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Understanding Historical Trauma


Collective and cumulative emotional wounding across generations that results from massive devastating events; these devastating events not only targeted individuals but collective communities. The trauma from these events is not held personally but rather transmitted across generations.


Populations that have historically been subjected to long-term extensive trauma such as colonialism, slavery, war, forced relocation or genocide tend to exhibit cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that are carried across generations.

Three Phases 

Phase 1:

A dominant culture perpetuates

a mass trauma on a population

The original population responds

Phase 2:

Initial responses to trauma are conveyed

to successive generations including

societal inequities 

Phase 3:

How Historical Trauma is Perpetuated Today

Historical trauma is perpetuated today through societal inequities that have been perpetuated. This includes both oppression and privilege being upheld in our society. Oppression, which is defined as an unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power, refers to the notion of an individual or group being confined by persistent, discriminatory barriers which are supported at a systemic and societal level. These barriers include major disparities in health outcomes, education, housing, wealth, the workforce, law enforcement encounters, incarceration and more. 

These systems of oppression are associated and maintained by privilege, which is defined as an unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity.  

Currently, various instances of present-day discrimination can be seen through both overt and covert microaggressions, stereotypes, identity profiling, discriminatory policies and more. This has the potential to ignite historical trauma alongside retraumatization. 

How to Address Historical Trauma

The first step on addressing historical trauma is to acknowledge that it is real, and that is causes significant negative psychological effects on members of a culture. These effects include but are not limited to intergenerational PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and extensive physical and psychological health issues. Historical trauma can be passed down from generation to generation.  

Healing historical trauma is not easy. Some ways to start the process is through culture and connection. Finding community in cultural pride and connecting people to the beauty of their culture. Conversation addressing the pain of cultural trauma is a powerful way of healing with a community. In addressing historical trauma, it is important to use culture-informed treatment, and allowing individuals a voice to express their story. 

Having discussions with communities who experience historical trauma is a powerful tool in addressing the issue. Giving members of oppressed communities a platform to express how their mental and health needs can be met. Allow them to tell their stories.  

Finally, truly listening and attuning to the stories of oppressed communities, hearing and responding to their expressed needs can help address historical trauma. Once these needs have been heard, the next step is to build partnerships and relationships less privileged communities, conduct research and create or reform policies to help these communities meet their needs.


**We are not affiliated with the resources below but we have obtained permission to share these resources with the public**

  1. Meditators Beyond Borders International provides a list of some available anti-racism resources in the forms of podcasts, books, organizations and resources for children: 

  2. The University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems has compiled resources on a variety of topics that can help to understand racism and anti-Blackness in the United States:

  3. Mental Health America is a nationwide community-based nonprofit that aims to promote mental health, prevention services, and interventions to address the needs of those living with mental illness:

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