The recent violent events in Orlando highlight an important issue for the LGBT community. Namely, that so many in the community experience trauma, whether large or small. When triggered, it can bring up all kinds of emotions. It is important, therefore, that you talk about these feelings instead of bottling them up inside. Otherwise, they can come back to haunt you when you least expect it.
Microaggressions towards LGBT individuals Trigger Trauma
The Human Rights Campaign reports that over half of LGBT youth experience verbal harassment. These are called microaggressions, wherein you experience low-level bullying on a daily basis. Perhaps you have been a victim of microaggressions such as:
- Being ignored
- Indirect negative remarks
- Not being able to associate with others (like at a lunch table).
Over time, these slights build up and leave you feeling angry, bitter, and resentful. Because these experiences happen repeatedly, they can be traumatic and lead to a host of problems later on in life.
When microaggressions are overt, they are easier to notice. But LGBT individuals (and members of other minorities) learn to tolerate more subtle microaggressions. These include times when others make negative remarks disguised as their religious beliefs, which are often well intended. It also includes limitations to what organizations you are allowed join or places you can go. Or, It can be the discomfort expressed non-verbally by others when you refer to your significant other.
Your Constant Alertness is Traumatic
Someone once described trauma to me as a negative experience that is unexpected, overwhelming, and prolonged. Many who are LGBT express always being very aware of their surroundings. They are constantly self-conscious of expressing general behavior that may “out” them, or actual PDA.
This constant alertness is based on fear that you could be hurt by anyone else just for acting in a natural way. The feeling is prolonged and overwhelming. Folks describe it as a feeling that has always been present. Many get used to this level of alertness. In the your mind, other microaggressions may act as proof that anything could happen at any time, which refers to it being “unexpected.”
Trauma is related to high levels of anxiety and depression. Most people build a resilience to these feelings because they are so commonly experienced in the community. But an event like the Orlando shooting can trigger these feelings quickly and strongly. This triggering reveals the overwhelming and constant stress you thought you learned to live with.
Unresolved Trauma has Haunting Effects
Trauma, if left untreated, can continue to drag you down and hold you back. Unfortunately, many people use methods to cope that aren’t healthy, such as drugs or excessive alcohol. You may use distractions, like watching TV, but these coping skills don’t allow you to free yourself from the trauma.
Effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can include:
- Unwanted memories of the incident(s) that are distressing
- Feeling “numb”
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anger, outbursts, or other aggressive behavior
- Constantly being alert, ready for danger
- Problems with concentration.
You Could Experience Secondary Trauma
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) secondary trauma is defined as:
“Trauma-related stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.”
What this means is that when you read something in the paper, watch a news report, or are helping another person who has experienced a traumatic event, you too could be traumatized. You didn’t experience the traumatic incident directly, but it can still have an impact on you. Especially if you share any characteristics with the victim, like in this case, belonging to the LGBT community. We also call this vicarious trauma.
So, when you saw the news about the Orlando shooting, it might have reopened old wounds or caused new ones that you weren’t expecting. It triggered thoughts like, “What if this happened to me?” or “I knew this could happen to me!” Especially since this tragedy occurred in the one place where you would have felt safe.
You Can Move Forward
What happened at Pulse nightclub cannot be undone. We can mourn for those who died and comfort those who were wounded. However, let us also treat the wounds that aren’t apparent on the surface but are just as painful. Instead of being silent and withdrawn, you can reach out to others in our communities, regardless of their backgrounds, and begin a dialogue.
Some ideas include:
- Becoming active with your local LGBT community.
- Becoming a mentor for LGBT youth and young adults.
- Starting positive conversations through friends, co-workers, and social media.
- Follow political organizations and become active, whether this means signing petitions, calling lawmakers, or support efforts that strengthen the community.
- And on a personal basis, reach out to someone so you can heal.
You can overcome Trauma
These recent events may have brought up issues from your past that have not yet been resolved. Consider seeing a therapist trained in trauma therapy who has experience with LGBTQ issues. Together, you can find healing. You will learn new coping skills that can allow you to express yourself in a healthier way. You can get a renewed sense of happiness, freedom, and peace. Counseling is very effective in helping people get rid of stress and unwanted feelings.
Perhaps something that we can learn from this horrible tragedy is how much we struggle with pain and sadness from previous life events. When we are willing to stop and listen to others and allow them to tell their stories, we strengthen our communities and become more resilient by being open. To beat the haunting effects of trauma, the first step is to take courage and speak up. There is hope, and you don’t need to carry this heavy burden.