Ahead of the BTP workshop: Working with Race Based Trauma and Stress taking place via Zoom, on Saturday 15th October 2022, we introduce the book The Burden of Heritage: Hauntings of Generational Trauma on Black Lives, written by Dr Aileen Alleyne.
The book explores the ongoing impact of Transgenerational and Intergenerational Trauma on contemporary Black people, and also includes Alleyne’s paper: Shame and Its Vicissitudes which we reference below (and to which all page references refer).
The Burden of Heritage
The Burden of Heritage: Hauntings of Generational Trauma on Black Lives, (published in September 2022) includes an exploration of:
- individual and collective identity trauma
- the Nature of Hauntings
- identity shame
- Black identity wounding
- cultural enmeshment
- healing from The Burden of Heritage
- how to work therapeutically with Generational Trauma
Shame is a soul eating emotion . . . it is one of the scars of trauma, but shame shrinks as healing grows. (Jung, 1989)
Internal Oppressor and Hauntings
Dr Alleyne introduces the concept of the ‘internal oppressor’ that negatively impacts self-belief, agency and potential. Alleyne explores and adapts Freud’s psychoanalytic concept of ‘hauntings’, which result in unconscious repression and contribute in a very real way to the Black trauma burden.
The book includes practical advice and support for therapists and counsellors working with Black and minority ethnic clients, with special focus for White therapists.
Shame and Black Identity Wounding
Alleyne’s Article: Shame and Its Vicissitudes, Psychoanalytic Inquiry, provides a taste of the material covered in the book looking at shame and its impact on Black identity wounding. In particular, the shame that plays out in Black and White relational dynamics, including White responses to shame.
Alleyne names the challenge of working with traumatised clients who have given up and lost their life instinct, Eros energy. She writes (p.3):
“What I am concluding about the challenge of working with chronic archaic shame is that the carrier who has made an unhealthy investment in it will find it hard to let go, move on and seek out the new.
The work for therapists, therefore, frequently feels like an uphill struggle, with a need to maintain stoic perseverance. The work needs to be well-paced and involves helping to increase awareness of self-destructive thoughts, the development of self-compassion, divestment from holding on to and re-enacting old wounds, and reparenting the inner child.
Clients who have long been carrying inside an emotional death will need to truly mourn the loss of the old self, before feeling able to turn toward the new life-giving forces of eros. Working with toxic archaic historical shame is challenging principally because the practitioner will be working with both the individual and collective aspects of shame trauma. For White therapists in particular, a mindfulness of this shame trauma will be crucial in order to avoid the rupture caused by re-shaming the shamed.”
Black Shame and White Shame
Alleyne goes onto describe two personal and visceral shame experiences from her own childhood, that bring the complexities and challenges of the issues to life.
In examining the incident of her father recently arriving in England and being shamed into buying clothes for his young child, she provides this analysis (p.5):
“Race-based shame exposes both Blacks and Whites, albeit in different ways. Black shame is essentially about identity-trauma (hurt and loss). White shame triggers identity-exposure (guilt, fragility and vulnerability).”
Alleyne warns that:
“When these unheeded dimensions are lived out (consciously or unconsciously) in the therapeutic encounter, it is often the case that such fragmentation gets handed over to Black patients/clients for safe keeping. This is the nature of the therapist’s shame disavowal.”
Practical Guidelines for White therapists
In reflecting on what it would be like as a Black woman working with a White therapist, Alleyne offers a number of tangible and practical guidelines for working with this shame in the room and exploring the incidents described. Interventions include asking:
How did the rest of your family respond to [the incident]?
What positive and negative traits/characteristics of your shame history/heritage do you feel you hold on to, and have reframed?
How does it feel to share and reflect on this painful experience with me, your White therapist?
While empathetic witnessing and understanding are important, White therapists are cautioned against:
“appearing overburdened, overly shocked, disgusted or overzealous in their wish to repair wrongdoings on behalf of their White tribe. The chances are that this will be picked up by the patient/client as “damaging” the therapist or worst, a prohibition – something that is not welcomed in the work.” (p.8).
Supervision is also essential for dealing with personal responses and reactions that are triggered within the therapeutic relationship, so that they can be processed in a separate space without burdening the client.
3 Stage Approach
These guidelines support a three-stage approach to working with racial shame:
- Allowing permission for exhaustive retelling of the shame experience in detail, in order to support a process of being witnessed, validated and supported. It is important that the person of colour feels believed and for the white therapist to be able to empathise with their experience in a non-defended way.
- Facilitating the processing of shame through curiosity and enquiry to help the client make sense of the experience and its resulting impact.
- Moving slowly towards recovery from shame wounding through “helping them re-gain their sense of mental balance from the dislocation of shame.” (p.9)
A note of caution is offered about the role of language, combined with the twin of shame – false pride. Sophisticated language can be used to cover up or deny shame or racism.
One of the means for recovery that Alleyne advocates is the process of sublimation. She writes (p.12):
“Sublimation is perhaps the single most important concept in understanding the work of healing and managing shame. Because shame cannot be analyzed away, it has to be managed.”…
“Sublimation is the act of utilizing the energies that stem from this place of deep shame, rage, chronic anxiety and negativity, and redirecting them toward a creative endeavor, as in artistic creation or intellectual enquiry or pursuit. Sublimation is therefore healing and the act itself can be a transitional shame cover – not to hide under, but to use creatively to look after oneself in a compassionate way.” ….
“Sublimation in this context translates as the process of drawing energy from the trauma and redirecting it toward some form of creative pursuit or intellectual endeavor e.g., writing, poetry, singing, retraining, meaningful activism.”
In this conference talk excerpt, Alleyne shares an example of Sublimation in this YouTube video: Sublimation as a Defence Against Trauma and Shame, visiting a song written by Bill Broonzy, an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist whose parents were born into slavery.
Sharing a personal example of the sublimation process, Alleyne concludes the paper Shame and Its Vicissitudes with her own poetry which concludes with the lines:
I also realize there is no need to engage in constant apology,
When I can make sense and understand my own ontology Being Black is not my raison d’être
For I am tired of just being a color
My existence is not to please or appease
But seize the opportunity to be my own devotee Shining and delighting in my own luminescence.
Aileen Alleyne (2022) The Burden of Heritage: Hauntings of Generational Trauma on Black Lives. Karnac.
Aileen Alleyne (2022): Shame and Its Vicissitudes, Psychoanalytic Inquiry, DOI: 10.1080/07351690.2022.2080431. Article Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07351690.2022.2080431
YouTube: Sublimation as a Defence Against Trauma and Shame | Dr Aileen Alleyne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSDr7rzAi4o
Want to find out more?
The BTP workshop: Working with Race Based Trauma and Stress takes place via Zoom, on Saturday 15th October 2022, with catch-up available after the event. In this workshop our 2 expert trainers, Mamood Ahmad and Sam Jamal will help you work with client experiences of racism, racial stress, racial trauma, and intergenerational racial trauma.
Our Blogpost: Anti-Racism Resources for Therapists provides additional resources that may be of interest to therapists and counsellors.
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