Learning More About Complex Trauma

I recently listened to a podcast by Krista Tippett in which she brought in Resmaa Menakem, a Minneapolis-based therapist and trauma specialist, to discuss the ways in which complex trauma impacts us on a cellular level. I read Resmaa’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, and immediately fell in love. This book, which is part narrative and part workbook, addresses how we all carry in our bodies the history and traumas associated with the word “race.” In this podcast there were several points made that I wanted to share, connecting it with the work that we may be doing alone or with others.

Early in the podcast Resmaa said, “When we’re talking about trauma, when we’re talking about historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, persistent institutional trauma — and personal traumas, whether that be childhood, adolescence, or adulthood — those things, when they are left constricted, you begin to be shaped around the constriction. And it is wordless. Time decontextualizes trauma.” I often see this in my own work as a therapist, specifically with clients who are carrying the trauma of those before them. It is important that we contextualize trauma – give it a name and a place in your own story so that it’s not hovering and floating around in the present. Resmaa highlights this by saying, “But if you don’t say it, then it’s not operational.” An activity I enjoy doing with clients is creating some sort of timeline of significant events and turning into the chapters of their story. Together we are able to contextualize the trauma in a way that honors its impact but leaves it in the past.

An interesting fact, that I didn’t even know myself, was that trauma and resilience can cross generations – up to 14 generations! Resmaa made the point that, “Trauma decontextualized in a person looks like personality. Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits. Trauma in a people looks like culture.” I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we talk with family and friends about the ways in which trauma impacts us as a community, as a people. Some of the most powerful conversations, as is highlighted in Resmaa’s book, occur with our elders. There is so much to learn and heal in having those difficult conversations.


If you are interested in listening to the podcast you can find the link here: https://onbeing.org/programs/resmaa-menakem-notice-the-rage-notice-the-silence/

If you are interested in learning more about Resmaa’s New York Times best-selling book you can find it here: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/34146782-my-grandmother-s-hands. It can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc..


Blog by Cody Flynn, MA
Photo by Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash