collective traumaLast updated
Some incidents are so significant, pervasive, or severe that they can cause psychological harm to an entire society. These events often disrupt a society’s way of life or pose an existential crisis. There is not one single agreed-upon threshold for when something can be considered collective trauma, but examples of events that may cause it include wars, recessions, mass outbreaks of a disease, and economic recessions. Though collective trauma affects everyone in society and can have effects for generations, it can look very different at the individual level: Not every member of the society will experience the event as traumatic or get post-traumatic stress disorder.
Commonly used examples of events that caused collective trauma include the Great Depression, 9/11, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Continued instances of police violence against Black people in the US are a unique example of identity-related collective trauma. Exploration of the many ways collective trauma can manifest in individuals and communities adds essential context to news coverage.
Historical trauma is a type of collective trauma that affects a group that shares a certain identity, like race, ethnicity, religion, culture, etc. Rather than being caused by a single event, it stems from an extended period of oppression or large-scale victimization that may span generations. Examples of historical trauma include the enslavement of Black people, the Holocaust, the theft of Indigenous lands, and the Romani diaspora.
Intergenerational trauma refers to trauma-related effects passed down by the original survivors of a traumatic event to younger generations. Though research on intergenerational trauma is an emerging field, some studies have examined trauma-related behaviors and conditions being passed down from survivors of the Holocaust and the Holodomor in Ukraine; and from Indigenous people who were forced to attend Indian “schools” in Canada designed to erase Native culture and traditions. The ongoing negative effects of systemic racism stemming from the enslavement of Black people is another prominent example. Even when the oppression is ongoing, it is still considered historical trauma.
Collective trauma refers to society’s interpretation of and reaction to a calamity that affects an entire community. Commonly used examples of events that caused collective trauma include the Great Depression, 9/11, the enslavement of Black people, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Exploration of the ways collective trauma can manifest in individuals and communities adds essential context to news coverage.