Sigh. Here we go again. Writing yet another article about police-on-Black violence in America. I know there are some that don’t get it; that in and of itself is part of the trauma and injury. This type of existence does something to the psyche. It does something to be Black and see story after story of law abiding, unarmed, non-threatening Black man, woman, or child be shot dead for reason unknown. Better yet, for no reason. It does something. It does something for a mother to fear when her child leaves the house. It does something for a woman to fear being pulled over — a ticket being the least of her worries. It causes a pain, a wound, a psychological injury that is trauma. And the trauma is real.
Psychological trauma, like every good trauma, manifests at some point. At some point it just becomes too much to contain for even the most well-adapted individual. We saw that with our own Sheryl Underwood as she went from subdued, controlled anger to an ire-filled, escalating outrage that ended in tears. I applaud her for allowing herself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the beginning of healing. Admittedly, for the vulnerable to be vulnerable is indeed, paradoxical. So what do we as a community do to heal?
- We must tune out: The continuous stream of information via visual, social, audio and print media allows for constant exposure to the traumatic incident. This is countertherapeutic and indeed, only serves to deepen the intensity of the trauma and prolong healing. Tune out from media imagery and updates and allow your brain the opportunity to process and make sense of all of this.
- We must come together: We are a communal people, and part of the healing experience must include leveraging this cultural strength. Attend an organized community gathering at a local church, university, precinct, etc. where there are mental health professionals who can normalize the emotions (and symptoms) that many are feeling, impart information on how to cope, how to talk to our children, and to help ameliorate this suffering. We need these gatherings to be safe places; not forums for venting (though venting can be cathartic and healing in the right environment). Trained clinicians can help to set parameters and boundaries during these small, community events.
- We must recognize the real enemy: We must recognize the real enemy, and place blame on the real perpetrator. The real enemy is the racism, bigotry, and hatred that has been brewing for quite some time. That is the real enemy. That must be the target. We must not blame police, or target them as the easy objects for which to displace our anger. And those of us who are community leaders must communicate this message loudly and clearly.
- We must deal with the emotions: There will be many emotions that have, and will continue to come up. These are indicators of the individual and collective trauma that many have. Anger, sadness, hopelessness, apathy, rage, depression — these are all normal feelings to have. But they must be dealt with. As with any uncomfortable (or frankly painful) feeling, the tendency is to want to avoid it. Avoidance will not be your friend in this context. Resist the urge to numb your feelings using substances, sleep, sex, or anything else that can be used to distract yourself from your thoughts and feelings. In fact, if you feel yourself running to a numbing agent, let that be a hint that you might really need assistance with your feelings, or possibly with an addiction. Deal with the emotions. And deal with them adaptively.
- We must talk. Talk is therapy: Allowing yourself to talk openly with your trusted person, your group(s) of friends, your confidantes, and/or your therapist can be cathartic. Given the recurrence of this type of event in recent times, I really do recommend therapy — especially for those who are the most emotionally vulnerable or susceptible to trauma. This category includes those with histories of trauma (veterans, abuse survivors, etc.), those experiencing prolonged sleep difficulties and/or nightmares, those exhibiting behavioral acting out, and/or those whose feelings are just overwhelming. Many communities, churches, and perhaps even mental health centers are offering therapy, and many private practitioners offer reduced rate or pro bono services. Research these in your locality, and you can also look for therapists on your health insurer’s web site. Last, you can contact your state psychological association via its web site for referrals.
- We must do something: My mantra has always been that playing a very active role and busying oneself with positive, philanthropic activity is in and of itself, healing. Volunteer at the community center; coach a team, be a mentor. Pour into others — especially our children who so need us now. Keep them busy, engaged, and safely off of the streets. Get involved in your community. It will be healing both for you and for them.
- And what about the children? Our children, with their undeveloped minds and inability to comprehend such complexities, are likely dealing with fears that we can only fathom. After all, they see that we have no answer to this problem. And they may feel that there are instances when not even we can keep them safe. (And to a child, when Mommy and Daddy cannot guarantee your safety, you’re in BIG TROUBLE)! Our children have seen many examples where the same police whom we have taught them to go to in times of trouble, are the very ones who have harmed innocent citizens. How can we help our kids? Of course much of this really does depend upon their ages and maturity levels. You as parents and caregivers will have to gauge how much your children can handle. So take your cues from your children, first by listening to them. Keep an open ear for what they say spontaneously, and respond accordingly. You want to balance truth and reality with safety, reassurance and offering a solution: our kids always look to us for that. Next, look for behavioral changes in them. Acting out, irritability, bedwetting, nightmares, academic issues — these (and other previously unseen behaviors), could all be manifestations of acute trauma and fear. Talk openly with them about how complicated this situation is even for grown-ups, and that you don’t have all the answers. Importantly, reassure them that not all police officers are bad. In fact, assure them that most are not. And that violence is not the answer, nor is looting, racial hatred or mistreatment. When we act in those ways, we only perpetuate the problem. Use this as a teaching moment, and model the responses you give your children for your children. Last, don’t feel like you need to have all of the answers. There are many resources and professionals out there to assist you.
These are difficult times, and this is a most difficult situation. No one has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this wretched place. All we can do is to try to cope the best we can, reach out for help when we cannot, and look out for those that we know are struggling. It is my hope that I will never again have to write this type of article. The logical me says, ‘fat chance,’ and cautions me to keep the laptop charged. But I am an eternal optimist. In the end, I will always choose hope. For there is always hope.
The Good Dr. Nik
Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and Facebook and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net
*This article was re-Tweeted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans #AfAmEducation on 23 September 2016.