Naming Trauma as Trauma

As part of my research on epistemic injustice, I’ve been thinking about the power of naming: the power of having the linguistic resources to identify, describe, and call out varied experiences, especially experiences of injustice.

Systemic oppression works in a way that denies the ability to name experiences of wrongdoing. When experiences are named, they can be acknowledged and addressed. To me, this is part of the power of the word microaggressions: the word allows for acknowledgement of what too often goes unacknowledged. Similarly, phrases like sexual violence, rape culture, and #metoo do important work in raising awareness, mobilizing response, allowing for healing, and calling attention to what’s typically hidden.

This week Inside Higher Ed published my article on why it’s important to acknowledge and address the trauma of graduate education as part of career conversations:

Screenshot of “The Trauma of Graduate Education,” showing the orange Inside Higher Ed page logo and navigation toolbar at the top followed the title, by-line, and first three paragraphs of the article.

The Trauma of Graduate Education” shares insights from this research on epistemic injustice, relating how graduate writers (participants in my dissertation research from several years ago) described the need for therapy, counseling, and self-help. In interview after interview, I heard writers (many of whom were white women and women of color) describe harms inflicted through graduate school. Moreover, participants’ stories echoed my own experiences with graduate education, which tore down my confidence, contributed to internalized pain, and kicked off a healing process that’s now taking me away from higher education.

In the article, I describe why it’s important to name these experiences as trauma:

“Often conversations with career advisers are similar to those among graduate writers: it is common to share, receive and even exchange stories of trauma while often not naming it as such. An important part of career conversations, therefore, may be recognizing trauma as trauma. There is power in naming experiences: acknowledging and giving language to describe trauma can lead to other actions, such as seeking trauma-informed care or, in Grollman’s words, “rewriting the trauma narrative.” Similarly, it’s important to name microaggressions as microaggressions, epistemic injustice as epistemic injustice and violence as violence. Doing so validates the reality of the experience (essentially saying, yes, this experience really did happen and really is wrong), countering the many invalidations that cumulate into trauma. Further, giving language to experience helps with developing the linguistic resources to understand, process and describe trauma and other injustice.”

My call to name trauma must have struck a chord with readers. On the one hand, I’m experiencing a new round of graduate students (especially white women and folks of color) reaching out and saying, “Yes, me too!” On the other hand, I’m seeing comment after comment (from what I can tell, all by white men) complaining about my “over-sensitivity,” exaggeration, and misuse of the word trauma.

Alongside these various forms of gaslighting (another powerful word for naming injustice) is a familiar rhetorical move of saying that if the experience of graduate education is too traumatic, then folks should just leave. Here again, as in my dissertation research and my own lived experience, I see readers (folks engaged in academia) making the moves that feed into trauma: those of denial, dismissal, and disengagement.

Such interactional moves point to why we need an “unrestrained” definition of trauma. What registers as trauma to one person may not to another, but to deny the experience is to deny the person. Writing off the reality of trauma is linked literally to writing off the people who experience it. Hence, we see the perpetuation of violence—perpetuation of oppression, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and epistemic injustice—within and beyond higher education.

Though this violence is all-too-familiar, I am encouraged again by the power of speaking and writing UP. I am encouraged that together we can build the linguistic resources to name experiences of injustice, and together we can use the act of naming to mobilize.

Today, tomorrow, and going forward, I’m naming trauma as trauma. And I hope you’ll join me in naming experiences of injustice to acknowledge and address them. We’ll need a lot of creativity and visioning to keep building the words for naming what’s intended not to be named. But build together, we must.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “A Love Letter to Students Surviving Sexual Violence,” “A Barrage of Microaggressions,” and “Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

When Everything Is Horrible, Try Slowing Down and Noticing

On a recent hike, I found myself complaining about the heat and mosquitoes. I was walking quickly, speeding up to get off the trail, and failing to notice my surroundings. It wasn’t until I took a break on the ground—literally sitting in the middle of the trail—that I noticed blooming mayapples underneath large leaves. All around me but out of sight when walking were flowers promising spring and the summer to come.

