Examples of Skill-Building in Positive Supports

Learning More About Historical Trauma

trauma written with black dice. White dice out of focus in background

Trauma-informed support is a practice that is meant to help people understand the widespread impact that trauma has had on people and to:

  • Teach people to become more aware of signs that trauma may be having an impact on a person
  • Understand and support pathways for recovery from trauma for people in need of support
  • Recognize signs of trauma in people around us
  • Integrate trauma-informed language and supports into an organization's policies and procedures

What is Historical Trauma?

Historical trauma refers to the emotional and psychological wounds caused by events that have impacted a group of people who share an identify and in which this trauma has disrupted traditional ways of life, cultural expression, and identity. The trauma experienced is carried across generations and manifests in a variety of harmful ways. Scientific studies have been conducted with the children in families with Holocaust survivors resulting in evidence that connects historical trauma to a change in the human body at the cellular level. These studies suggest that stressful environments can leave an imprint on future generations. Anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other mental health conditions and other negative health outcomes are associated with historical trauma (O’Connor, 2020).

Historical trauma is not just about past events that have happened to individuals and communities, it is also about what is happening now. Many individuals from marginalized communities are experiencing systemic injustices that are linked to historical trauma. These systemic issues include:

  • Social Injustice: higher rates of incarceration, legal involvement, medical maltreatment, and removal of children from their families
  • Educational Gaps: lower rates of graduation and academic success as well as higher rates of school discipline
  • Opportunity Gaps: higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment

This systemic racism reinforces past trauma that people from these communities still feel, hear about, and experience.

  • Indigenous peoples in the United States are exposed to the Thanksgiving season each year, a celebration promoted by a dominant group of Americans that reminds them of the events that led to widespread genocide of 90% of the indigenous populations in the Americas Between 1492 and 1600. More than 55 million indigenous people died due to violence and the planned introduction of new diseases to their tribes like smallpox, measles, and influenza.
  • America Indian boarding schools were introduced from the mid 17th century until mid 10th century with the goal of assimilating young indigenous peoples. During 1869 and into the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were removed from their families and placed in boarding schools run by the federal government and by churches. The trauma resulting from these boarding schools are still impacting families across the US.
  • The slavery of black Africans brought to the Americas and treated as chattel by white European settlers has had a lasting traumatic impact on the people of this country. The Civil War, Jim Crow years, and Segregation are events following slavery that have continued to result in historical trauma for black Americans. Efforts are currently being taken to prevent teaching American children about slavery and what occurred during this time period in history.
  • Japanese American Internment Camps were established by President Roosevelt during World War II. From 1942 to 1945, people of Japanese descent including Americans were incarcerated as a reaction to the war. Anti-Asian sentiment was very high during those years with continued racism existing today. This is considered one of the great atrocities of civil rights that America perpetrated on a group of people during the 20th century.
  • Holocaust survivors are people who survived the persecution and attempted annihilation of the Jewish peoples by Nazi Germany and its allies before and during World War II in Europe and North Africa. These survivors were placed in concentration camps and exposed to innumerable horrors, starvation, abuse, loss of loved ones, and property. To this day, some people are make public statements that the Holocaust did not actually occur and ant-Jewish hate and terrorism is still a significant threat to these people.

Additional information about historical trauma can be found on the Module 3 Resource Page .