Issue 18: We can all break the cycle of shame and trauma
On overcoming intergenerational trauma, embracing queerness and learning to be our whole selves
Today’s read: ~30 minutes
Alt text: Close up image of a smiling woman with brown skin and short, curly black hair, beside a white man with blue eyes and blond hair. Their heads are touching.
Hi, I’m Meera.
This is a story about how I went from existing as a jumble of disjointed pieces to becoming someone who is whole, healing and unapologetically myself. It’s just one version of my story.
I grew up Indian American in a predominantly white and conservative New Jersey town. From a young age, I learned what it meant to feel in-between: too American for my Indian culture, and too Indian for American culture.
I experienced racism from a very young age and remember flinching when classmates spit my last name out in anger, called me slurs, mocked my parents or my skin tone and commented on my food and culture. While the racism became more nuanced and less overt as I got older, what remained was that shame of otherness. By the time I graduated high school, I managed to hide that shame, and was seen as resilient—a well-rounded, high-achieving kid with good grades, musical talent and a cheerful presence, although my closest friends also sensed my walls. I jokingly referred to myself as a “coconut”: white on the inside, brown on the outside. I was proud of my culture inside of my home, yet afraid to be viewed as different beyond those four walls.
And then I entered college. Something shifted when I stepped onto the Wellesley College campus. People who come to this New England women’s college are taught early on that there are no limitations to what we can do. We’re urged to examine ourselves and experience our lives fully.
All at once, removed from my childhood context, I found myself facing three different aspects of myself: my sexuality, my identity as a woman of color, and my experiences within my own family. I had always identified as straight, as someone that stood up for the gay community—an ally, back in the late nineties, when allyship felt less common than it is today. I had crushes on boys throughout my teen years, and “girl crushes” that I always dismissed. For the first time, surrounded by womxn on the Wellesley campus, I realized these attractions weren’t actually different from one another; I was attracted to specific people irrespective of their gender identity. I didn’t know what to do with that information, but it shook my sense of self to realize that I wasn’t straight.
During my first year of college, I also grew closer to other socio-politically minded classmates and found myself gravitating toward the Wellesley South Asian community. I forged rich friendships with fellow South Asians. Together, we thought about ourselves in the context of being people of color in the United States—and we cultivated a sense of solidarity with other communities of color on campus. For the first time, I really reflected on the microaggressions I grew up hearing, the way racism had hurt me, and began to take deep pride in my cultural background. And in doing so, I began to experience a sense of true belonging.
In the midst of all this, I was also grappling with something personally painful; the relics of childhood trauma.
I come from a family lineage of deeply embedded intergenerational trauma. Over generations, my family inflicted harm on one another in various ways, from parents to children to siblings. Each person did their best to survive their own experience, but without meaningful healing, generation by generation, trauma and shame was passed on from one to the next in different ways. We never talked about any of it. I doubt any of us genuinely understood it, and the stigma around mental health and fear of “what people would think” meant we couldn’t name it. I found myself confused about my own struggles, and felt deep guilt around naming “trauma” as a part of my family experience. My family loved me. Wasn’t it a betrayal?
My superpower—and probably one of the most terrifying abilities I had growing up and well into early adulthood—was the ability to compartmentalize everything to a debilitating degree. I could be in a horrible state without having eaten for 30 hours, without sleep, obsessively saying painful things to myself—and then I could show up to a meeting with a smile like nothing was wrong. I carried a lot of shame, and as my sense of sexuality and identity began to develop, that shame grew heavier.
I remember thinking: I don't get to be South Asian and also get to be queer.
When I was 19, a classmate and I started dating. We’ll call her Alyson. My parents knew—and while they never, ever threatened me with disownment or punishment—they were very unhappy that I was dating a woman. They expressed disappointment in my judgment and my choices, and questioned me. Why? Why was I doing this? I persisted, because I outwardly and politically believed there was nothing wrong with being in a same-sex relationship, and I believed in my right to be in one. But outward beliefs are not the same as inward ones.
I was deeply at odds with myself. For the first time, I had found belonging within my community as a South Asian woman and a woman of color, and I was terrified of losing it. I couldn’t shake the internalized homophobia. I didn’t know how to reconcile my identities, and I kept returning to the persistent shame in my bloodline. I told my then-girlfriend Alyson we had to stay closeted, that we couldn’t be seen together in public. I placed an ultimatum on the relationship; we couldn’t remain together once she graduated. My own best friends didn’t even know.
