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Collective Trauma and Returning to “The Lobby”

This is painful, this is happening and we are sharing this experience. It helps to say it and maybe it’s comforting that we can look around and recognize that we are all here in this place, a place of collective and complex trauma.

So what exactly is collective trauma? According to an Dr. Molly Castelloe, an expert in group psychology-“Collective trauma means first of all, a shared experience of helplessness, disorientation, and loss among a group of people,” she explains. “The threatening event gives rise to a shared identification — despite the fact that the victimized individuals have different personalities and family backgrounds, different coping mechanisms and capacities for resilience.”

We are navigating a public health crisis and during this time many of us have been operating at a constant and moderate or perhaps even heightened level of threat. We are on an elevator moving up to hyperarousal or perhaps arriving at a destination of irritability, fearfulness and impatience. Functioning in this state isn’t sustainable for our mental, emotional and physical health. When we are operating within our window of tolerance, we are in the lobby and we are better suited to handle stressors, difficulties and pressure. We are more likely to interact well with others.

· Hyper-arousal is also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. You may feel anxious or overwhelmed and can react with angry or aggressive outbursts. It can feel as though you’re constantly on high alert to danger. You may also be battling negative intrusive thoughts and becoming super-critical of yourself. It may be difficult to rest, sleep or digest – as though feeling always ‘on’.

· Hypo-arousal is also known as the ‘freeze’ response. Here you may become disconnected from the present and withdraw or dissociate – sometimes having no memory of what’s happening. You may feel separate from your thoughts and feelings, and those around you may experience you as being shut down – as though always ‘off’.

Amid COVID-19 and not having time to reprieve and return to a more balanced place, we have been thrusted into another trauma. We are back on the elevator to hyper or hypo arousal except this time we aren’t departing from the lobby. If we are a person of color in this country, we may rarely visit the lobby and vacillate between hyper and hypo arousal from the constant daily stress of subtle and overt oppression.

How to return to your “lobby” or window of tolerance?

· Mindfulness: Stay in the here and now. Try this exercise “Watching Thoughts”

· Grounding Techniques: 54321 Technique.

5-Things you can see

4-Things you can feel

3-Things you can hear

2-Things you can touch

1-Thing you can taste

· Visualization, Seeing is Believing: Close your eyes, and imagine a place that is calm and comforting. When you arrive, engage each of your senses. Spend time in this place. Notice the smells, the sounds, the colors. Give this place as much detail as possible because by doing this, your brain will file it in a place that is easier to access next time you need to go there. When are brain believes we are safe, our body responds.

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