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How to Manage Complicated Feelings During the Chauvin Trial

Tips from four Minneapolis-based mental health professionals.

by Gretchen Brown
March 15, 2021 | Health
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Credit: local_doctor // Adobe

Derek Chauvin goes to trial this month, charged with the murder of George Floyd. You know this already because the news is nearly impossible to escape.

Images of Floyd and Chauvin are broadcasted on cable television, in newspapers and on social media with every update in the case. And in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, temporary concrete barriers, metal fencing and barbed wire surround the downtown courthouse where the trial is taking place.

For many, especially Black folks, the trial brings back memories of Floyd's killing last May, and all the feelings of grief, anger and sadness that came with it.

It's tempting to want to push those feelings back down again.

"It comes back to generational trauma, and it's been based on the dehumanization of Black people through white supremacy. We've minimized our feelings, but that's no longer a successful tactic," said Bria Garner, a Minneapolis-based Marriage and Family Therapist.

"We honor ourselves and our feelings because they matter and they are real and are valid."

Four Minneapolis-based mental health professionals shared these thoughts about how to manage your feelings as the trial gets underway.

Bria Garner, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

On violent images and mental health:

Being constantly exposed to murder or violence of any kind, whether it is directly in front of you or through a television screen, it's always going to have an impact on someone's mental health. 

I think about how there's also been an increase of video taken of harm of Black and brown bodies that have been circulating the internet, how that has desensitized our view of the seriousness of these incidents. We start to internalize this pain and we don't know what to do with it. 

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Check in with yourself: What things bring me energy? What things are draining to me? What things bring me joy?  |  Credit: nadia_snopek // Adobe

On generational trauma for Black and brown bodies:

We find ourselves more on edge or more hypervigilant, and really, experience these complex trauma symptoms of negative world view, angry outbursts. Having intrusive thoughts about not only the murders and unjust incidents, but also the ramifications of what we perceive is going to happen with the trial based on past experiences and specifically for Black and brown bodies.

It comes down to generational trauma and how this has been a perpetual part of existence that it's become ingrained in the community that to survive, you have to push past these feelings, which then results in increased trauma and triggers when we continue to be exposed to it.

On healing:

I think that's the hardest part because the intention is to heal, but it's hard to heal when you continue to be placed in a space where you're retriggered over and over again. 

When it comes to managing your feelings in this moment, as we take it day by day, start with really limiting your exposure to the news and social media. One thing I would definitely encourage for Black and brown bodies, especially Black-identifying people at the time, is to disengage from social media and the news if you have to, it's OK. We know this is the reality. 

This has been our experience for so long that sometimes we don't need to be reminded of what we already know, and it isn't for us, but as much as it's for the rest of the world to see what continues to happen. 

Shavon Swain, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

On finding coping strategies:

It's hard to know without some trial and error, because we could definitely try something and realize that it may increase our anxiety. And that may just be our signal. It also changes. How I feel after hearing some news on day one versus how I feel on day 10 may be very different. 

So it is doing some self checks. I often talk to people about asking yourself: What do I need at this moment?

On developing a plan for tough moments:

What's going to be beneficial with that is, you can kind of think, what things bring me energy and what things are draining to me? What things bring me joy? Which people in my support system make me feel, seen, make me feel heard? And then, you know, these could be your go-to people. Maybe there's someone who you schedule a check-in with in two weeks.

Doing that self-assessment and really figuring out what things helped me feel better when times are hard, and what things do not help me feel better? And then go toward the things that reduce your anxiety, the things that can make you laugh, the things to put a smile on your face.

On professional help:

There are times when people seek out professional support because they realize that the ways they used to cope are no longer working. 

So if you have been able to cope well by reading a book, or working out, and you find things are not working, or you find yourself in a place where you no longer enjoy those things, you no longer have the energy to engage in those things and just know that something is off, and that you cannot kind of figure this out on your own — that could be a sign that talking to someone in a professional setting could be beneficial. 

Hugh Armstrong, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

On putting words to your feelings:

For many this can be a form of vicarious trauma. Seeing these images (on social media) and what it does as far as reactivating feelings or thoughts of what happened previously — this can really be looked at as like a prolonged state of fight or flight that we've been in. What has been helpful for some has been just simply acknowledging what's happening, putting language to it, putting words to what they're feeling or what they're thinking has been a really good starting point from there.

I know a lot of people are really involved right now to advocate for systemic changes, for racial equality. You can do that and also practice self-care. Also, those things can coexist and I think sometimes kind of get overlooked. 

On practicing mindfulness and staying present:

Learning ways to slow the body down can create some level of regulation so that when we are exposed to things that can be triggering, we're not getting overwhelmed by what we're observing and we can practice staying present. 

I think it's common for us to want to disassociate, to go somewhere else when we are witnessing these images. That's a way of coping, maybe not the healthiest way. 

Just arming yourself with this information, what am I experiencing when I'm shutting down, when I'm numbing, what's happening in this moment? For people that don't know, that can be really scary when they can't name it. 

On finding a support system:

If you're in a situation where you're feeling like you're not being heard or acknowledged, it's OK to voice that. I think we can speak to our experiences. You can do that and not be an asshole, you know? I think it's okay to feel comfortable to do that.

Know that you're not alone. We all experience things differently, and implicit bias is real and there's a lot of injustice that's happening and for people of color that's real. You surround yourself around people that you feel safe with. You surround yourself with people that support you. Follow your gut.

On being supportive to friends:

I think there's this natural response for most folks to want to fix. Being aware of that tendency to want to do that sometimes, people maybe just want you to shut up and listen, and be OK with that. 

In many cases it's simply listening, acknowledging and validating, and I don't want to minimize that. For folks to be heard, to be validated, acknowledged, that's really powerful.

Resmaa Menakem, Trauma Expert and Therapist

Resmaa Menakem offered these comments in the first episode of Trial & Tribulation, part of the Twin Cities PBS digital storytelling project Racism Unveiled.

On providing support:

A lot of times we ask people, "How you doing?" And we really don't want to know how they're doing.

And asking questions like, "Did you eat breakfast today? How are the kids? Are you sleeping well? Are you getting out? Are you breathing? Are you communing with people?" Those are the questions that actually help to support our ways of dealing with the persistent trauma and historical trauma that exists, especially for those of us in Black and brown bodies.

We have to create in our communities what I call wailing spaces, retrieval spaces. Spaces and houses where people can come and sit, have their mask on and be there with other bodies and rock — other Black bodies, other brown bodies, other red bodies — be there and rock. Not give advice, but rock.

Let people cry and grieve because they're not just crying and grieving what is happening in terms of the trial. We're crying and grieving and needing to wail because of what has happened and continues to happen to our people and it shows up in an acute way in these types of situations.

For more, click through to watch the full interview.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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