Increasingly, my life and sense of self began to feel disjointed. To make matters more complicated, I was a very public facing person on campus. I was in leadership positions where I had to deal with race tensions at school, where I led diversity initiatives and pushed the administration for increased funding for advisors, access to housing for international students. I sang and performed in a popular group on campus. I was dedicated to service leadership. Yet, internally, I was struggling with myself. I began isolating from everyone else who loved me and turned to food as a form of control. My 5"6' frame soon weighed in at 105 pounds. I was just skin and bones.
Things came to a head after I went two days without food, and was acting deliriously. My girlfriend, who was experiencing her own pain from my shame and anger, was scared enough to drag me to the student help center. I ended up hospitalized for three days. When the doctor asked if I was suicidal, I wasn’t able to say no. I felt like a stone.
Worst of all, my family had no idea what had been going on. Their understanding of my college experience was simply that I went from being a seemingly joyful, happy kid to an unfathomable person. I had become very angry, especially with them, yet I couldn't articulate why. Looking back, I realize I was frustrated about the poor boundaries we had and all that unnamed trauma from my childhood; issues that would take me years to undo in a healthy way.
Still, it broke my heart to see fear in my parents’ eyes, after they drove the five hours to Massachusetts to check on me. I hated feeling like I had become inexplicable to everyone, including myself. I remember making a very distinctive choice while sitting in the hospital room. I would not cause anyone additional worry. I would leave that hospital as soon as I could. I would prove that I wasn’t “broken.”
When I told my parents and the doctors that it was all just academic stress, that I’d just let myself go during finals and wasn’t really taking care of myself, they believed me. After all, I had a gift for compartmentalization. I was discharged within days, and no one found out about my disordered eating. But I became even more cautious and guarded about my pain.
And that’s how I carried on. The Meera that everyone knew—a dynamic leader, caring friend, bold young woman of color, advocate and performer. And the Meera that no one saw—wounded, confused, struggling with shame, self-loathing, isolation and the relics of trauma. Occasional glimpses led people to describe me as “intense.”
Shortly after, Alyson and I had a messy breakup, as college breakups often are. There was an evening when I was alone in my office space, terribly upset and angry. Because she was still worried and afraid for my health, she sent someone else over to console me, a mutual friend. And this is how an incredible human being named Eliot soon became my best friend.
Eliot and I met when I was 19 and first dating Alyson. He was also a classmate, just one year older than me. Despite my guardedness around most people at that time, we easily became friends, feeling as though we had known one another our entire lives. Over time, we would say that this is because we are soul mates; the instant we met, we felt like we had found home. At the time, we had no romantic notions. Eliot was in a relationship, and so was I.
But it was on his 22nd birthday, that our connection would begin to deepen into abiding trust. You see, as I was going through my struggles, Eliot was beginning his own transformation: he had just come out as transgender, identifying by the pronouns and identity by which he is seen today. And so it was over the next year—as I entered my senior year of college and Eliot navigated his first year in the workplace while physically transitioning—that we became one another’s foundations and sounding boards. We were able to be there for one another at a time that each of us was going through an evolution or a shedding of pain, to listen deeply and to recognize one another’s deepest essence instead of getting stuck at the surface. By the time I graduated from college, we knew we were in love. But I continued to insist that we couldn’t be together. I couldn’t let go of the idea that if I made “this choice”—and at the time, I did view it as a choice —I would be causing irrevocable harm to myself and others. I told myself it was to protect my younger brother; what if my decisions had ramifications for his life? I convinced myself that as a brown person in this country, anything but the norm meant losing my community—losing any semblance of belonging.
After graduation, I made a conscious choice to go back to New Jersey, and found a place just an hour away from my childhood home. In a way, by moving back, I believed I was choosing my family and my culture and my heritage over what I wanted—to be with the love of my life, who happened to be a transgender man. I genuinely believed that love fell into different categories and that I could have one or the other, but could never have both.
Eliot and I still talked. Every single day. We sent gifts, made surprise visits. He knew the ins and outs of my life and I knew the ins and outs of his. When we did see each other, it was like nothing had changed. Every goodbye felt heavier than the last. The looming losses in between just hung over us for so many years.
