How to heal from generational trauma according to experts

From slavery to economic oppression to police brutality, Black people on American soil have endured countless traumas. And so often, these traumas go unhealed and get handed down from one generation to the next. 

Article written by Alexa Spencer

for Word in Black

In a June 1 Twitter Space discussion, “Healing Black Generational Trauma,” we took a deep dive into what generational trauma looks like in the Black community and how we can heal ourselves and our families.

Our panel included therapists Aaliyah Nurideen, who works to empower Black girls and eradicate racism from social work; Brandon Jones, who specializes in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); and Dr. George James, who counsels people to overcome relationship struggles. 

Also on the panel, Bahia Overton, the executive director of Black Parent Initiative and daughter of Dr. Joy DeGruy, who invented the theory of “post-traumatic slave syndrome”; George Johnson, a mental healthcare entrepreneur and author of “Double Crossed”; and Dr. Chandra Ford, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Some of the things that we’ve said have to happen in disciplining our children are part of the ways that we have continued some of these traumas.

DR. GEORGE JAMES, LMFT

James put a spotlight on how cultural discipline practices in the Black community, like spanking or “whooping,” can negatively impact a child’s development. 

“I’m not saying that, you know, there isn’t diversity in discipline. But I’m saying, some of the things that we’ve said have to happen in disciplining our children are part of the ways that we have continued some of these traumas and are not aware of what that does to our children. How it doesn’t necessarily communicate love and kindness and warmth, and how that might even impact them in their adult life, in their romantic relationships,” he said. 

Johnson, whose memoir details how trauma within his family affected his mental health, said after those painful experiences, he sought therapy as an adult, and it changed him for the better. 

He started journaling about the generational trauma that was passed down in his family, like not showing vulnerability or talking about pain, but just pushing through it. 

It’s revolutionary to create peace where there has been none in the past.

BAHIA OVERTON, EXEC. DIR. OF BLACK PARENT INITIATIVE

“It took me to be 30 or 29-years-old to be like, ‘Yo, I’m overwhelmed.’ And now, I’m man enough to say I don’t feel weak. I don’t feel like I’m a coward. I started journaling all of this stuff, and after six or eight months with this journaling process with my therapist, I looked up and I was like, I could turn this into a book. And it’ll be some power in me to share my journey with people that look like me and people that I sound like,” he shared.   

During our segment on solutions for healing, Overton said she thinks “people need permission to be able to do things differently.” She went on to speak about the creative parenting methods her organization provides Black families, such as controlled breathing exercises to calm kids. 

“I tell everybody ‘have the juiciest face when you see your family come in. Have the juiciest face for your kid when you come home.’ That alone is an act of counterterrorism. It’s revolutionary to create peace where there has been none in the past,” she said.

Listen to the full conversation on healing Black generational trauma on our Soundcloud, and RSVP for our upcoming #WIBSpace on Reparations on June 15 at 5 p.m ET.