Transforming Trauma Episode 015: Post-Traumatic Growth in Communities of Color and NARM in the Classroom with Giancarlo Simpson
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Transforming Trauma host Sarah Buino and guest Giancarlo A. Simpson, MS, reconnect in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the nationwide protests against racial violence and systemic oppression, providing real-time context to their previously-recorded conversation about NARM’s ability to address complex trauma and support post-traumatic growth in communities of color.
Giancarlo shares with listeners that now is the time to look inward, to be vulnerable, to listen to others, to address our internal biases, and to actively work to be anti-racist. In their discussion both Giancarlo and Sarah provide resources on Anti-Racist learning, which are avaialble in this online guide.
Recounting stories from his work as a therapist, mentor, and teacher of teens and young adults, Giancarlo centers the discussion on the corrosive effects of complex trauma, specifically within the Black community. “The system in itself needs to shift in order for people to feel comfortable about who they are as individuals, because right now what the system itself is telling people, communicating to people, is that you are not good enough, and that in itself is reinforcing a lot of thinking, a lot of behavior that occurs in these environments and communities, and makes it very hard for us to get out of that, because we don’t have enough individuals telling us otherwise, or showing us otherwise.” Giancarlo shares the ways he has begun using the NeuroAffective Relational Model, particularly in classrooms, to shift this implicit learning and the long-term effects of complex trauma, which includes the under-recognized impact of cultural, intergenerational, and racial trauma.
Communities of color in America, particularly the African American communities that Giancarlo works in, are faced with a legacy of severe and ongoing complex trauma. From his work with children within these communities, Giancarlo shares, “A lot of these personal experiences in these kids’ lives have really conditioned them to feel uncomfortable opening up to people, and being open and honest with themselves at times.”Sarah and Giancarlo explore the trickle down effect of complex trauma and how it can show up in the classroom. They discuss the innovative ways Giancarlo is incorporating NARM in the classroom, creating safe spaces for BIPOC to experience vulnerability and regain their agency.
Sarah and Giancarlo discuss how early and prolonged exposure to complex trauma leads individuals to develop survival strategies. While these survival strategies allow people to manage in the face of trauma, it comes at a significant cost. Giancarlo explains, “When we think about survival patterns, it's basically anything that we do to maintain a sense of balance and homeostasis for ourselves.” Oftentimes, a person’s capacity for vulnerability can become eclipsed by their survival strategies. But vulnerability is a pathway to authenticity, and ultimately long-term health and success. Giancarlo talks about the healing power in vulnerability, when kids can say, “I’m OK with opening up and acknowledging the things that have hurt me and that now are hurting others”. He supports youth in working through shame and guilt, recognizing that most of these kids have not received consistent connection from their environments, and have experienced adults in their lives who are not aware or even interested in what’s going on emotionally for the child. Instead, these adults, the child’s teachers, parents, and other adults, focus on the child’s behaviors. In NARM, a person’s behaviors are viewed as their survival strategies developed in response to early trauma.
As Giancarlo explores the role vulnerability can play in healing complex trauma, specifically with BIPOC, he demonstrates for his students what it looks like to be vulnerable, which gives space for their own vulnerability. As Giancarlo shares, he focuses on helping children in “being authentic, finding out what that really even looks like for you right now, and finding out the things that are stopping you from being the best version of yourself.”
Sarah asks what post-traumatic growth looks like in places where the trauma never stops. Giancarlo reminds us that there are systems in place that enable these traumas to continue. He shares that his students of color are “navigating not only a tough environment, but also navigating through a culture and a system that has told you, over and over again, that you are either less than, or have to work twice as hard to get where others are.” Giancarlo identifies this as pressure a person puts on themselves just to feel like they are enough. He also speaks to the power of coming together to speak out against a system that consistently places one group of people above another. This power imbalance leads to identities around superiority and inferiority. This can lead to those in the superiority position, which in the American culture is white Americans, to not recognize their implicit bias, and feel threatened when it is challenged.
This conversation leads to what is referred to as “white fragility”, which is the difficulty that many white people have in engaging in honest conversations about systemic racism. “What’s normal is comfortable for us… in order for us to change as a culture or as a society, or even as ourselves, we have to really be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Giancarlo reframes the current nationwide protests against racial violence and systemic oppression as protests against needs not being met for Black Americans. Communities are coming together to communicate about environmental changes needed in response to centuries of oppression and violence. Instead of using old stereotypes like “angry black man” and “angry black woman”, which shut down expression of authentic experience and make people feel bad for feeling, it is time for our culture to listen to and respect people’s experiences. Giancarlo suggests that our culture needs to do better in understanding the root causes for why the anger is occurring, instead of just focusing on behaviors – the outbursts, outcries, protests, violence, etc. All Americans need to listen to Black Americans, and not continue “minimizing the reasons why we feel the way we do, why we’re hurting, why we’re upset, what we’re lacking, the things we’re not receiving at the most basic human level.” While this discussion can make some uncomfortable, it is essential for transforming trauma and leading to a more just, humane and healthy society for us all.
Giancarlo Simpson is a mental health professional currently working with couples, families, and young boys in Urban Communities. He sees the family as an emotional system, where individuals learn to “survive” and function within it. He is an advocate for marginalized groups and is dedicated to education both in the classroom and therapy room.