Responding to and Moving Through our Collective Trauma

(Originally published Nov 17, 2016)


Collective Trauma is a blow or tear to “the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairing the prevailing sense of community.” For many of us Election Day was a deep tearing of the fabric that we imagined bound us together as Americans.

It will be so important in the days, weeks, months and years ahead to respond to and MOVE THROUGH the waves of emotions stemming from the collective trauma so we don’t get stuck in an emotional quagmire and become less effective in the fight for justice. And we know how to do that now better then we ever have before. Here is the briefest possible way to tell you how to do it.

The nervous system has three responses to trauma. The first, the middle path and the desirable response, happens in what we call the “optimal arousal zone” “place of connection” which allows us to stay connected to others while being able to move through whatever emotions are happening to us at the time.

The second response goes up into the zone of hyper-arousal where the nervous system gets activated. This is where we end up feeling anxious, angry, hyper-vigilant or overly reactive. And third, is when the nervous system drops down into the zone of hypo-arousal. This is the place where we dissociate from life and “check-out”, and also the place of depression, despair and hopelessness.

Staying deeply connected to others is the most effective way to stay in the middle zone and will significantly help us MOVE THROUGH our emotions, which is so much better then getting stuck in or denying them, and helps us stay resilient for the road ahead. If we get stuck in either hyper or hypo arousal it literally diminishes our capacity to think clearly and be in connected relationship with others. And over time you pay an increasingly high price for being in those places. Our breathing and spiritual practices help our nervous systems stay regulated and helps us have the capacity for connection, but they are not enough.

And that is because collective trauma cannot be dealt with alone. It needs a collective response. Sometimes that means two people, sometimes 22, sometimes many, many more. Together we not only can bear the unbearable but also helps us be able to respond to it in the most effective way possible. We want to be passionate and fierce in standing up for human rights for all people, and we do not want to become hardhearted and angry. They we become like those we are opposing.

And we must know when to turn off social media and our news feeds, when to rest and sleep, and especially when to bath yourself in places of beauty. Please listen to your favorite music, often, walk in nature, listen to children laugh, laugh with children, and go to museums, art performances, and support all of the activist artists that are trying to help us keep moving though our trauma so we can stay involved. And do this with others as much as possible. This not only can sooth and help heal our aching hearts but also keeps emotions moving through us and inspires hope that a better future is possible.

We can, and must, make a difference.


Facebook post, November 17, 2016