Floorish Newsletter ⏪ DEI & Trauma

Welcome to the eighth edition of the Floorish newsletter dedicated to providing you with insightful data, ideas and views on diversity, equity and inclusion. In this newsletter, taking no more than 3 minutes of your time, I aim to keep you informed and inspired with thought-provoking content, practical tips and inspiring stories.

In recent years, I’ve been consistently occupied with a particular query: Why do underprivileged groups sometimes support leaders whose actions seem to conflict with their own interests? For instance, why would women and ethnic minorities endorse politicians who explicitly oppose affirmative action or other corrective measures that address their long-standing discrimination?  

This blog entry delves into the potential influence of trauma on the political choices that can jeopardise the well-being of underprivileged individuals. My underlying premise is that the reenactment of trauma bears an ongoing influence on individuals who have experienced discrimination, exclusion, and other forms of social violence. 

The word ‘trauma’ derives from ancient Greek and means physical wound’. The term evolved and became relevant to psychology as it denoted a mental injury caused by highly distressing events. The effects of trauma differ between individuals due to their distinct sensitivities and the varying impact of their past experiences. Researchers use manifold categorisations to investigate trauma, spanning the distinction between single incidents versus ongoing events that may translate into complex trauma. Many of the experiences we categorise as traumatic appear to stem from systemic violence. These incidents originate from diverse sources, endure over extended periods, and have extensive manifestations.

The impact of trauma has physical, psychological, and neurobiological aspects:

  • Physical: Detrimental effects on physical health, contributing to an elevated susceptibility to conditions like cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and other stress-induced ailments.
  • Mental: A range of emotional distress, encompassing feelings of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and diminished self-confidence. These experiences can hinder the establishment of healthy interpersonal connections, foster challenges in building trust, and promote social isolation.
  • Neurobiological: Changes in brain structures and functions linked to the regulation of stress and processing of emotions.

Furthermore, intergenerational trauma may shape the family lives of underprivileged minorities. These groups are more vulnerable to experiences of exclusion, which pass down through generations and impact the well-being of descendants of those who have suffered from historical discrimination.

Among specific responses to traumatic experiences, one widespread phenomenon is reenactment. This topic is important for this newsletter because it relates to my inquiry into why some individuals from underprivileged groups choose leaders whose actions patently contradict their interests. Reenactment affects trauma survivors, who are said to relive the event or events at the heart of their mental injury repetitively. 

Individuals who had been traumatised by the violence that was inflicted upon them – by an event that was far beyond their control – may recreate their past traumatic event. For instance, those who have undergone childhood trauma may find themselves caught in recurrent abusive relationships as adults. This pattern of restaging traumatic scenarios might originate from the survivor’s unconscious attempt to understand their history or assert control over persisting unresolved trauma.

The following points offer perspectives on potential reasons, rooted in trauma, why individuals belonging to minority groups sometimes elect leaders who seem to be working against their interests.

  • Subconscious Repetition: Individuals from minority backgrounds who have experienced discrimination might feel familiar with leaders who compromise the well-being of their group. With this political endorsement, these individuals mirror the historical power dynamics they had experienced. Their political action might be an attempt to gain control over their traumatic experiences by recreating a hostile environment.
  • Validation Longing: Choosing leaders who do not support their minority group might be an attempt to seek validation and acceptance from the majority group for those who have long experienced social violence. Trauma and discrimination can lead to internalised negative beliefs about themselves. These sentiments lead them to embrace leaders who perpetuate this status quo. 
  • Strength Perception: Individuals might associate leaders who disregard the needs of minority groups with strength, authority and paternity. This leads them to gravitate towards such figures. Some may approach allegiance with hostile leaders as a form of empowerment, attempting to rise above their victim status.

By exploring the impact of trauma on political choices and societal perceptions, we unveil a deeper layer of understanding of the complex interplay between individual experiences and broader contexts. The tendency to isolate trauma within personal narratives, detached from the larger political and social landscape, limits our comprehension of its true origins and implications. Recognising the disparity in trauma experiences among different groups challenges the notion of trauma as solely a product of personal misfortune. This reframing has the potential to enrich our understanding of social dynamics and empower more inclusive approaches to healing.

Furthermore, the convergence of various therapeutic approaches underlines the collaborative nature of healing from trauma. While recognising individual strengths, these frameworks emphasise the role of collective effort and acknowledge systemic oppression as a crucial factor in addressing personal suffering. This acknowledgement reshapes how we approach trauma recovery, urging us to address not only the individual wounds but also the broader structural factors that perpetuate and exacerbate these wounds.

Ultimately, by delving into the interconnectedness of trauma, politics, and healing, we unlock insights that can foster more comprehensive and effective strategies for individuals and societies grappling with the aftermath of trauma.

I hope these insights have sparked your curiosity and I invite you to share any data, ideas or views you believe should be highlighted in future newsletters. Stay tuned for the next edition.

Warm regards,

Floor Martens

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