Calladitas No More: Healing through Shame and PTSD

Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy  & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals

Latinas PTSD shame

Photo: Pexels/Rafael Barros

Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy  & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals.

I’m a first generation Mexican-American who has grown up experiencing generational trauma. I’ve noticed how cycles of trauma and abuse play a role in how we parent our children, how we interact with loved ones and strangers, and how we view ourselves in the world. These same people, our ancestors, our immediate family members, and even ourselves often find ourselves living within the shadows, living silenced because of the fear of “el que diran.”

Shame plays such a major role in our BIPOC community mainly because of the continued stigma that is persistent and present with anything that is seen as “different” or “abnormal.” I love seeing how social media showcases openness to mental health. I love hearing my colleagues challenge tough conversations and voice their opinion. However, I can’t help but think about those that still today, live in the shadows.

Healing looks differently for all of us. Some might need alone time while others might be encouraged to be around a crowd of people. Some might hide their pain and sadness behind a smile while others may seek professional help. Whatever the circumstances, however it’s managed, all is valid so long as it makes sense for you.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, is a complex mental health condition that affects individuals from diverse backgrounds.  Trauma, whether experienced directly or vicariously, can lead to deep-rooted feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame, particularly within the BIPOC community.

As a trauma therapist for over a decade, I’ve seen and heard the extreme emotional pain that humans go through to avoid discomfort. There is an idea that if we don’t talk about things, then it will just go away and we will move on with life. With that same token, there is another idea that if we do talk about it, it will make matters worse. Many people have a maladaptive thought process that continuously keeps them in a loop. So what’s the easiest to manage? For many, it might feel like silence.

Within my experience, I’ve worked with many people who have held onto secrets for the better part of their lives. Many individuals, particularly BIPOC individuals, won’t share about the neglect they experienced or the physical violence they endured because that might put their loved one in a negative light. I’ve been honored to create a supportive therapeutic environment built on trust and this has allowed me to hear secrets for the very first time.

The question may be, how can someone feel shame about something that happened to them?

Well, sometimes we are conditioned to believe that everything is our fault, especially if we grew up with trauma and PTSD. When we don’t grow up with the openness to share thoughts and feelings, we believe that our thoughts and feelings don’t matter. As a result, traumatic experiences have the ability to shift from a survivor mentality to “asking for it” mentality. Self-hatred, blame, and shame are part of the core beliefs present, hindering the healing from PTSD.

Noticing shame due to your trauma? Give yourself grace.  Trauma alone is difficult to work through and adding shame to it can make it even more challenging.

Here are some coping strategies that can help you as you begin exploring shame and how it presents itself within the spaces you find yourself in:

Think about your support system:

Surround yourself with a diverse support network that validates your experiences and offers understanding.  Connecting with individuals who share similar backgrounds can foster a sense of community and empowerment.

Engaging in Self-Care:

Prioritize self-care activities that promote healing and resilience. This can include mindfulness exercises, creative outlets, physical activity, journaling, and seeking moments of solitude for continued reflection. You may notice that small things can create such an impact in how you feel.

Read and Reflect:

Allow yourself to continue learning about yourself through books and articles that discuss shame and PTSD. Pick up a workbook that focuses on healing. While it’s not a substitute for therapy, it can give you insight on how you feel. A favorite for me is called The Courage to Heal by Laura Davis.

Seeking Culturally Competent Therapy:

Find therapists who are knowledgeable about the intersectionality of your identities and have an understanding of the specific challenges faced by BIPOC individuals. Culturally competent therapists who are trauma informed can create safe spaces for processing trauma. Finding someone who has experience with trauma and PTSD will allow you to feel heard, validated, and seen. They will have the ability to work through layers of trauma and provide practice tools to help you on your healing journey.

There are many types of therapy that can help you work through PTSD including Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Brainspotting, and Exposure Therapy, to name a few.  You can learn more about different types of therapy options here to understand what makes the most sense for you.

While you may have noticed that some parts of you are living within the shadows unhealed, I encourage you to lean into the discomfort. Now is the time to work through the shame and heal PTSD. You have the power and you have the control.

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