International Journal of

Communal and Transgenerational Trauma

Journal of
  Common Bond Institute  and
  International Humanistic Psychology Association

White Supremacy, Overcoming A Legacy Of Cognitive Dissonance And Unresolved Trauma.


This article aims to identify and understand how radicalized behavior, being a by-product of white supremacy is inculcated in individuals through continued cognitive dissonance and unresolved trauma. The avoidance of confronting uncomfortable emotions that comes with discussing this nation’s racialized history is symptomatic of an internal impairment. Subsequently, the legacy of a nation steeped in racialized exploitation and extermination of BIPOC individuals has dire consequences that are negatively apparent in educational outcomes, mental health, health care, employment, housing, law enforcement, and so many other aspects of life.

Symptoms of white supremacy abound. From racial polarization to discrimination, all aspects of life in the U.S. suffer. A deeper understanding of this impairment is required in order to address how a large segment of humanity has developed a profound lack of empathy and fragmentation from humanity. This condition is deeply rooted in generational psychological adjustment to historical trauma. As we examine the field of generational trauma which is also known as intergenerational trauma, transgenerational trauma or secondary trauma (Doucet & Rovers, 2010) we offer promising efforts toward restoring mental, emotional, and physical well-being of a subset of humanity whose dispositional outlook may be rooted at any of the varied points within the white supremacy continuum. In creating spaces by which to move fragmented people from cognitive dissonance to cognitive resonance, we aspire to reintegrate a segment of the U.S. population by healing the relational fractures that break humanity into polarized pieces.


White Supremacy, Overcoming a Legacy of Cognitive Dissonance and Unresolved Trauma

The NFL established the Rooney Rule, in 2003, which requires that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for head coach openings. Intended to promote diversity at the highest levels of NFL management, the policy has yet to produce the outcomes intended. Instead, a lawsuit filed by Brian Flores, Former Miami Dolphins National Football League (NFL) Coach, exposed pernicious hiring practices skirting guidelines established by the Rooney Rule. Mr. Flores revealed how the policy was being circumvented when he uncovered that another coach had already been hired for a coaching position with the New York Giants prior to his scheduled interview for the opening.  In the aftermath of his discovery Mr. Flores stated, “…we’re at a fork in the road right now. We’re going to keep it the way it is, or go in another direction, and make some change where we’re actually changing the hearts and minds of those who make decisions…” (Morona, 2022). The lesson from this event reveals that policies, in and of themselves, do not necessarily move the needle forward when people in positions of power subvert efforts to increase diversification at higher levels of management and are, instead, committed to maintaining a racialized status quo

Similarly, anti-lynching laws have been proposed in the United States since 1918, yet, the world bore witness to the brazen murders of Mr. George Floyd in May of 2020 and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery in February of 2020. The brazen murders of these two men speak to not only the disregard for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) lives but calls attention to the fact that their perpetrators were held accountable only because cameras captured their unjustified violence for the world to see. While these two examples demonstrate what is most extreme in the violent nature of white supremacist behaviors in the United States against BIPOC, the 2018 “Unite the Right” alt-right demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia resulted in the death of counter protestor Heather Heyer, a white woman, and in numerous debilitating injuries to other counter protestors.  The use of physical violence, a tool utilized by white supremacists to intimidate, cause fear, and maintain perceived domination, is one end of the continuum of white supremacist behaviors but countless, daily, and insidious microaggressions also take their toll on BIPOC. As in the case of Mr. Flores, intentional acts of exclusion and disregard for policy is emboldened by lack of accountability.

Racialized behavior, a by-product of white supremacy, lies on a continuum. The behaviors are as brazen as the previously cited violent murders to behaviors that reveal white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018). In the latter, the basic capacity to empathize with people across the racial divide is disabled. This, in turn, undermines constructive engagement that would move the needle forward in overcoming this nation’s racialized legacy. The avoidance of confronting uncomfortable emotions that comes with discussing this nation’s racialized history is symptomatic of an internal psychological impairment. Subsequently, the legacy of a nation steeped in racialized exploitation and extermination of BIPOC has dire consequences that are apparent in educational outcomes, health care, employment, housing, law enforcement, and so many other aspects of life. With chronic and intentional denial of this nation’s infected roots, the tree will eventually fall. For this reason, it is critical to direct our attention not only to the symptoms of but, just as importantly, to white supremacy’s etiology.

Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance offers a theoretical framing of white supremacy which explains how an impaired emotional response to violence impedes a significant portion of the U.S. community to evolve as human beings. Similarly, Menakem (2017) offers an understanding of embodied trauma to examine the intergenerational ramification of unresolved trauma. These two framings, cognitive dissonance and embodied trauma, address how the trauma experienced by Europeans, fleeing their countries of origin has reverberations felt in the United States today (Hübl, 2021).

As we examine the field of generational trauma which is also known as intergenerational trauma, transgenerational trauma or secondary trauma (Doucet & Rovers, 2010) we offer promising efforts toward restoring mental, emotional, and physical well-being of humanity who may be rooted at any of the varied points within the continuum of white supremacy. In creating spaces by which to move fragmented people from cognitive dissonance to cognitive resonance, we aspire to reintegrate a segment of the U.S. population by healing the relational fractures that break humanity into polarized pieces.

The Emergence of Racism and Disembodiment

Loewen (1995) posits how the seeds of cognitive dissonance were planted in the hearts and minds of Europeans. When Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Bahamas in 1492, he described the inhabitants as “remarkable for their hospitality, their belief in sharing” (Zinn, 1999, p. 1). Yet, when Columbus was unable to find gold he found value not in the hospitality of the inhabitants but in being able to kidnap, enslave, and sell them in Europe. Changing his opinion of the people whom he intended to harm enabled him to justify the mistreatment. Employing cognitive dissonance opened the door for him to accommodate and justify dehumanization and subsequent exploitation. This psychological template, cognitive dissonance, perpetuated the rationalized subjugation of people now deemed as ‘others’ by stressing the differences that made them most identifiable; skin color. Subsequently, the phenomenon of ‘race’ was given birth.

Painter (2010) indicates that the notion of ‘race’ did not exist in Europe prior to the diaspora,

…neither the idea of race nor the idea of “white” people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning. What mattered was where they lived; were their lands damp or dry; were they virile or prone to impotence, hard or soft; could they be seduced by the luxuries of civilized society or were they warriors through and through? What were their habits of life? Rather than as “white’ people, northern Europeans were known by vague tribal names: Scythians and Celts, then Gauls and Germani (p. 2)

The creation of ‘race’ became a convenient construct by which to identify those who were deemed exploitable and, in many cases, expendable. The evolving ideology of white supremacy crafted itself into a structure that, as described by Memmi (2000) establishes cognitive acceptance that 1) Identifies difference, 2) Places a negative association placed on the difference and then, 3) Asserts power to enforce domination upon those deemed different.

Additionally, the psychological structure of racism, rooted in the founding of a new nation, was fueled by the arrival of traumatized Europeans. Fleeing homelands where they directly experienced and/or witnessed large scale wars, plagues, famine, extreme systems of injustice, and religious persecution (Kelly, 2005) Europeans bore the brunt of unresolved trauma (Menakem, 2017). What is known now through the study of neuroscience is that exposure to and the experience of psychological trauma, abuse, and neglect adversely impacts the brain.

While there are physiological changes when exposed to trauma, it is also now recognized that the brain’s alarm system experiences a recalibration which results in a state of hypervigilance, increased stress hormone activity, and a compromised ability to filter relevant information from irrelevant (VanderKolk, 2014). Subsequently, psychological impairment coupled with the challenges of adjusting to a new land gave rise to false notions inherent to white superiority. An array of inadequacies fueled responses to people deemed as ‘others’ which has trickled down through the generations. Unfortunately, these historical factors have escalated into self segregation and fragmentation of many white U.S. Americans from the rest of the beautifully diverse populations who live in this world. Without healthy ways to respond to the growing diverse populations around them, white supremacists exist within a devolving worldview that incapacitates future generations from attaining full functioning relationships outside their own encapsulated existence. The multiple forms in which this unresolved trauma is transmitted will be explored with specific examples of the various responses and reactions evident today.  

Collective Horizontal Trauma and its’ Vertical Manifestation

Symptoms of white supremacy abound. From racial polarization to discrimination, all aspects of life in the U.S. suffer. A deeper understanding of this impairment is required in order to address how a large segment of humanity has developed a profound lack of empathy and fragmentation from people who may not look like them. This condition is deeply rooted in generational psychological adjustment to historical trauma. Collins and Collins (2005) define trauma as an emotional response to any event that “overwhelms an individual’s sense of security and safety” (p. 5).  Current literature, crime statistics, and client reports point to trauma occurring relatively often in U.S. society, with the vast majority of individuals in U.S. society having access to resources that can buttress their resilience.

