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Culture Creates the Context for Harm and Healing

Trauma permeates every aspect of our society.

From the personal to the collective, it is such a presence that we can’t completely avoid it. None of us are immune to trauma shaping at least some of our everyday experience.

That doesn’t have to be the whole story.

Trauma thrives on our isolation. But when we have the right support around us we can be stubborn and creative in our pursuit of living a life full of joy, pleasure, and connection.

Because when we share a vision with others we are more powerful than when we go at it alone.

How Relationships Heal Trauma

We live in a culture that teaches us to question our feelings. That, combined with the way that trauma manipulates our memory, creates a perfect Petri dish for self-doubt and shame.

But being witnessed in our suffering can validate our experience. When we’re seen in our suffering by people who love and respect us, we’re less likely to doubt our remembering of what happened.

When we have someone else there with us, it also means the burden doesn’t fall solely on us. There is someone, or others, who can help us pick ourselves up and move forward. We have resources.

Research actually shows that the impact of traumatic stress is significantly influenced by whether we feel connected to others and supported in the aftermath of our experiences. If we have a supportive person in our presence, we are less likely to develop long term symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Trauma or not, we fare better when we have strong relationships in our lives.

And beyond our one-on-one relationships, we’re also more well when we feel a sense of community. When we know there is a system of people, institutions, or resources available to help us, we can worry less about our survival and wellbeing.

Cultural Context

If relationships and community hold this much power in our recovery from trauma, this means that our wellbeing does not exist in a vacuum where only our personal choices have impact.

There is context to our wellbeing.

Culture is what creates the context for harm and healing.

Culture is the container where collective values, beliefs, rituals, and practices are drawn from and archived. It is how we set values and expectations for what community looks like and feels like and makes possible (or impossible).

In our present day context there are Big C cultures, such as the culture that most everyone reading this will recognize as the dominant institutions and ideologies that shape our everyday experiences (e.g. white supremacy, capitalism, anti-Blackness, Indigenous invisibilization, etc.).

And little c cultures meaning the cultures shaped by the micro-communities we cultivate every day amongst friends, family, neighbors, and those who share our identities or interests.

When it comes to the cultures that stem from our heritage, they might feel like a Big C or a little c culture depending on the context and circumstances.

Either way, while we can endeavor to shift the aspects of all cultures that create the context for harm or healing, we have tremendous power to shift our little c cultures towards contexts of healing and liberation.

When the Context Creates Harm

When the culture we’re steeped in creates a context of harm, our bodies are necessarily preoccupied with our protection.

When we are preoccupied with keeping ourselves safe that means we have to sacrifice other aspects of our being.

Oftentimes, that means exiling the parts of us who are most authentically us. Whether we are ashamed of them, pressured by others to tone them down, or simply too busy for them, we know that in order to survive and get our needs met we have to show up in a different way that is more palatable to others.

Because of this loss of self we are unable to connect with ourselves and we are unable to truly connect with others. As a result we are bound to an ideology where we exist in comparison to others: we deem ourselves or others good or bad or better or worse.

When the Context Creates Healing

When our culture creates a context of healing, we can be ourselves and others are free to be themselves, as long as that doesn’t harm anyone else.

This level of liberation is most possible when values are shared by community members.

While the term “community” colloquially describes a group of people connected by location, identity, or interest, community can also mean that you are in relationship with someone (or multiple someones) in a way that facilitates deep witnessing.

These relationships transcend the transactional nature or the surface level intimacy that are Big C cultural norms. These relationships aren’t just associations, they are intentional, intimate and reciprocal

I personally think this is what distinguishes being in community with someone from being in a relationship with them: cultural values that encourage us to witness and be witnessed.

Community is therefore where we can be seen in all our complexity. When the different parts of us are embraced, understood or normalized we can experience true belonging.

And when we feel as though we belong for who we are we can be free from the burden of power over. We can find meaning and purpose in things other than power and status. We can feel safe and grounded in who we are and in our relationships.


Trauma facilitates an emotional loss of identity. And when it comes to our social identities, the isolation and insecurity we experience can feel inescapable; obligatory even.

Representation isn’t a magic cure for all of our feeling different, but it is tragic to not see yourself reflected back in media, in your hometown, and especially in your family.

Here’s the thing: the isolation we feel around identity needs community.

This isn’t philosophical. We are healthier and more resilient when we have people around us who see and welcome our complexity.

We are also better members of our communities when we are well. I don’t want to bind us being healthier, more resilient beings with people-pleasing or earning our keep, but relationships and community = interdependency and reciprocity.

Radical Relationships

Ubuntu is an Nguni word that describes humanity. It essentially translates to: a person is a person through other persons.

Although the concept has gained popularity among the general population in recent years, many of us feel distant from its embodiment. In a colonized and capitalist society we have learned to be out here for ourselves and ourselves only. The context is one of harm.

Referencing the word Ubuntu brings me solace, because it reminds me that there were people - my ancestors - who had templates for radical relationships and intentional community well before the colonization of Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world.

It reminds me that even today there are opportunities to create our own cultures within our own communities. And that starts with building relationships where you can embody your identities and be your full Self.

Sure, it is somewhat of a radical concept to be your full Self when the culture you might be more rooted in relies on shame to keep you in line.

Leading from our truth is a risk, but it’s no more a risk than lying. When we begin relationships under false pretenses we are only setting ourselves up for lifelong pain and suffering.

We can only experience the pleasure and certainty of knowing we belong if we show our cards.

Exploring Our Bodies in Context

At the center of allllll this?

Bodies. Bodies experiencing pleasure and connection, or bodies experiencing suffering and disconnection.

We have identity because we live in a body. Bodies are the building blocks of communities.

Somatics is the practice of exploring our bodies in context. It is an invitation to (re)inhabit our bodies, claim our identities, and really experience connection and belonging. When we are embodied we are cultivating the open listening space necessary to witness and feel our whole experience.

My blog, workshops, and free resources are full of information to help you embody your truth (ever-evolving, it may be) and build relationships where you can be your full Self. These resources are available to anyone regardless of identity. I welcome you.

However, this task is especially difficult for those of us with mixed ancestry. Because of that my practice focuses on supporting multiracial people and interracial couples.

If you’re ready to lean into support and build relationships where you can be your full Self, schedule a consultation to work with me. I’d be honored to join you on your journey.

Photo by Monstera:

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