The Latina Struggle of Addressing Trauma La Familia Denies

The weight of invalidation from family members can be distressing for Latinas trying to navigate and confront trauma

Latinas addressing trauma

Photo: Unsplash/ Alex Green

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were ready to address the “hard stuff” but others were not on the same page as you, particularly family? It is common to find yourself in spaces where you are ready to do the work but you are met with resistance from family members who may not be ready to engage at this time. Navigating trauma within the family dynamic presents a discouraging challenge, particularly when denial is the potential response, masking the reality of our experiences. The weight of invalidation can be distressing, bringing up feelings of stress and hurt as our truth is minimized or dismissed. Gaslighting, in particular, intensifies these emotions, leaving us questioning our sanity and reality amidst the facade of familial denial.

You might be asking yourself, what is gaslighting? Well, it’s something that you might have felt throughout your life but didnt know how to name it. It could have been an uncomfortable feeling or thought that made you wonder if you were doing the right things…if you should have spoken up about your experience. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that makes you doubt your own memory and perception about events. Oftentimes, the other person begins denying that events occurred, leaving us confused and vulnerable.

Now, it’s important to recognize what gaslighting is NOT. When someone expresses a different option than you or says that you are wrong about something, that is not gaslighting. That is the person expressing their opinion and that is okay. Even lying, that is not gaslighting – it’s not okay, but it’s not gaslighting. Gaslighting is an abusive tactic and just because someone does not agree with you, does not mean they are being abusive and gaslighting you. Gaslighting is a lot more nuanced than that and that is why it can be harder to recognize. 

Some examples of gaslighting can include statement like the following: 

  • That never happened, you’re imagining things.
  • Ya vas a empezar…
  • You are being overly sensitive.
  • A ti no se te puede decir nada. 
  • You’re just trying to play the victim. 
  • Ya cállate, eso no es cierto. 
  • I never said that, you’re just remembering it wrong. 
  • Bueno…lo que tu digas (eye roll follows)
  • You’re always making things up.
  • Siempre con tus cosas. 

Do any of these things sound familiar to you? If you, you have likely experienced gaslighting.

As Latinas, we are constantly managing so much within the spaces we find ourselves in.  In some spaces we are breaking cycles of trauma while in others we are working on our own self care to feel a sense of peace. We gravitate towards people who bring us safety and we hope that we can share new messages and knowledge to our loved ones, particularly our family. 

However, it becomes increasingly challenging to feel supported and validated when our family denies our experience, when they recall traumatic experiences differently than us to avoid addressing the trauma or taking accountability for their role or lack thereof, in the situation. It’s painful to realize that while we might be ready to address traumatic incidents that we have experienced, it does not mean that others are ready and willing to listen. This too, can feel dismissive and hurtful.

As a mental health therapist and advocate for speaking up in moments of discomfort, I truly understand what it feels like when others don’t believe that your experience is important or that it even happened at all. Within my work, I see this often and what I share is that we cannot control other people, we can only control ourselves.

When we are able to see that we can only control our reaction and our experiences, when we can see that we cannot heal a whole generation of trauma, when we can come to terms with the idea that we can be okay despite others’ experience of us – that is when healing can truly begin.  

Here are some things that can help you on your own healing journey, things that can help you feel from the discomfort, the minimizing, and the gaslighting that you might have experienced when addressing trauma in your own life: 

  1. Validate your experience: if no one else will, YOU do it. Trust yourself and your perception by using positive self talk. Tell yourself that you can be okay, reminding yourself that you are doing all the right things. Be your own cheerleader. 
  2. Acknowledge the gaslighting: If you can recognize the manipulation and gaslighting that is occurring, you can call it out when you notice it in different ways as well. Be familiar with the uncomfortable and challenge it when it comes up again. While others might find it difficult to hear, you can still share what you notice. 
  3. Challenge negative beliefs: You might start feeling that your experience is not valid, that it is not important because others, particularly family, does not acknowledge the trauma you’ve experienced alone or as a collective. Use journaling to write down your thoughts, use sticky notes to remind yourself of your value and worth.
  4. Focus on healing: Aggressively keep healing at the forefront. Healing looks differently for many people so notice what you need and confidently move in that direction. It could be that you surround yourself with like-minded people or that you distance yourself from others. Whatever you need to do, it’s all for your own healing and peace of mind. 
  5. Seek professional help: when it comes to family, nothing about it is easy. Speaking to a mental health professional can help you see different perspectives while helping you find ways to navigate the uncomfortable situations that you might find yourself in. 

It is definitely a struggle when we want to have hard conversations and we are met with denial, causing us an increased amount of sadness and pain. Remember, most people think it’s easier to avoid difficult conversations and run from the past. It can be painful to talk about the past if they are not ready for it. Think about your own boundaries and keep in mind that while the conversations are not happening right now, it doesn’t  mean that they can’t happen in the future.

Practice patience and celebrate the small victories that guide you towards healing. 

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

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Families generational trauma Patricia Alvarado trauma
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