I've spent the last few years working closely with adolescent girls, but primarily black girls with an enormous amount of trauma. When most people hear the word trauma, the words "sexual abuse" or "PTSD" pops up in their minds. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.
Some of these traumatic experiences I have seen my girls face were being victims of sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, being placed in the foster care or juvenile system, seeing your cousin get shot in front of your house, watching your mother overdose on your living room floor, watching your father suffer from a chronic mental illness and seeing repeated media coverages on the shootings and killings of black men by police officers.
So, what happens to our girls when they face the complexities of trauma that are not being addressed and they are left being silenced?
Well, they become resilient. While most are able to repress the memories of the trauma, some respond! Whether it's through the physical symptoms or emotional responses to the trauma. If you are like myself and love reading scholarly articles on adolescent girls, you will see one of the major issues that does not address trauma is the school to prison pipeline. When girls are dealing with trauma, sometimes they act out in school. They get into fights, become disruptive in school, promiscuous, run away, etc. Some of these negative behaviors will warrant them time spent in the juvenile system. While these behaviors may deem a girl being oppositional and defiant, it is left unspoken how her negative behaviors were impacted by a traumatic experience in her life.
Trauma-related pathology is very common among teens, but adolescents also tends to live more private lives which makes it difficult for parents to truly understand how trauma is affecting teen girls.
So, what are some signs of trauma-related symptoms our black girls are dealing with?
She may be experiencing feelings of helplessness, guilt, shame, anger, appearing to react for no apparent reason, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing, intrusive thoughts, depression, feeling on guard to protect herself, hypervigilant, combative and low self-esteem. Some of the more self-destructive behaviors that are associated to trauma she may deal with are self injurious behaviors, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, drug use and unsafe sexual practices.
So, what can we do to help black girls heal?
She heals by understanding personal safety and reclaiming her body.
She heals when you're patient with her healing journey because healing does not happen overnight.
She heals when you tell her the traumatic experience is not her fault.
She heals when she no longer experiences shame and guilt.
She heals when you build a trusting, compassionate and safe relationship with her.
She heals when you can be of support when she receives therapy. She will need you through the process.
She heals when you don't make her feel "crazy" for seeing a therapist.
She heals when you don't say "get over it, it happened a long time ago".
She heals when you help her practice self-care techniques, such as exercising, eating healthy and journaling.
She heals when she learns to practice breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation and prayer.
She heals when she is involved in academic and recreational activities to boost her self-esteem.
She heals when you affirm her daily.
She heals when you create a safe space for her to cry and not become numb to the pain she experiences.
Thanks for reading and I do plan on discussing this topic more on my blog, if you or someone you know is in need of counseling services, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a Therapist in need of resources related to trauma therapy, please email me. We are all in this together and it's time to help our black girls heal.