My family always knew about Eliot; they knew who he was, and they eventually knew that I loved him and wanted to be with him. They also knew his identity as a transgender man as they’d met him before and during his physical transition. My younger brother adored him and didn’t fully understand what I was agonizing over. He rolled his eyes at me, as younger brothers tend to do.
But my parents would say, “We see how happy he makes you. We see that. He makes you laugh like you used to, and we know you really care about him. But you don't know what you don't know. The things that you will face. As you get older, you don't know the things that are supposed to exist in a marriage. You won't be able to have children. You think those things are okay now, but they won't be okay. You’ll lose your community. You’ll be alone.”
Jumbled together in these comments was a mix of fear that they would lose their community, the belief that my life would be happiest if I followed a “known” path, and their own misguided views about the queer community and what this kind of love “looks” like.
My parents reiterated that they would always love me, that they wouldn’t leave me, that if I made this choice and if the family was ostracised, they would never disown me. But they always did remind me that my choice could make them lose everything.
This was such a weight to bear that I sometimes wished they would simply cast me out.
I began self-harming around this time, shortly after college. I was in a management role at work and began losing the ability to be completely functional, putting any energy I had into work. I’d stay in the office until 10 p.m. and start again at 7 a.m. the next morning. Even on my weekends, I’d work. In this society, people reward that particular addiction, but the truth is, being a workaholic is its own kind of compulsion. For me, like self-harm and controlling my eating, it was yet another painful coping mechanism. I earned promotions, was respected by my employees and management alike, and did well. I also started performing in community theatre; once again, mimicking the disjointedness of my college years.
This went on for years. Success at work and onstage, misery in private, and a sense of complete indecision around one central question: Eliot, or my family? Eliot, or my family? My heart, or social expectation? Throughout those years, I went to talk therapy, but found little relief. It would still be years before I discovered trauma-focused therapies and experienced significant change. But once again, what appears on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside of us.
When I was 27, I hit a tipping point. A moment of clarity, in reality synthesized from years of reflecting and agonizing. And in this moment, three strings of wisdom collided to help me make a decision.
The first: a fellow South Indian friend’s words echoed in my head: “Our parents sometimes say they’re giving us advice because we’re making the wrong decision,” she had said, “but the reality is that they’re afraid. They’re afraid that THEY can’t handle our choices. But they can, Meera. They just don’t know it.” My parents were afraid. For the first time, I realized that they hadn’t been sharing wisdom for all these years; they had only been sharing fear and calling it wisdom.
The second: I realized that my actions and my choices are separate from other people’s reactions. It sounds so logical, but for a really long time, I believed that if people I loved became upset with me or felt that I destroyed their life by making a certain decision, if their blood pressure went up, if they became anxious—it was somehow my responsibility. For the first time, I realized what a false burden it is to bear responsibility for other people’s emotions.
And the third: I recognized that the only way to make a truthful decision would be to align it with my own values. And I wrote down those values: truth, honesty, kindness, courage, love. I decided that as long as my choices and actions enacted those values, I could be at peace, no matter the way others reacted. And that included my parents.
Armed with these three threads of wisdom, I decided to take a step back to examine my spirit and the higher values that drive my life. Anytime I do this, the answers become clear. And that’s exactly what happened.
Within hours, I called my parents, and I told them that I’m only responsible for living within my values. They were acting from fear and calling it advice. They really believed what they were saying was for my own good. But the truth is, they were afraid because there were so many unknowns. They believed that if I followed a certain known path, then maybe I wouldn't ever get hurt, maybe we wouldn't ever suffer loss. But that's just not true.
I said, “I love you. I will be patient. I will be understanding if this takes time. But I am asking Eliot to move here and be with me.”
There was no arguing, no pushback. For the first time, my parents and I heard confidence and clarity in my voice.
Eliot moved to New Jersey, and the two of us were engaged within one year. Now, in a romantic comedy version of our story, this is where the tale would end. But that’s not how life works. Life remains a complex and beautiful thing to the end of our days.
You see, choosing Eliot—choosing love and deciding that I didn’t have to choose between aspects of myself—was the beginning of an important journey. The journey to integration, to each of us becoming a whole person, without shame and without secrets. Over time, I’ve grown to believe that the most important journey we take in this lifetime is the one in which we choose to face and live out our whole truths. And to do this, we can’t live based on the limitations of others around us, whether those limitations come from society, parents or our own self-judgment.
