February 2020




  • Studies show a combination of factors contribute to resilience
  • Supportive familial and peer relationships are a primary factor in resilience
  • People use varying strategies as trauma response is subjective.
  • A person’s culture may impact how they communicate and deal with adversity, which may lead to different approaches to building resilience.

(American Psychological Association, 2018)

Historical Trauma & the Path to Resilience

Historical trauma is defined as an event, or set of events, that happen to a group of people who share a specific identity. The result of the events are often the attempted annihilation or disruption of traditional ways of life, culture, and identity. The identity could be based in nationality, tribal affiliation, ethnicity, race or religious affiliation (Andrasik, 2018). In the United States, minority groups have endured a history of multiple traumas.

Historical Trauma was conceptualized by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart in the 1980s. Dr. Brave Heart was seeking to understand why life for many Native Americans is not “fulfilling the American Dream”. In 2005, after twelve years of quantitative and qualitative research the theory of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome was developed by Dr. Joy DeGruy. Dr. DeGruy’s research showed the consequences of slavery followed by institutionalized racism and oppression which has resulted in multigenerational adaptive behavior, reflecting both harmful and resilient behaviors (DeGruy, 2005).

Research has shown the effects of historical trauma include depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, high mortality rates, as well as vulnerability to diminished psychological health in later generations. Children of Holocaust survivors are more vulnerable to PTSD and second and third generation of Holocaust survivors display both remarkable resilience and heightened post-traumatic stress symptoms (Mohatt, Thompson, Thai, & Tebes, 2014). Even family members who have not experienced the trauma can feel the effects of the event generations later.

Understanding the experiences of a community of people is important in the healing process. Connecting the past to the present is ingrained in many cultural traditions. Historical trauma contextualizes “time and place,” validating and aligning itself with the experiences of affected populations. The recognition of accountability creates an emotional release from blame and guilt often attributed to health status which empowers individuals and communities to address the root causes of poor health unique to culture and community (Sotero, 2006). Reconnecting people to the strengths of their ancestry and culture, helping people process the grief of past traumas, and creating new historical narratives can have healing effects for those experiencing historical trauma. Although these narratives include genocide, enslavement, forced relocation and ongoing discrimination there are also narratives of survival, hope, resilience, and resistance. (Mohatt, Thompson, Thai, & Tebes, 2014).

Resilience Factors & Strategies Include…

  1. Make Connections
    Being active in civic groups, faith based organizations, or local groups provides support and helps with reclaiming hope.
  2. Take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs
    Pay attention to your own needs and feelings.
  3. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
    People who have experienced loss and tragedy reported supportive relationships, and greater sense of strength aiding in their resilience.
  4. Take decisive actions.
    Rather than detaching completely from stressors seek help from a licensed mental health professional.


American psychological association “the road to resilience” (2018). [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience

Andrasik, M. (2018, September 9). Historical trauma and the health and wellbeing of communities of color. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

DeGruy, J. (2005). Post traumatic slave syndrome: America’s legacy enduring injury and healing. Milwaukie, Oregon.

Mohatt, N.V., Thompson, A.B., Thai, N.D., Tebes, J.K. (2014). Historical trauma as public narrative: A conceptual review of how history impacts
present-day health. Social Science & Medicine, 106, 128-136. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.043.

Sotero, M. (2006). A conceptual model of historical trauma: Implications for public health practice and research. Journal of Health Disparities
Research & Practice, 1, 93-108.

Written by: Michelle Pigott, MA