Image of the forest floor with brown leaves, green growth, and mayapples. The large mayapple leaves shield white flowers from the sun.
Large mayapple leaves shielding white flowers from the sun.

The more I slowed down and took breaks on the ground, the more I noticed the flowers and fungi there. The colorful, intricate, and delicate life seemed to be reminding me that there’s still beauty in the roughest of conditions, the hottest of days, and the most mosquito-y of times.

This hike happened when I’d been having conversations about the need to guard against resistance fatigue and to build resilience for the long road ahead. For me, time in the outdoors and along hiking trails offers new ways to understand the world and my role within it.

What I learned from these blooming mayapples (and the many plants I observed) is the importance of slowing down and noticing the fullness of life: the joy alongside the pain, the beauty alongside the ugliness, the visions for alongside the critiques against. In other words, I was reminded again of the need for a both/and approach to everyday living for justice.

When I’m hurting (or hot or being bitten), my tendency is to rush to get out of there: out of that place of discomfort or pain. Slowing down and noticing, however, allows me to tap into the generative and healing potential that comes with curiosity, meditation, and divination.

At this time when violence and wrongdoing are as frequent as bite after bite, I find myself sitting on the ground and looking for beauty around me. With that beauty bolstering me, I can notice better my emotions and embodied, conditioned responses. I can notice better how to interrupt that conditioning and to use my body, too.

When times are toughest (and everything feels horrible), may we look for reminders of joy and beauty and for those visions that keep us both grounded and standing TALL.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice,” “Choosing to Tread Another Path,” and “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Today Healing Looks Like …

I was only a few hours into Monday morning, and I’d already had three friends text me about grief, a conversation about not just anger but full-on flaming rage, and multiple conversations about how the word heartache doesn’t even come close to capturing the intense pain of seeing families separated and incarcerated. One friend wrote that “the horrors of this administration are making me physically ill,” a statement that caused me to stop and think about my own bodily aches and pains, which become more pronounced when taking in collective pain.

Throughout this series of interactions, I began noticing what I was doing to attend to my emotional and physical needs. And I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’m doing now, when the world is making me (us?) “physically ill.”

So, what does healing look like today?

  1. Reaching out to friends and holding space when friends reach out to me toward intuitive and intentional community care.
  2. Practicing self-care through taking a daily Epsom salt bath and using bath time to plan my day, listen to podcasts, and ask what my body wants today.
  3. Drinking wellness tonic and vegetable broth for full-body support.
  4. Not looking away (because the refusal to see or willingness to forget promotes ignorance, as in ignore-ance) but instead witnessing the dehumanization, injustice, and horrors of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, oppression—and naming this violence as violence.
  5. Doing some small actions like making donations and signing petitions and reading, posting, re-tweeting, and otherwise sharing news and ways to take action. AND thinking long-term about shoring up my commitments and sustaining my energy for the long haul toward justice.
  6. Learning more about and beginning to practice intuitive eating toward healing my relationship with sugar and valuing food as nourishment.
  7. Writing while sitting with Castor oil and a hot water bottle (what I call a “warm belly pack”) to settle my stomach—literally, to address inflamed nerves and the sensation of feeling “physically ill.”

What underlies these actions is the importance of recognizing and honoring embodied knowledge, or what our bodies tell us. In this case, there’s real shit going down that makes us literally feel shitty. Once acknowledging the shittiness, we can support our GI systems (our guts) through baths, broths, and belly packs. Self-care for our emotional and physical selves allows us to keep showing up in interpersonal, online, and public spaces—to keep speaking out, to keep acting for justice.

