Natalie Gutierrez’s Book Addresses CPTSD & Healing Within the BIPOC Community

“You are a resilient soul” — that’s how Boricua therapist Natalie Gutierrez begins her book on the trauma and healing Black, Indigenous, People of Color  (BIPOC) face in The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color

Natalie Gutierrrez The Pain We Carry

Photos courtesy of Natalie Gutierrez/ New Harbinger

“You are a resilient soul” — that’s how Boricua therapist Natalie Gutierrez begins her book on the trauma and healing Black, Indigenous, People of Color  (BIPOC) face in The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color. The difficulties the Latinx community and communities of color face is apparent though hardly examined and less often are resources and guidance available or accessible. The book is broken up into four parts exploring trauma within the BIPOC community, toxic stress, ancestral pain and guidance, and systemic racism. Gutierrez, who comes from a family of curanderas, is the founder of mIndful Journeys Marriage and Family Therapy and is a licensed marriage and family therapist who works primarily with BIPOC. This book is a culmination in some ways of the work she’s been doing as a therapist but also the work she’s been doing in her own life.

As a Latina therapist and published author, she is raising visibility for BIPOC mental health in publishing which remains a rarity. According to Census data, Latino/a therapist make up only 7.95 percent of therapists in the U.S. and coupled with Latinx representation in publishing in the U.S. being only 6 percent. Gutierrez made sure that as much as it was a spotlight on the effects of trauma, it was also a journey toward healing for communities of color.

“This book can’t just be about all our pain, it must also be a reminder of and a journey toward healing. I wrote this book as if we were communing together, and the reader was confiding in me about their pain and wounding,” Gutierrez tells HipLatina. “[I want readers to] take their power back and pour love right back into themselves as an act of resistance.”

CPTSD has a 50 percent prevalence in mental health facilities, The Lancet, a peer-reviewed general medical journal, reported. Research finds that African American and Latinx adults may develop PTSD at higher rates than white adults, and treatment is poor due to factors including sociocultural factors and discrimination. Despite the prevalence, it’s not often talked about or written and so this opportunity is not something she took lightly.  Gutierrez been tasked by the publisher to work on a book about complex post-traumatic stress disorder and they encouraged her to “write a book that spoke to my heart,” she says. She shares that writing this book took an emotional toll on her so she called on her ancestors for guidance and was driven by raising visibility of BIPOC trauma. Writing on such heavy topics  including code switching, racism, and generational trauma, with expertise, grace, and compassion, she certainly fulfilled that mission. She devised the table of contents when initially working on the project to come up with a roadmap for what the book would cover considering the scope of the trauma she’d be focusing on.

“I had to continue to see my own pain that I was carrying while writing about our collective pain. I invited in all my life lessons, all I saw growing up in NYCHA- Baruch projects [in the Lower East Side of Manhattan], the hustle I saw happening around me, the dangers, the anxiety and depression — connected to what I know now to be Complex PTSD,” she shares. “The energy field of both pain and resilience was all around me and I channeled all the people I’ve met in my life and their lessons in this book.”

She writes that Complex PTSD within the BIPOC community is often disguised as anxiety and depression and also often misdiagnosed. In order to begin to address the disconnect between what people of color experience and how it’s perceived and treated, if at all, she begins by validating the pain writing “Your pain makes sense. You make sense.” Further adding, “Much of the Latine identity today comes from past trauma.”  These are powerful phrases that BIPOC readers don’t see in books and with her expertise, Gutierrez is approaching it not just to shine a spotlight on it, but to share how heal as often when BIPOC pain is talked about, healing is not always a part of the conversation.

“I wanted to make sure I got the point across that BIPOC aren’t crazy. That so much of their pain is connected to something much bigger than them, and how important it is to tackle and release everything that obscures them from seeing themselves fully,” she says. “I wanted to integrate a true holistic approach to healing that invites healing practices for the mind, body, spirit, and intentional-living. A reclamation of all that has been taken.”

From racism (POC are asked for “burden of proof that racism still exists”) to code-switching (resulting in loss of identity/self-rejection) to toxic stress (the constant exposure of which leads to CPTSD), she writes on these and more trauma factors while also highlighting real-life stories.  For example, when discussing a parentified child, defined as being “forced to surrender your innocence for responsibility,” she alludes to Maria “Ale” Alejandra, the 19-year-old daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who grew witnessing domestic violence in their home and would often care for her siblings. These stories are hardly talked about from a mental health lens so examining the effects of dynamics many in the Latinx community  is one step toward bridging the gap between when it comes to treatment while also chipping away at the stigma.

“I want people to get more of an understanding of their family dynamics and what has caused wounds within them that don’t necessarily originate from their family. I also want people to bring curiosity toward cultural behavior disguised as cultural norms, that at the root, stem from ancestral trauma and/or cultural burdens and abuse inherited from racist and oppressive systems.”

However, the exploration of family dynamics and how they can affect generations over time can be triggering to read and, true to form, she’s cognizant of that and provides spiritual exercises, journaling practices, and check-ins to give readers time to process and reflect. Some suggestions include a guide to building an inner child altar, a journal prompt for recognizing your unmet needs, and an aura cleansing and unburderning limpia guide.

“We can go many days without checking in with our bodies, and yet it’s such an important vessel on the healing journey, and toward resisting racism and oppression, and feeling post-traumatic growth,” she explains.

Since its release in October of last year, it’s been praised by readers and therapists alike and she shares that many have appreciated that it’s not filled with “psychobabble.”  Gutierrez shares that’s been a majority of the feedback, the authenticity and accessibility of the book which she says she wrote without code-switching but instead felt empowered to use her own voice. It’s that voice that speaks to her community at the end of the journey, reminding the reader they are not alone and to “release your burdens and travel light.”

“It was important for me to end this way because burdens weigh us down. They interfere with our ability to see and experience ourselves fully, our family, friends, and loved ones fully. Our burdens have created ripples of disconnection and rupture, and every day we walk around with this luggage,” she explains. “A luggage filled with energy, messages, and things that don’t belong to us. In the practice of releasing our burdens, of unburdening ourselves, we give them back to their rightful owners. Or we release them using the Sacred Elements- Earth, Fire, Wind, Water. At our innermost core, authentic selves, our luggage isn’t filled to the brim with internalized painful messages from families or toxic systems, we aren’t plagued with toxic stress, we are liberated. That is what I mean by traveling light. We travel toward freedom. Unburdened.”

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