Identity-Related Trauma

There is a link between a traumatic exposure and one’s identity. Any verbal or nonverbal demeaning, negative, belittling, biased, and prejudiced communication (be it at the individual or systemic level) can contribute to one feeling overwhelmed, which can in turn lead to an inability to adequately cope. It is possible that a traumatic event occurs as the result of how you describe your identity. For example, gender and sexual minority groups may be marginalized and face recurring systemic and individual discrimination simply because of their gender or sexual identity. It is also important to know that a traumatic experience can negatively impact one’s identity and lead to a shift in identity and self-esteem. In other words, one’s sense of self can be altered because one has experienced identity-related prejudice or discrimination. For example, an individual who experiences recurring prejudice or discrimination because of their identified faith and religious practices may begin to view themselves more negatively, which can lead to decreased self-esteem and subsequent shifts in their identity.

Understanding and fostering a healthy sense of identity builds resiliency in one’s life and can improves one’s ability to cope with stressful or traumatic experiences. Some examples of identities include:

  • Sexual minority groups including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning
  • Religious or faith-based minority groups
  • First generation college students
  • Individuals with a developmental, physical, or intellectual disability
  • Individuals who have experienced inconsistent or unstable relationship patterns within significant and long-lasting relationships

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