Navigating Complex Trauma with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)

By Kendra Penski on May 18, 2022 in Blog

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For many in the AAPI community, the term “complex trauma” is unfamiliar. We go through life thinking our experiences and stressors are normal, suppressing valuable thoughts and emotions- living in survival mode. Our unique experiences follow us from history into childhood and mold our belief system and values, learned habits, and behaviors. Navigating complex trauma can feel overwhelming and well…complex.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma or C-PTSD refers to a series of traumatic events that take place over an extended period of time or life span. Through complex trauma, we can develop anxious responses (fight, flight, fight, freeze, and fawn) that lead to common symptoms of PTSD such as feeling anxious, on edge,  having intrusive flashbacks, and avoiding circumstances or experiences that are reminders. Over time, these experiences can lead to psychological challenges, difficulty with emotion regulation, dysfunctional behaviors, and relationship issues. 

Examples of Complex Trauma:

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Cultural Obedience
  • Lack of education, financial resources and support 
  • Physical and/or emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse or incest
  • Ongoing physical or emotional abuse
  • Chronic neglect or abandonment 
  • Medical abuse or medical trauma
  • Parentification or enmeshment
  • Systemic racism/oppression
  • Racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS)
  • Human trafficking
  • Language and communication barriers

We DON’T have to do it Alone…

Throughout history, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced complex trauma that can be difficult to manage and often leads to frustration, guilt, shame, and loneliness. In retrospect, mental health awareness in our AAPI community continues to be a powerful resource for navigating the complexity of our cultural history and trauma experiences. As an advocate and speaker for the AAPI community, it is imperative that we seek support through therapy and support groups. Remember, we don’t have to do it alone, and our voice matters!

By Cindy Way, AMFT