The body always remembers. Like other children of Vietnamese war refugees, I understand how hardships and inconceivable loss leave marks. Psychologists in the 1990s found roughly half of Holocaust survivors were still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience). Emerging studies show that, in communities of survivors, trauma may also be passed onto subsequent generations through epigenetic changes, where the mechanism by which our body reads DNA – not DNA itself – is altered (Stanford University). This intergenerational transfer can also be behavioral; parents with severe anxiety may model detrimental patterns of thinking and feeling.
The wellness industry in the U.S. is rooted in the concept of self-care. But, when we look beyond our own wellbeing, it’s clear how detrimental this approach can be to other communities. One popularized practice is the act of smudging, an Indigenous spiritual ritual to cleanse the soul and space around it (Huffpost). Many people use Palo Santo or white sage, which are medicinal, ceremonial, and sacred plants. As smudging moves its way into the mainstream, the demand for Palo Santo and white sage grows – negatively impacting the Indigenous communities from where the practice originates.
Over the past year, the global pandemic has highlighted the vast racial disparities in medical treatment in the U.S. Many of its elements are more subtle; difficult to see if you don’t experience it first-hand. But some are more blatant – like racial correction factors. In medicine, equations and algorithms can often be used to diagnose or screen patients. Racial correction factors are when physicians adjust the measurements or risk calculations for patients based on their race. Despite the fact that race is a social construct, many medical providers hold on to the idea of race as a biological variable. This has a severe, sometimes fatal impact on people of color.
Spiritual bypassing is to sidestep dealing with pain, strong feelings, trauma, etc. It can be helpful when we are not ready to confront difficult emotions in our lives. However, it is commonly used to avoid acknowledging privilege because doing so is inherently messy, painful, and requires continued awareness.