A common misconception is that trauma results from a life event that happens to us, such as surviving a car crash or being mugged. In reality, we can also be traumatized by our experiences as children. We can be affected by and distorted through our responses to our experiences. This could happen in any relationship with our parents, siblings, peers, or someone in authority.
When someone goes through an injustice trauma experience, it can substantially negatively impact their life. If a person experiences multiple injustices trauma events, it can leave them feeling a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
Trauma is a mental wound or injury leading to emotional distress and diminished functioning ability. Experiencing trauma can lead to severe life changes on both the physical and psychological levels. If you’ve gone through trauma, you need support, whether recent or in your past.
What Does Injustice Trauma Mean?
Injustice trauma is an injury to the self and the community caused by systemic oppression, discrimination, and injustice. It is experienced as a direct or indirect consequence of prejudice and discrimination based on one’s group identity. It results in physical, psychological, behavioral, relational, cultural, and spiritual distress. Core features of injustice trauma include:
- Perceived loss of justice (i.e., the belief that the world has become unsafe and that justice is absent)
- Perceived loss of control (i.e., the perception that one is unable to exert influence over events or one’s life circumstances)
- Social isolation from others who share similar values and experiences
- Feelings of anger related to perceived injustices
Although not always explicitly stated, many traumatic events involve some degree of injustice, including sexual assault, physical assault, bullying, domestic violence and other forms of intimate partner violence, child abuse, medical trauma, and disasters such as wars and natural disasters.
What Causes Injustice Trauma?
Injustice trauma can occur at any age and impact everyone regardless of background. Some forms of injustice trauma, however, are more common among certain groups than others because they are more vulnerable to certain forms of mistreatment, such as:
- Racism and prejudice against people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- Police brutality and violence against people who have been arrested for crimes.
- Being falsely accused, blamed, or shamed for something.
- Being unfairly criticized, disciplined, or terminated from a job.
- Being the victim of sexual harassment, assault, or domestic violence.
- Being bullied, attacked, or threatened by someone you know.
- Experiencing racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other form of prejudice.
- Experiencing road rage, assault, or battery by a stranger.
- Having your fundamental human rights violated by a public official (police officer).
- Dealing with the loss of a loved one who died while incarcerated (in police custody).
Symptoms of Injustice Trauma
Research shows that people who experience injustice trauma can develop mental health issues similar to those experienced by soldiers returning from war. The effects of injustice trauma can be divided into four categories: physical, thinking, emotional, and behavioral.
- Stomach pains
- Sleep problems
- Memory problems
- Lack of concentration
- Flashbacks, nightmares, or disturbing memories about the events
- Sadness or depression, or anxiety
- Inability to feel safe and secure in relationships with others
- Anger or irritability and aggression
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Feeling shame or guilty
- Feeling numb or detached from others
- Being easily startled
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Grief and loss
The effects above can also lead to other symptoms such as substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship issues, isolation and loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.
Types of Injustices
Injustices can be classified into direct and structural injustices. Direct injustices include physical assault, rape, homicide, and other interpersonal violence. Structural injustices are characterized by social inequalities resulting from systemic discrimination based on race/ethnicity, class, gender identity/sexual orientation, religion/faith traditions, or other social markers of difference.
The cumulative effects of structural injustices are linked to poor health outcomes such as mental illness and chronic physical conditions (e.g., heart disease). Structural inequalities are often manifested through home foreclosures, evictions, and displacement.
How to Heal From Injustice Trauma?
To overcome injustice trauma, you need to accept what has happened to you and realize that it is not your fault. You need to understand that things out of your control occur in life. This does not mean you should become passive and stop trying to improve your life, but rather that you should not blame yourself for what has happened.
Here are a few tips to help you heal from injustice trauma:
- Learn about trauma.
Understanding what happens in your brain and body when you experience injustice trauma can help you recognize when you are triggered and how to respond.
- Uncover your unique triggers.
Spend time thinking about what makes you feel most angry or frustrated. Do certain people, situations, or words set you off? Are there tough times of the day? Keep a daily journal documenting events, thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
- Cope with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
When we don’t control what is happening to us, it can make us feel depressed and anxious. Try doing things that give you a sense of empowerment, such as talking with friends about what is happening, taking part in political action, advocating for yourself at work, or volunteering for an organization that helps others suffering injustice trauma.
- Practice self-care.
Protecting your mental health is just as important as protecting your physical health during stress and uncertainty. Make time each day for activities that help you relax, like listening to music or practicing yoga or meditation. Get enough sleep at night, so your mind and body can heal from the day’s stresses.
When you’ve experienced injustice trauma, it’s easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you. But the truth is that many people who share unjust events are affected by them and suffer from many of the same symptoms.
- Give yourself time.
Don’t expect yourself to feel better right away. It took time for you to process the event and its reaction. It will take more time to work through it.
- Seek support.
Talk to a friend, family member, or counselor about what happened and how you feel about it. If you don’t have any support in your life, consider connecting with a local counseling center — or even an online support group — that can help you talk through your feelings in a safe environment.
Don’t be afraid to seek additional mental health services if needed. Injustice trauma can trigger various forms of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety disorders. In some cases, the symptoms associated with the trauma may be so severe that they interfere with daily living — which strongly indicates that professional treatment is needed.
Many people in our world have gone through or are going through an experience of injustice or trauma. If you are one of these individuals, reading this guide and being aware of the symptoms you may be experiencing could benefit your healing, depending on your particular needs.
Furthermore, there are professionals you can reach out to for professional help and a peer community actively working to support each other as they recover from their experiences. So, please seek counseling and reach out to those who can help you.