Like my earlier post “Today Resistance Looks Like …,” I hope this view into healing communicates a both/and approach to everyday living for justice. Investing in healing helps with countering resistance fatigue. It also reminds us that actions associated with self-care and community care have an everyday (daily) role in our lives, as do activism, resistance, and re-envisioning.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “My Journey with Back Pain,” and “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach

In the past few days, I’ve seen countless posts detailing “the horrors of this administration,” the latest of which include separating families and imprisoning immigrants. I’ve seen friends describing their embodied physical and emotional pain, including pain from complicity and always too-small actions. I’ve seen friends accounting their own family stories of separation, as the history of state-sponsored violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) is long and unrelenting. I’ve seen trauma and responses via trauma-informed care. I’ve also seen requests for folks to share how they’re showing up, standing TALL, and caring for themselves and their communities at this time.

As I engage in interactions around these posts and similarly experience rage and heartache, I find grounding, inspiration, and re-orientation in what I’ve learned from feminists and womanists of color: that we need not only active resistance but also sustained investment in envisioning and building more just communities. We need both critique against injustice and critique for justice. We need a both/and approach to thinking, organizing, and relating with each other.

At this time, I feel it’s important to emphasize that both/and matters because it’s too easy to fall into the trap of either/or. It’s too easy to focus on a single action or single problem and let it consume all of our energy. It’s too easy to prioritize self-care over other responsibilities or, alternatively, to prioritize others at one’s own expense.

Photo from a crowded protest with a poster in the center reading: "Human Rights are Women's Rights are LGBTQ+ Rights are Native Rights are Black Rights are Latinx Rights are Immigrant Rights are Refugee Rights are Muslim Rights are All Religion Rights are Homeless Rights are Disability Rights are Survivor Rights are Veteran Rights are Elder Rights are Child Rights are Student Rights are American Rights." The poster includes blue and red letters against a white background. Photo credit to Lauren Fitzgerald.
Photo credit and thanks to Lauren Fitzgerald.

Let me explain further through two examples.

Example #1: Toward Dismantling Dehumanizing Systems

Yes, it’s important to make donations and call representatives and learn more and post/tweet/share widely. And it’s not enough to stop there.

The problems are much, much bigger than this moment, than this instantiation of violence.

What more can each of us to do invest in emotional literacies, resilience, and long-term staying power? What more do we each need to learn about transformative justice and alternative ways of organizing ourselves as people? What visioning can get us out of the ongoing violence associated with the nation-state? How we can learn “to survive the apocalypse with grace, rigor, and curiosity” (in the words of Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown in their podcast How to Survive the End of the World)?

Questions such as these call our attention to the need for both small, immediate actions and large-scale, long-term change. We need both direct, imperfect response and expansive, imaginative visioning. Let us not settle for the first without commitment to the second. We must not ignore the immediate nor the long-term.

Example #2: Toward Recognizing Relational Responsibilities

Yes, it’s important to empathize with families torn apart by naming this wrong as wrong. And it’s not enough to see only the most explicit manifestations of violence. 

One of the many lies of living in oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism) is that our imagined families include only those who share blood or those within close physical proximity. This lie allows for separation and division of people. It plays into scarcity logic, which goes like this: there are a limited number of resources, so I better get mine and make sure my people have all they need. So long as my people are protected and provided for, I am safe and good.

This lie undercuts our humanity, and it also mobilizes the conditions that allow for people to be separated and imprisoned.

To repair the larger damage of separation (related to individualism and social stratification), we need to learn again from feminists and womanists of color who study, name, and teach relational literacies. To see ourselves as truly in relation with—as family to all humans—we need to expand our circle of relations. Such work can begin by studying “abuelit@ wisdoms” (Licona and Chávez), “kinship” (e.g., Collins; Richardson), and the Indigenous values of relationality and “all my relations” (e.g., Powell; Riley-Mukavetz). Such work involves seeing one’s “family” (or familial circles) as expanding outward to include more and more relatives.

What work is needed to shift worldviews toward communal kinship and relational responsibilities? What needs to change in order to see ourselves as responsible not just to immediate family groups but to all humans and beings? Are we ready to let go of national and other dividing lines?