At our beautiful Vedic wedding, only a handful of people knew about Eliot’s identity. A piece of us remained secret. And it was clear, early on, that marriage wouldn’t magically heal old pain; when two people, even soul mates, enter into a partnership, we each bring our own wounds to the table.
I decided to begin dialectical behavioral therapy with a trauma-specific therapist, who gave me an entire binder full of information and taught me all about how a traumatized brain functions—and how we can dialectically shift it. All of a sudden, everything made complete sense. I changed rapidly; so rapidly, in fact, that it took Eliot and I a few years to even come to terms with the fact that my years of stagnant pain are part of the past. Over time, I’ve been able to gently speak with my mom about trauma, and together, we have healed some generational wounds.
We are breaking the cycle.
Eliot, too, began this kind of therapy and exploration. Today, he’s even studying to become a therapist himself. We now know how to name what we feel and need. When new grief and pain has come our way over the past eight years of marriage, we’ve been capable of recognizing it, of getting through it together without compartmentalizing or hiding from ourselves.
The more aligned and integrated I’ve become with myself, the less burdensome life has felt, even when it’s terribly hard. There is a simplicity and a liberation that comes with being open and honest about who you are, in allowing all the parts of you to co-exist—and others are drawn to it, too. Today, as an artist, writer, photographer and coach, I find that my wholeness invites others to be fully themselves when we work together. I am all of myself all the time, and authenticity begets authenticity.
It was only two years ago that Eliot and I felt ready to express our full identities publicly. As someone that physically transitioned 15 years ago, Eliot’s identity is “invisible” and the choice to share publicly was primarily his, but also a collective one. We were strongly driven by our sense of responsibility to those younger than us; our honesty could pave a path of safety for others that identified as queer desis or transgender, especially within our shared community. But most importantly, we felt it was time to remove the veil of shame created by secrecy.
A few days before hitting publish on an online post that would make it to my South Asian community here and abroad, I called to let my parents know my plans.
My mom was fearful; she didn’t understand why we felt the need to be public. She was still afraid of the backlash, the potential for ostracization.
“It's just something we have to do,” I told her. “We won’t live in shame around this.” A moment of silence later, she said, “Yes. I know you and Eliot always do things for a reason. I hope it ends up ok.”
In that response, I realized how much my parents had changed. And I realized that if I hadn’t followed my truth, they would never have had the chance to evolve, too.
Soon after we told our story, closeted teens within my community began flooding my inbox with messages. Some adult friends of my parents felt freer to talk about their childrens’ identities. And we feel more connected than ever to the communities that we call our own.
There’s a quote I often return to, especially when I feel my existence or Eliot’s existence are being scrutinized, debated or at risk. It’s from queer novelist Armistead Maupin:
“The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people who are willing to be honest about their lives.”
To this day, Eliot and I personally and professionally work with young folks that have experienced marginalization to show them that their power lies in being wholly themselves. When we tell our stories, it should be our whole story. The story we were born to live.
Alt text: A work of art by Meera that reads “My life is not an apology. I no longer permit this broken world to dictate what it means to be Whole.” The black text is on a white background with purple, red, pink, yellow and orange paint strokes at the top and bottom of the canvas.
Thank you to Meera Mohan-Graham for sharing your truth with us. Meera is an artist, personal and wedding coach, photographer, a mentor for young queer folx and a champion for vulnerability and self-liberation. Learn more about her and her work at www.lovemeera.com or www.meeraphotography.com and be sure to give her a follow on Instagram or Facebook.
In essence, intergenerational trauma is trauma that began years before the current generation. Researchers and clinicians are growing increasingly aware of how this kind of trauma, which disproportionately affects the most vulnerable groups (people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, people with disabilities etc.) manifests through time—and how unaddressed trauma is passed on to subsequent generations.
Even family members who may not have directly experienced certain traumatic events can still be significantly impacted by them because their descendants, while carrying that trauma, often react to their world in ways that someone who experienced trauma firsthand would. I really loved this example from Támara Hill of The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health:
For example, the patriarch of a family may suffer from an untreated severe mental health disorder which causes him to engage in harmful behaviors toward his daughter. This daughter, having endured years of emotional and psychological abuse, now has her own family but has not been able to release herself (psychologically and emotionally) from the torture she endured. As a result, she begins to exhibit many of the same behaviors of the patriarch which leads to her own children exhibiting similar behaviors. These behaviors, including dysfunctional ways of coping, continue for generations. These unhealthy behaviors then become a “normal” way of raising children within the family.
