12 Feb

What is Racial Trauma and How to Practice Radical Self-Care

Dr. Charles Muorah has successfully helped clients resolve sexual abuse trauma, cultural, racial and other kinds of trauma. He uses narrative approach to process with the client coping strategies, adaptation and resiliency before, during and after the experience.

Racism generates a lot of tension, stress, other intense emotions and trauma. The discussion itself can be traumatic to some people. For this reason it is necessary to create a safe forum to discuss racial trauma and how it affects us physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually.

Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. It is like stoning someone to death with peanuts and offering them a sip of water from time to time. At first it may seem harmless, but the venom penetrates under your skin like a snake bite.

With time, continuous tiny drops of water make a hole on a marble floor. Similarly, racial trauma wears on us over time. It is not just a one-time incident; it is the accumulation of  experiences.


As a person of color and an immigrant, I have experienced numerous racial traumas in different settings. My own awareness and clinical sense inform me that the traumatic racial experience and pain can be as intense as that of a person who withstands physical attack or abuse.

Victims of racial trauma bear invisible emotional and cognitive wounds, bodily pain, and fractured bones of the soul. As we support other victims of trauma, we should do the same for those with racial trauma.

Mind-Body Connection

Racial trauma may not directly cause bodily harm, but for the victim it is a psycho-physical experience. The body remembers! And the mind stores the memory. I encourage you to be courageous: the body has enormous capacity for healing.

Racially traumatic events, stress, and post traumatic stress traumatize both the body and the mind triggering batteries of emotions. Each emotion is expressed in a different part of the body and has its own manner in which it is manifested physically. They serve as “signposts to hot spots” (McNeilly, 2000, P. 53) in the psyche directing attention to possible actions. They offer cues to possible areas of engagement with the racially traumatized to influence desirable change within the person’s life context and wellness.

James Zullo explains what happens when feelings are not outwardly expressed:

“We think about our feelings and get migraine and headaches;

We swallow our feelings and get ulcers;

We carry the weight of our feelings and get back pain;

We sit on our feelings and get hemorrhoids”

(Whitehead, E. & Whitehead, J., 2010, p. 13).


Some Footprints of Racial Trauma

  • Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and jumpiness
  • Impairment at work/school and everyday activity
  • Low self-esteem, self-concept and self-confidence
  • Powerlessness, helplessness, fear, hopelessness, feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Shame, self-blame, guilt, and rejection
  • Feelings of humiliation, worthlessness, and confused sense of self
  • Outbursts of anger, sadness, and difficulty concentrating
  • Hyper vigilance, feeling alienated and alone
  • Generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Bodily ache, pain, and fatigue
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • (Increased) substance abuse and binge eating


Race-related trauma victims may respond with disbelief, shock, or dissociation, which can inhibit their ability to respond to the incident in a healthy manner.

Radical Self-Care: Recovery and Wellness Tips


Respect and how to safely narrate your story

Racism and its trauma devalue your personhood. Respecting your sacred space, creating a safe environment, empathic and emotional listening, tapping into your inner resources (such as strength, values and spirituality) and the people you trust will help reestablish your trust system and sense of worthiness. Seek support and help from family members and friends. Timely psychotherapy helps racial trauma victims to restore the protective function of fear and restore trust.


Short-term and long-term self-care

Individual experiences and needs are different. Honor your experiences and needs. Bearing in mind the totality of your wellbeing, action plans and tools to work with, your immediate and long-term needs would be developed based on your needs, resources, ability and capacity.

Racism directly attacks your identity, sense of worthiness, and human dignity. It is important to manage and maintain healthy distance between you and toxic people or environments. Empathy, non-judgment, and empowering language will help to reaffirm who you are.


Identify and outwardly express your emotions and feelings

Racial trauma has left you emotionally convoluted. Working with a therapist or counselor will help you learn how to acknowledge and befriend these emotions. As your efforts progress, you realize that these frightened arousals are not enemies after all. You have a great potential to transform painful emotions and establish a healthy self-care routine.


Anger management

Your anger tells you that something unacceptable has happened to you and you need to protect yourself. Addressing and working through racial trauma will help you to learn how to identify your anger style and triggers, the context of your anger and behaviors, and how to use your anger in a healthy and productive manner.


Healthy life style, attitudes and behaviors

This means establishing healthy habits around things like food, sleep, sex, relationships, work, medical needs, hobbies and socializing. A therapist will work with you to develop healthy habits using cognitive behavioral therapy tools.


Relaxation exercise

 Relieving stress will reduce other physical symptoms and improve one’s quality of life. Some helpful relaxation techniques are: deep breathing, body scan meditation, mindfulness mediation, prayer, yoga and similar exercises, guided imagery and visualization.


About the author, Charles C. Muorah, PhD, STL, LMFT

Dr. Muorah has successfully helped clients resolve sexual abuse trauma, cultural, racial and other kinds of trauma. He uses narrative approach to process with the client coping strategies, adaptation and resiliency before, during and after the experience. Relying on the client’s own word, empathizing and using empowering language he disposes the client to create a new meaning from the traumatic experience and reconstruct one’s life the way one would like it to be. This provides a new foundation for establishing a long-term self-care system. He uses psychotherapy to empower the racially traumatized to realize that one’s life is bigger than the racial traumatic event.

Dr. Muorah practices at our Voorhees and Lawrenceville, New Jersey offices. Request an appointment today.



Chou, T., Asnaani, A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2012). Perception of Racial Discrimination and Psychopathology Across Three U.S. Ethnic Minority Groups. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 18(1), 74-81.

Goldenberg, J. & Hollander-Goldfein, B. (2012). Resilience After Prolonged Trauma. An Integrated Framework, in Hollander_Goldfein, B., Isserman, N., & Goldenberg, J., Transcending Trauma, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, New York, pp. 13-35.

McNeilly, R. (2000). Healing the Whole Person, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

Rothschild, B. (2000). The Psyhophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, New York, W. W. Norton & Company.

Whitehead, E. & Whitehead, J. (2010).  Transforming Our Painful Emotions. Spiritual Resources in Anger, Shame, Grief, Fear, and Loneliness, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.

Williams, M. (Sep 06, 2015). Assessed January 6, 2018. The Link Between Racism and PTSD.


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