Again, these questions call our attention to the both/and. We need both inward-oriented healing and outward-oriented building. We need both self-care and community care. We need to engage in the work of looking both backward (reckoning with the colonial past and present) and forward (imaginatively creating a relational future).

My hope in sharing these examples is that we might use this moment of mobilized political engagement to engage in bigger dreaming and scheming. To move beyond resistance fatigue, we’ll need to leverage both this moment and all the moments to come.

Recently, I shared with my Reiki teacher that I’ve been “burning up” with anger, and we reflected on the contrast of fire as warming versus fire as all-consuming. Instead of allowing the fire to rage out of control (and to burn down the house), how could I tend to my anger (my fire) as I would tend to a fireplace that provides light and warmth?

At least in part, the answer involves ongoing attention. Whereas an either/or approach alternates between a raging fire and burned-out embers, a both/and approach invites continued maintenance and planning: from preparing materials and adding wood to fanning the flame and keeping it alight. May we embrace the both/and approach and keep the fire burning—to brighten our path into the darkness that surrounds us and is still to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice,” “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Reframing “Independence Day” as a Day for Truth-Telling and Committing to Justice

I really struggle with July 4th. It’s a holiday that presumes to celebrate “freedom,” but freedom for whom? By what means? Under what circumstances?

It’s a holiday that celebrates myths like meritocracy and “the American Dream,” while keeping hidden systemic racism and other ongoing oppression.

It’s a holiday that normalizes narratives and displays of patriotism, which underlie white nationalism, tribalism, and the logics of “we” versus “them.” The “we” must be “better than” or “the best,” even when assertions that the United States is “the best country in the world” are wrong, as Shaun King documented this week. Still, such assertions persist, especially around this holiday.

This year, the 4th of July left me feeling a physical pain (tightening and nausea) in my stomach. Pain at the many falsehoods. Pain at presumptions that this holiday is celebratory. Pain at attempting to go-about-the-day-as-usual when there’s no avoiding the systemic racism underlying all the red-white-and-blue attire, explosions of firecrackers both day and night, closure of public places in commemoration, and other patriotic displays.

So, I allowed myself to feel the pain, to grieve, and to seek sources for reframing this holiday and my experience of it.

I found initial relief through truth-telling—with deep appreciation to the blog “What’s the Meaning of the 4th of July to Marginalized People?” and the video “No Country for Me.”

I found inspiration through seeing friends reframe “independence day” as “interdependence day,” shifting the focus from colonialism and individualism toward a relational worldview.

I found a vision of a what Native Independence Day might look like, a vision of righting wrongs, redressing harm, and enacting equity and justice. Such a vision involves making visible the histories of genocide, human rights abuses, slavery, and oppression in the United States. It also involves acting with response-ability (as in the ability to respond)—moving from truth-telling and remembering to repairing and healing. It involves acting on what the truth compels.

If we in the United States want an annual celebration of freedom, then I’d ask that we wrestle with hard questions about whose freedom matters and why. How freedom can be achieved for all. What response-abilities are needed for collective, shared freedom.

Truly, liberation involves knowledge of the past, reckoning with the good and bad, and willingness to make right. It involves seeing one’s “freedom” in relation with others. How can one person be free when others still aren’t? Appreciating Nelson Mandela’s wisdom: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Human-like figures (in shades of green) standing side-by-side with the question in front: "How can one person be free when others still aren't?"

We have a looooooooooooooong way to go toward freedom. A long, long way, which is why I can’t celebrate the 4th of July. It’s not a celebratory holiday, though perhaps it could be a day for truth-telling and re-committing to justice. A day for valuing interdependence and everyday practices on the long haul toward justice.

I’m appreciative that this year my body reminded me through stomach pains that I can’t go about the day (or any day) as though it’s business as usual. For the usual is unjust. May I choose to tread another path, a path toward justice.