When looking at who experiences trauma in the modern era, estimates are that 60% of men and 50% of women, experience one form of trauma in their lifetime (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). Women generally experience traumatic events in the form of: sexual abuse or assault. Males generally experience trauma via accidents, disasters, witnessing traumatic events, and combat actions (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that in order for an individual to be diagnosed as having Stress Post-Traumatic Disorder (PTSD), the patient must develop “characteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.274). These events may occur as multiple events that are similar or dissimilar in scope over the individual’s lifetime or can occur as a singular event. It is paramount to understand the neurological and behavioral responses to trauma, as it creates a new way of operating in the world.

Trauma responses generally fall into three main bodies of reaction, fight, flight, or freeze, which can also be described as tonic immobility. Having experienced or witnessed atrocities in their land of origin and then faced with overwhelming circumstances which forced Europeans into a survival mode, the ways in which they responded and the stories told to subsequent generations creates a steady thread of trauma response to the unknown as well as to those who were ‘different.’ The collective experience of traumatic events is a horizontal experience but what is passed down, intergenerationally, is known as the vertical transmission (Hubl, 2021).

Response to witnessing traumatic events can lead to disassociation which, when replicated, generation after generation can create fragmentation. While certain trauma response behaviors may have been needed to preserve one’s life during an event, the ultimate outcome, without learning to release the emotions that have been ignored from such witnessing can become not only an emotional disconnect from oneself but also turn into a lack of empathy for the suffering of others.

The following example from abolitionist Angelina Grimké, a southern woman raised in a slave holding state and family, speaks to witnessing the violent mistreatment against an enslaved human being. She also reflects on the psychological condition of those who also bore witness to the same event but who seemingly numbed themselves to the atrocities committed in their daily reality. In her journal she chronicled what transpired on her way to tutor the daughter of a “workhouse” master. This is where enslavers sent people they enslaved to be punished.

These are no things I have heard; no, my own eyes have looked upon them and wept over them… No one can imagine my feelings walking down that street. It seemed as though I was walking on the very confines of hell. This winter being obliged to pass it to pay a visit to a friend. I suffered so much that I could not get over it for days and wondered how any real Christian could live near such a place (Lerner, 1998, p. 60).

While it is apparent that Grimké was exposed to a traumatic event and speaks to the rumination of the experience “for days” she also comments on the lack of response from others and is left “wonder”(ing) as to how they are able to exist. Clearly, the sustained impact of hearing the cries of enslaved people impacted Angelina. Nonetheless, she and her sister, Sarah, became ardent abolitionists which is evidence of post traumatic growth. On the other hand, for those who bore witness to such events and were either unable or unwilling to intercede, the accommodation of such atrocities in their day to day reality also has generational reverberations. How this accommodation trickles down from one generation to the next is contained in the following story communicated by a graduate student relating her interaction with her mother when, as a child, she saw someone whose “difference” was remarkable.

When I was a little kid, I was in the doctor’s office. I saw this African American man walk by. I was in fourth grade. He was the darkest man I’d ever seen and he had a white suit on so the contrast was crazy to me. I turned to my mom…  “Mom, he was black!” and my mom goes, “Cara!” she gets all mad at me. And I was like, “What did I just say? What did I just do?” To her I said, “black.” She was like “Don’t say that around here.” Where, for me, I was fascinated. I thought he was beautiful! So, expressing that curiosity, expressing that difference in my life… I didn’t think anything bad… And I just remember it so clearly. And, of course, I remember it even more clearly because Mom slapped me down. (Borunda, 2011, pp. 259).

The socialization, over generations, has created this splintering. Cara’s mother learned that noticing the beauty of another human being, whose skin color was different, was not acceptable because the ‘difference,’ in and of itself was not supposed to be given any attention. The lesson being transmitted meant that the child was not to see or recognize a man who she saw as beautiful. However, the process of a complete negative association with ‘difference’ that leads to extreme fragmentation was noted by Emilee’s commentary on intergroup relationships, “…people fear difference…and when they fear something that will just translate to hate. It’s like, “I fear you, so I don’t like you.”

The transmission of “difference” as a cause for fear, leading to hate is palpable in the United States. While there are those who might have inherited numbness, or lack of empathy, to the suffering of others as Angelina Grimké noted, there are also those who, due to unresolved trauma, quickly turn to fear and hatred of that and who that is different and unknown to them.