In this excellent primer on intergenerational trauma, Hill offers clinicians some advice:
Understand that intergenerational trauma almost always includes a loss of safety (emotional/psychological, physical, financial, etc).
Be aware of the emotions your clients are expressing to you and be open to psychoanalyzing their reactions and the ways they discuss their emotions.
Encourage your client to openly discuss (when ready) the loss they feel and why. You can eventually help them define and add meaning to their story.
Once the heavy processing involved in trauma work is over, lead your client to focus on designing a future far removed from their thoughts and feelings of the intergenerational trauma. They must understand that generational chaos can end with them.
Alt text: A graphic that reads “A Q&A with trauma-focused psychologist Anushka Patel” featuring a photo of an Indian psychologist wearing a scarf and smiling at the camera.
Anushka Patel is a clinical psychologist and post-doctoral fellow specializing in trauma-focused care at the Trauma Recovery Center at the University of California, San Francisco. She’s worked with many trauma survivors, from combat veterans to survivors of child abuse, and specializes in the psychological effects of gender-based violence.
What can you tell us about common behaviors often associated with trauma survivors?
Following a traumatic event, many people develop distressing reminders and nightmares, which can co-occur with changes in arousal and produce sleep and concentration difficulties. It’s also common to see changes in mood, distorted sense of blame, extreme shame and altered worldviews in trauma survivors.
And because these symptoms (and trauma memories in general) are difficult to deal with, survivors often try to avoid anything related to that trauma. Avoidance might include staying away from external reminders like people or places as well as internal reminders, like thoughts and feelings about a particularly traumatic event or situation from the past.
Meera mentioned seeing a trauma-informed therapist. What exactly is trauma-focused therapy?
Trauma-focused therapy involves actively approaching—rather than avoiding—the trauma-related material so that survivors can address the effects head-on. Examples of evidence-based trauma-focused therapies include cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE) and narrative exposure therapy (NET). Many techniques allow gentle exposure to memories of the trauma, coping skills to handle inevitable distress, and ways of integrating the trauma memory so it becomes a coherent story rather than disparate shards of memory that pop up, unbidden, like intruders.
While many trauma-focused therapies exist, a trauma-informed lens unites these paradigms. And when we adopt that trauma-informed lens, we are deeply curious about answering “What’s happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”
How is trauma-focused therapy different from general talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?
CBT refers to a wide umbrella of evidence-based cognitive and behavioral tools, and it’s been modified for many psychological disorders. For youth who have been exposed to trauma, trauma-focused CBT is a frontline treatment. For adults, trauma-focused therapy draws from CBT techniques and philosophies and also involves actively processing the actual traumatic event.
For example, CBT is geared at helping clients alter their thinking patterns or behaviors to produce more balanced thinking patterns or adaptive behaviors. In this vein, trauma-focused therapy specifically targets how the traumatic event has shaped a client’s belief system and day-to-day thinking patterns, how it has altered their behaviors (e.g., avoiding a lot of activities associated with the trauma) and the impact it has on emotion regulation. Using this frame, trauma-focused therapy is laser-focused on identifying exactly how that trauma connects with a client’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional patterns out in the world.
A trauma-informed therapist—whether they use CBT or another approach—understands that all symptoms can be conceptualized as adaptations to the traumatic experience. Using this gentle and non-stigmatizing approach, a therapist can draw a client in to weigh the relative risks and benefits of these adaptations and help a client make changes when they’re ready. The end goal of trauma-focused therapy is to have a balanced understanding of the trauma by cultivating acceptance, growing coping skills to dial down the distress associated with the trauma, and, ultimately improving quality of life.
What kinds of treatment or therapy options are there for coping with intergenerational trauma in particular?
The intergenerational trauma treatment model (ITTM) linked here is one example of a commonly used treatment. This one focuses on reframing a caregiver's role by addressing their unresolved trauma and empowering them to become healthier versions of themselves as parents. The treatment is a phase-based approach that integrates attachment theories with trauma theories to start disrupting the negative impacts of trauma on survivors' belief systems.
Can you tell us a little more about dialectic behavioral therapy, which Meera has had great success with?
