Mixed race people are more common than ever, but that doesn’t make being mixed any easier. Discussions about the mixed experience are still relatively new.
As my mixed friend and colleague TaRessa Stovall (author of this blog and this book) said to me, we are currently cutting the path with our own hands. We have the machetes and we’re making our way through the brush.
My machete of choice, so to speak, is somatic practice.
A somatic approach to healing racialized trauma has gained tremendous popularity in recent years, but the mixed experience is still left out of the conversation. It’s a real loss for everyone, not just mixed people, to not consider the lived experience of carrying two or more lineages in and what that means for mixed people’s capacity to be “embodied”.
I’ve come to recognize embodiment for mixed people as involving a sense of freedom to be yourself without hiding or overcompensating aspects of who you are. Interested in learning more about why embodiment matters for mixed people? Check out this past blog post.
Then, when you're ready, here are the five themes I think contribute to that sense of freedom for mixed people.
It’s important for mixed people to have clarity about the context of the mixed experience. One of the first things that often happens in therapy and coaching is that I’m constantly reminding clients about the context of racialized trauma. We live in a racist world. As a result, humans have learned to see each other in an “us vs. them” light. So when people reject us, as much as it hurts, it can be helpful to remember that their rejection is a reflection of their own pain and suffering as a result of our colonial and white supremacist culture.
Additionally, understanding trauma on a nerdy level can be really normalizing for all the thoughts and feelings you have about how “weird” or “not normal” you are. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by our past experiences, especially the harmful ones. Our bodies remember these experiences and then works on a subconscious level to protect us from experiencing harm again.
Self-compassion is therefore a subtenant within clarity. As you develop clarity on the issue, you can be more and more compassionate with yourself about what you’re struggling with.
Capacity essentially means that you are strengthening the metaphorical muscles that contribute to your somatic and emotional wellbeing. Doing so can help you be more resilient in the face of rejection, racism, and other harms, and also help you feel capable of showing up in anti-racism efforts big and small.
Capacity is developed through deepening your awareness of your somatic-emotional experience. Somatic practice helps you develop what’s called ‘dual awareness.’ Dual awareness is the ability to think and feel at the same time; to notice your experience rather than feeling like you are drowning in overwhelm.
I have an E-Guide, my Foundational Somatic Skills Guide, where you can dip your toes into practicing dual awareness.
Another important piece of capacity regenerating your ability to find safety. In my work with clients, we work on identifying strategies for staying emotionally safe (or at least safe enough to take reasonable risks). That might include somatic strategies that help you feel safer, but it might also include more tangible approaches like strategizing, connecting with other people, and more.
When we face immediate threats, our choices are generally limited. We have just a few options: fight, flight, or submit. And while it’s true that the general racialized atmosphere is one of persistent threat, we can also reclaim our right to live a life actually worth living. We cannot resist racism if we don’t take breaks.
When it comes to embodiment, choice can mean carving out the space to do the things we love. If early in your life you were preoccupied with fitting in, you might not have developed your own personal hobbies, for instance. Sometimes I give clients homework to experiment with different activities.
Choice can also mean consciously choosing to release ourselves from the burdens we’ve been carrying. When we are preoccupied with staying safe or maintaining our relationships, it’s kind of like we are constantly treading water. Being able to slow down and feel sad about what’s felt hard about our lives allows emotions to move through us. Otherwise we are constantly stuck with them, and they pile up, making us have to exert even more effort to stay above the surface.
When we give ourselves space to grieve what has and hasn’t been, we can stop trying to live in a different reality. We can reparent ourselves by both validating our feelings and exploring alternative ways of interacting with the world. If you are familiar with Internal Family Systems Therapy and the process of unburdening, this is a big part of what I do with my clients.
One way that I help clients develop confidence is by exploring the big, daunting question of ‘who are you?” We do this by exploring their values, interests, hobbies, relationships and more. Then, we get comfortable with owning that these are aspects of who you are.
It’s important to remember that who you are is a dynamic thing - it doesn’t have to be a single sentence that never changes. There are layers to your identity and you are always changing. So there are many answers to this question of “who am I?”
I also like to have clients explore their ancestral roots. You might not get the cultural connection you desire from your family, but you can explore the lives of your ancestors either through resources like ancestry.com or just reading history books about cultures in your lineage.
You can also think about other places that feel like “roots” to you. I grew up dancing, and my community of peers from my dance studio often felt like home to me, for instance.
If you’re interested in this question of ‘who am I?’ I have a short and simple E-Guide that you can download and explore.
The final embodiment need of mixed people is connection. This tenant is primarily developed by actually getting out there and finding people who you feel completely comfortable with.
Somatic practice can help you develop a tolerance for the risks of putting yourself out there. One way I do that is by engaging a sense of playfulness. Play is how we take our very first risks in life: What happens when I put this block on top of that one? What do my friends do when I wear a silly Halloween costume? Some of my favorite somatic exercises are ones that engage play.
Somatics also helps you get more comfortable with the inbetween-ness of new relationships. Relationships can be hard to define. But that doesn’t mean that they are wrong or that we are wrong.
Finally, somatics is also extremely helpful at helping people develop discernment. As mixed people, making decisions can be hard if we are used to appeasing others. Discernment helps us sort out what we want in our lives and what we don’t.
If you’ve been struggling in your mixed identity, I promise you there is hope. I guide my clients in this work every day. I’d be honored to support you in your journey of feeling more embodied, more alive, and more connected. There are a few ways we can work together:
Individual Therapy: I support mixed race clients on a number of issues. I’m a trauma specialist by training, and help my clients not only reshape their lives in the face of racialized trauma, but other sources of trauma as well.
Individual Coaching: Coaching is targeted support focused on identity and belonging, and is open to anyone regardless of location.
Mindful Mixer: A free monthly event where we come together and practice mindfulness in community. A great opportunity to meet other mixed people and feel validated in your shared experiences.