Many families seek to immigrate to new countries for better opportunities at education, work, and the like. There are many push factors which cause families to relocate such as low economic opportunity, violence, extreme poverty, and political and environmental crisis. Immigration as a result of war is particularly high for the MENA region which raises the concern of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the future. Moving from your homeland to an entirely new country can provide intergenerational opportunities but it can also create a line of intergenerational trauma.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is the emotional response resulting from experiencing a highly distressing event. Experiencing trauma can cause instability in a person’s sense of safety and of self, as well as cause an inability to regulate one’s emotions. The effects of a traumatic event can present long-term psychological and physical symptoms.

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Shock and denial
  • Anger
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Guilt and self-blame
  • Isolating oneself
  • Feeling disconnected, indifferent, or numb
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness

Physical Symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Being startled easily
  • Muscle tensions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation

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You might not actively associate what’s happening right now with the trauma you carry, but that doesn’t mean your body *isn’t* making those connections. Many people are experiencing hypervigilance right now, which is a common post-traumatic response. Plus, we’re in a state of constant reminders that human touch and close contact are potentially dangerous. The COVID-19 pandemic is trauma all on its own, but that doesn’t mean your mind and body won’t use the current atmosphere to resurface some other past traumas — even if you feel like they’re resolved. There is no “cure” for trauma, so during high-stress times (like a global pandemic) you might experience some PTSD symptoms like hypervigilance, depression, heightened anxiety, changes in appetite, and changes in sexual desire. Experiencing those things does not mean you have failed in your recovery. They are normal parts of the healing process, even though they are hard. You haven’t “failed” in your healing if you start to experience PTSD symptoms again, no matter how long its been. Healing is possible, healing is cyclical, healing is contextual. Give your body patience and grace. It’s doing the best it can to get you through this right now. If you’re experiencing resurfaced trauma right now, here are some small things that may help: ✨ Do one thing per day to help you regain a sense of control (a hygiene routine, designated snack time, a walk, a phone call) ✨ If your brain begins to surface past trauma, ask yourself what connections it may be making. What are you feeling *now* that is making you think of what happened then? How are those feelings similar? How are they different? ✨ Describe your context. We often blame ourselves for having post-traumatic responses, but they are usually pretty understandable reactions. What is happening around you that is causing you to react? Validate that. ✨ Once an hour, relax your face muscles and close your eyes for a few moments. Find a way to release tension and “reset” your brain, even if just for a minute. . . . . #Quarantine2020 #COVID19 #HealingIsAProcess #PTSD #Healing #BePatient

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Trauma as a Result of Immigration

Immigrating to a new country can provide families with beautiful new experiences and opportunities but it also creates a subset of novel issues. Immigration is a significant life change and the process is often referred to as a major environmental stressor due to its tedious nature. The chronicity of migrating is a defining characteristic of the experience causing prolonged feelings of ostracization which can be attributed to poor social conditions as well as linguistic and cultural changes.

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Various social conditions can cause immigrants to feel further excluded such as poor housing conditions, citizenship status, or being with a new workplace. Moving can cause high stress especially if the new location has a low concentration of people of the same background. Similarly, this stress occurs in the workplace when one is being treated as lower than for being the “new guy”. Not yet having citizenship or legal documentation can also cause others to look down on immigrants. This ongoing process of ostracization can traumatize and leave people feeling severely isolated.

The change in language is another significant influence in the common feeling of ostracization amongst new immigrants. The language barrier present neglects immigrants of a human need: communication. Without the ability to communicate with those around, feelings of isolation can immediately increase.

Cultural differences also contribute to the ostracization process as fundamental aspects of one’s culture may clash with the new majority. Often while new families aim to blend with the new culture, old cultural practices are abandoned. Immigrating can be likened to a process similar to mourning where an individual moves from security in family, language, and status, into a possibly insecure and isolating environment.

Intergenerational Trauma & Conflict

Intergenerational trauma is a term asserting that a trauma inflicted on a group who share a certain identity (e.g. race, ethnicity, religion) can be transferred down generations. It is the accumulation of trauma a community experiences over time and maintains both the psychological and social responses to said trauma.

Parents who left wartorn countries, immigrated seeking refuge, or are historically oppressed often pass trauma responses down to their children which may then be amplified or incite other unpredictable impacts. Unprocessed trauma can influence parenting techniques and cause unconscious harm through unresolved emotions and repeated negative behaviours.

In addition, the dissimilarities between the generations of an immigrant parent and their child can cause conflict between them. Changes between children and parents include language, cultural identity, beliefs, values, social and gender roles, and communication. Migrant children adapt to the culture of a host country rapidly, reflecting the gap in acculturation between parents and children. Cultural identity between generations begin to clash as beliefs on relationships, careers, marriage, and gender roles typically change with time. Conflict then often arises as a negotiation of identity between parent culture and the culture the children grow up ensues.

Racial Trauma

Racial trauma is a form of stress similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, it differs in that it involves ongoing exposure and reexposure to race-based stress. Racial trauma is experienced by black people, indigenous people, and people of colour (BIPOC) affected by discrimination on the basis of their race. This form of trauma includes personal experiences as well as being exposed to discrimination and hatred towards others.

Immigrating from the MENA to the West often means becoming a part of the minority thus racism is bound to follow. Racism and discrimination presents itself in a multitude of forms Unpacking experienced racism is a lifelong process of learning and unlearning the internal biases we also possess which is a critical element of the healing process.

What Healing Looks Like

Understanding the trauma of immigration is an ongoing experience as the effects are lifelong and life-altering. Unpacking your own experiences is encouraged to be aided by professional help but there are also other ways you can maintain your mental wellbeing as well as reflect on your experiences.

Seek Support

Whether it’s a support group curated towards a group you are a part of or it’s simply a friend’s shoulder when you need, seek out having some sort of support system. Support groups are great if healing looks to you like addressing an issue by connecting with others who face similar obstacles and hearing how they cope.

Don’t Isolate

Although being alone may seem appealing, it’s more harmful to withdraw following a trauma. Neglecting relationships will further contribute to a feeling of ostracization. Engage in social events, reconnect with friends, and talk with family.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the mental process of actively focusing your attention on your current experience. This can be done through breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, and other means. This method is great for reflecting on how your experiences have affected you and alleviating stress.

Maintain your Health

Neglecting your physical health when your mental health is struggling is almost a reflex. However, abandoning your physical health consequently worsens how you feel emotionally and continues to fuel the same cycle. Try to get adequate sleep and maintain a balanced diet.

Professional Help

Recovery is a process and everyone heals at their own pace. If much time has passed and your symptoms continue to persist and negatively affect your day-to-day life, perhaps seek professional help.

Healing from the effects of and unlearning generational trauma is a lifelong process. The effects are not immediate but healing and caring for yourself is worth the time.

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