you want to explore mindfulness or meditation, here at Awaken Pittsburgh we are offering many open programs, drop in meditation sessions that promote healing, empathy and healing. Here is a practice that might help.

“Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiples hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love.)

Let us all work to break the cycles of trauma with our generation. 

May all beings be safe.

May all beings be happy.

May all beings be healthy.

May all beings find peace.

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