DBT is a very effective treatment for several difficulties ranging from borderline personality disorder to non-suicidal self-injury. It is underpinned by navigating dialectics (i.e. opposites) inherent in our lives to help clients tolerate and overcome the distress associated with making big life choices and meandering dilemmas. DBT is a skill-focused treatment that teaches people to become aware and mindful of their emotions, how to regulate their emotions, and how to improve interpersonal effectiveness with improved communication skills.
How do you approach trauma-focused therapy in a culturally sensitive way?
Nearly all aspects of how trauma-related symptoms present and are responded to are subject to broader cultural forces. From how much blame we assign to ourselves/others to how much social support we receive following a traumatic event, these aspects are culturally shaped. And social support, as we all know, hugely helps mitigate negative outcomes of trauma exposure.
This is why trauma-focused therapy must deeply engage with a client's personal and cultural worldview in order to be considered culturally sensitive therapy. When a therapist is culturally sensitive in delivering trauma-focused therapy, they might draw on the client's subjective explanation of their symptoms, causes, and coping to develop a a personalized explanatory model of trauma. This model can serve as an entry point into the client's worldview, which includes personal and cultural aspects of how they have made meaning from their trauma.
A therapist might also use mirroring language to reflect the client's experiences by using local idioms of distress that are non-stigmatizing ways to communicate universal suffering. It’s also essential to draw on a client's personal and cultural strengths when establishing “homework” in treatment and modifying treatment to be culturally attuned. For instance, a Muslim client who is religious may find deep peace in cleansing rituals and meditative prayer, which can be woven into their treatment as gentle ways of exposing a client to anxiety-provoking sensations and thoughts that they may have previously avoided.
What advice do you have for anyone who might be interested in seeking trauma-focused therapy?
"Shop" for the right therapist! Don't be afraid to try a few therapists until you find the right match, skillset, and orientation that suits your needs and recovery goals. A good way to educate yourself on the treatments out there is to rely on trusted sources and professional organizations. You can use those links to read more about evidence-based therapies for trauma work. These resources serve as a starting point for discussions with therapists about what they offer for treatment.
Don’t believe everything you think! Traumatic events are watershed events in most people’s lives: there is a “before the accident” and “after the accident” so to speak. Because of the nature of how big these events are and their impact on life, it’s normal for your thinking patterns to feel very much unlike yourself. It’s important to recognize: “Hey, this isn’t really me. I need some help to feel and process like myself again.” This can help improve quality of life a lot sooner than delaying the help-seeking process; it can reduce the intensity of the pain following trauma; and it can literally be life-saving. When we consider the link between trauma, depression, and suicide that affects too many people, it’s so important to remember, “This is not me; this won’t go on forever,” because suicide is preventable, especially today with the incredible trauma-focused therapies out there.
Have you ever heard of the Emotional Freedom Technique—a.k.a. EFT tapping? According to Healthline, it’s a temporary acupressure treatment that’s been used to help folks with anxiety, depression, PTSD, as well as insomnia and general physical or emotional pain.
How it works
Similar to acupuncture, EFT targets energy hot spots to help you restore energy balance, which many believe can relieve symptoms a negative experience may have caused. Instead of using needles (like in acupuncture), EFT requires using your fingertips to apply pressure. The technique’s effectiveness against other treatments is still being researched, but proponents say EFT tapping helps send signals to the part of the brain that controls stress, ultimately reducing or eliminating intense reactions to negativity.
This 2019 study found that EFT was effective in easing anger and anxiety symptoms related to Hwabyung (or “fire syndrome” in Korean), a psychosomatic syndrome arising after periods of suppressed feelings of injustice and fairness. A 2016 review of 20 studies reported the technique was highly effective in reducing symptoms of depression, and those findings suggested that EFT was as effective if not more effective than standard treatments for depression.
Note that EFT as it commonly exists was conceived in English, but here’s an explanation in Spanish—and another in Hindi. It’s highly recommended that you continue to seek traditional treatment options and consult with your clinician before beginning EFT tapping.
How I've Learned That Being a Bisexual Chinese American Woman Doesn't Make Me ‘Leftover’ (Traci Lee, Teen Vogue): “At the end of the day, it all comes down to how I choose to identify and how I choose to embrace who I am – and this year, I’m determined to do it with pride.” In this op-ed, Lee explores how cultural expectations shaped her identity as a bisexual, Asian American woman. Read here.
