Collective Relational Trauma (CRT) is not passive. It is active, constant and produces various signs and effects in those who live in our modern collective status quo, in which only specific (white, CIS, heterosexual, upper middle class (or higher), able bodied) male dominance is acceptable and deemed ideal. Some of the effects of living in this status quo are:
Internalized messages and feelings of
- Not being enough with a desperate need for success and constantly striving for more and better
- Being too much (too loud, too opinionated, too masculine, too feminine, taking up too much time, space, etc) and constantly self-sensoring and self-silencing, doing your best to blend in and not be noticed.
- Shame for who you are (this includes but is not limited to being ashamed of your : body (shape, size, skin/hair/eye color); intelligence; race, ethnicity, cultural history; gender; religious beliefs; sexuality; etc)
Additionally Collective Relational Trauma can manifest as:
- Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others, including gas lighting and other psychological abuse; physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
- Looking at others as competition and threats to resources (partners, work (clients/jobs), love, respect, acceptance)
- Being overly rigid, “fragile,” and having an extreme lack of resilience (inability to be wrong or make mistakes; perfectionism)
People who have experienced and suffer from Collective Relational Trauma:
- Don’t trust themselves, their thought processes, intuition, or bodies
- Suffer frequent fight, flight, or freeze syndrome (triggered trauma response)
- allow others to have authority over them (do not question authority, follow the rules without exception even when the rules are unjust)
- Don’t claim their space in the world, physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually
- Have shame and or fear as their greatest motivator(s)
- Are isolated and has a deep sense of loneliness, of not fitting in
- Are disconnected from most aspects of their Self
- Don’t speak up or out; won’t acknowledge, or claim, their voice; often let others speak for them.
- Are “nice” and rule followers.
- Tend to suppress their uncomfortable emotions and sensations, particularly anger and grief, in part because they don’t want to “hurt anyone’s feelings” and in part because they are scared of these emotions and sensations.
- See themselves as broken and in desperate need of fixing.
- Feel they can do nothing right in this world; seek others approval and validation
- Have few, if any, deep and intimate (sexual or emotional) relationships; keeps everything at surface level out of fear of anyone truly knowing them and then being rejected; chase after conditional love
- Don’t feel comfortable in their own skin; live outside their body. Rejects aspects of themself as either “gross” or “sinful” or as a pain or hassle; hides from their Shadow side, and because of this is unable to step into their Light; doesn’t understand or feel what it is to be deeply spiritual and connected to other living beings and the ebb and flow of the universe.
Other signs and effects of Collective Relational Trauma on the individual:
- Intrusive thoughts of something bad about to happen
- Loss of memory and concentration abilities
- Mood swings
- Avoidance of activities or places that are unfamiliar in any way
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Lack of interest in previously-enjoyable activities
- Easily startled
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Chronic pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Extreme alertness; always on the lookout for warnings of potential danger
- Overwhelming fear
- Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
- Detachment from other people and emotions
- Emotional numbing
- Guilt – especially if one lived while others perished
- Emotional shock
- Panic attacks
- Judgmental of others
- Unable to be emotional vulnerable
- Unable to tolerate when others express their emotions in appropriate ways (i.e. not being abusive; grief, sadness, anger, frustration, even excessive happiness or joy)
- Disdain for people who are different from them
- Unable to relate with people who are different (race, gender identification, able-bodiedness, size, sexuality)
- Attempts to be controlling of others
- Is overly defensive when others disagree with them
- Becomes defensive and or offensive when others point out a way they have caused them harm (i.e. does not take responsibility for harm caused)
- Cannot differentiate between actual harm caused in the present and an activated trauma reaction from past experiences
- Inappropriately blames others for harm they themselves have caused
- Overly “clingy” or dismissive
Effects of Untreated Collective Relational Trauma
The long term effects of unacknowledged and unprocessed Collective Relational Trauma can infiltrate every aspect of an individual’s life. Some of the most common effects of unacknowledged and unprocessed CRT include:
- Substance abuse
- Sexual functioning problems
- Inability to maintain healthy intimate (sexual or platonic) relationships or choose appropriate people to be friends with
- Constant arguments with loved ones
- Social withdrawal
- Constant feelings of being threatened
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Impulsive behaviors
- Uncontrollable reactive thoughts
- Inability to make healthy occupational or lifestyle choices
- Dissociative symptoms
- Feelings of depression, shame, hopelessness, or despair
- Feeling ineffective
- Feeling as though one is permanently damaged
- Loss of former belief systems
- Compulsive behavioral patterns
In truth, we are affected by Collective Relational Trauma many, if not all, the ways listed above.
But we don’t have to be.
We have been trained and conditioned by the collective status quo to be disconnected from our Self and our community. We received this training from our families, our teachers, our mentors, our bosses, our friends, and strangers on the street. We have been told over and over and over again how we are not enough as we are, how we take up too much space no matter how small we are, how we are unworthy and undeserving.
We live in fear. Fear of being raped, beaten, murdered.
We carry within our very DNA the pain and trauma of our ancestors. Their rapes. Their torture. Their feelings of being less than and the dissonance, rage, and grief they each had.
We are anxious and depressed. We experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Even with all of this being true, we have the power, and frankly the responsibility, to turn this all around.
For our children and the children in our lives.
For our ancestors.
For our family, in blood and in community.
For our world.
For the greater good of the collective.
It is time to acknowledge this trauma. To process it and dislodge it from our bodies and being and the collective at large.