She tried everything to treat her complex PTSD. Now she’s writing a book to help others—and herself. (Stephanie Foo, Carter Fellows): In February 2018, Foo was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But as she researched the condition with symptoms mirroring her reality, she couldn’t find a conclusive answer for treatment. “I belonged to a community of immigrants and refugees traumatized by war and poverty, who then passed that trauma onto their children. Abuse was normalized in my community. I want to use my story to witness how traumas are encoded in an adult and to ask whether it is possible to heal those traumas. How? What does that feel like?” Read here.
What Isn’t Mine Is Mine: Accepting Intergenerational Trauma (Ilana Masad, Catapult): “We laugh like our family, gesture like them, even chew like them! Is it not possible we could hurt like them, feel guilt for horrors we've survived?” A beautiful essay on intergenerational holocaust trauma. Read here.
An Arab Trans Woman, Struggling To Find Myself In Language (Dalia Tourki, The Establishment): “Hot child in the city, I met Montreal’s community of queer and trans people of color, a community that taught me the first of the words I needed. Precious words to name my feelings, my desires, my distress, my orgasms, my transgender body, my transgender body of color, and all the fast-paced beats of my heart that has now become open to the possibility of being. Being me, being trans, a girl seeking birth, a stranger seeking home.” A beautiful essay from Tunisian Canadian Dalia Tourki. Read here.
From Haunting to Healing: On the Gwangju Uprising and ‘Human Acts’ (Hannah Bae, Catapult): Bookmark this: Bae’s “Gwangju Daughter,” a Catapult column that uses art about the 1980 Gwangju uprising to unpack political and personal traumas. In this debut piece, Bae writes about learning to read Hangeul as an adult and finding out she’d always mispronounced her father’s Korean name, yet another reminder just how little she really knew about him and his past in South Korea. She then reads into Han Kang’s historical masterpiece, Human Acts, and slowly unwraps the toll of the 1980 Gwangju uprising’s emotional burdens on her parents’ generation. “Perhaps, in never speaking of this history to his American-born children, my father believed, falsely, that he was shielding our generation, too.” Read here.
Kissed a Girl (Vickie Vértiz, Longreads): “I pretend she’s done nothing wrong. Amá can think I’m a victim because her baby can’t be anything but perfectly straight. But her Catholic Chicana baby is definitely gay, okay.” In this excerpted piece from Graffiti, Vértiz maneuvers her way around teenage love, friend envy, and being outed by her Mexican mother. Read here.
5 books featuring marginalized voices, intergenerational trauma or queerness
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: A shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling formatted as a letter from a Vietnamese son to his mother
My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem: Menakem, a therapist, looks at the way racism affects the psyches and bodies of Black Americans, White Americans and police
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui: An evocative memoir exploring the lasting effects of displacement on a child and her family after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib: A work of eloquent prose from Habib, who recounts her childhood in Pakistan, early years as a Canadian immigrant, and how she embraced her queerness after an unwanted arranged marriage
Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis: In 1970s Uruguay under a repressive dictatorship, a group of gay women find and build their own queer family
That’s all, folks. I hope you enjoyed this issue. And if you did, please share it with loved ones.
A big thank you to editing champs Farah and Hanaa’ for contributing your talents—and to Meera Mohan-Graham, Támara Hill and Anushka Patel for sharing your stories and expertise. Forever grateful to Sustaining Members Hannah B., Safurah B., Alex C., Alma C., Rebecca C., Rodrigo C., Katie H., Liz S., Puja S., Roz T., Hossein T. and my mama, Safia P. Without you all, this work would not be possible.
Foreign Bodies is an email newsletter centering immigrant and refugee experiences with a mission to de-stigmatize mental illness through storytelling. It’s written and curated by Atlanta-based writer Fiza Pirani with copyediting and fact-checking help from Boston-based journalist Hanaa’ Tameez and traveling journalist Farahnaz Mohammed. Want to contribute your time or share your own #ForeignBodies story? Fill out this form and be sure to say hi on Twitter,Instagram or Facebook.
If you're thinking about suicide or worried about someone who might be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to connect to a crisis counselor in the USA. You can also find a wealth of culture- or language-specific recommended resources on our landing site, foreignbodies.net.