One last example of how historical trauma is responded to and transmitted, differently, across generations is apparent in the case of abolitionist John Brown. His attempt to liberate enslaved people with an armed militia not only failed but resulted in the death of members of his hand selected group and several of his sons who died by his side during his failed attack on slave holding region. Prior to Brown’s execution he received a letter from his daughter, Ruth, whose son, Johny, asked that the following be communicated to his grandfather as he awaited his execution, “Tell grandfather that I know he is in prison because he tried to do good” (Borunda, 34). Truly, in this family lineage, the response to the atrocities committed against enslaved black people inculcated a different way of viewing people who had been othered. Rather than disassociating or fearing and hating, the Brown family learned and modeled for the next generation a response directed at the injustices and inequities being committed against enslaved people. Instead of adhering to rationalizations that attempted to justify the mistreatment, they retained their humanity and acted in collaboration with BIPOC to change the circumstances.

The following section provides greater context to the psychological and physiological impact that we see today. Given the capacity to draw from approaches that cognitively restructure one’s thinking about self and about others, strategies can be introduced to curtail identification with white supremacist ideology. Altering the trajectory of the widening polarity that is evident in the United States is dependent, however, on the narrative we choose.

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorry, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.” (Tale of Two Wolves).

Feeding the Bad Wolf

What does it mean to feed the bad wolf, is it a conscious decision or an unconscious decision, it is a bit of both at least initially? Family systems act inextricably on the behaviors, attitudes, mores, perceptions, and how individuals form their world view. Social Construction Theory (SCT) postulates that reality is constructed by the “personal narratives” of family members and are imbued with the “multiple realities” that are experienced by those members and thus create realities for the children in those systems (Jager, Yuen, Bornstein, Putnick, & Hendricks, 2014, p. 407)

It is known that racism or racist attitudes are not inborn (Kinzler & Spelke, 2011). As a society we become more and less inclined towards bias or anti-bias, racist or anti-racists beliefs based upon our environmental factors, including family of origin, educational, and governmental institutions (McRae, 2018; Banaji & Greenwald, 2016; Rizzo & Roberts, 2021). A quote from Roberts and Rizzo (2021) surmises this, “…citizens of racist societies reinforce racism, whether they identify as racist or not, and whether they want to or not” (p. 476). These beliefs in either direction are continually reinforced by our institutions, our friends, our family, and ourselves. ) looked at the differing sensitive periods in development noting that early childhood negative experiences impacted vulnerability to health and cognition, with adolescents being more vulnerable to “addiction mental illness, and stress—and also particularly adept at learning from experience” (Belsky & Andersen, 2022, p. 2). As children in the United States continue to be exposed to negative rhetoric related to ‘difference,’ the bad wolf is not only nourished but the children indoctrinated by white supremacist ideology are sickened. With home, community, and society fueling separatist ideology, the impact is evident in its’ impact on the well-being of our children today.

In her 2018 book Mothers of Massive Resistance, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae discusses the role of women, particularly in their role of primary caretaker in the home, in education as k-12 teachers, in selecting textbooks, and their role as clerks in county recording offices, in the perpetuation of racist ideology.  Yet, this imparts an important aspect of investigating racist ideology in the home from the lens of being an adverse childhood experience. An adverse childhood experience can be summed up by living in a home with negative environmental factors (Rivas, 2021). These factors are inclusive of: having a caretaker or household member with a mental health disorder that is diagnosed or undiagnosed and generally untreated; being witness to intimate partner violence, generally towards their mother; having close members of their family that are incarcerated, substance abuse (and associated concerns, poverty, violence, neglect), and death of a parent or the divorce of parents (Felitti et al., 2019; Rivas 2021). It’s important to note that the Adverse Childhood Experience Scale examines events that happen within three distinct categories: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction (CDC 2017). Each category has between two and five subsets which include: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, and environmental concerns (Rivas, 2021).

Additional psychosocial stressors that affect children is their ability to maintain social connectedness with their caretakers and those that care for them (Sumner & Gallagher, 2017). “High ACE scores can hamper various aspects of daily life, including a child’s ability to transition from one situation to the next” (Taylor, 2019, p. 29). Children experience dysfunction in the home are unable to identify or verbalize their lived experience or their internal feelings, this is due in part to typical developmental constraints and as discussed previously parental modeling and the family’s shared reality (Rivas & Rivas, 2020; Jager,Yuen, Bornstein, Putnick & Hendricks, 2014).

How is mental and physical health in adults and children linked to high ACE scores? It has been shown that having four or more adverse childhood experiences increases the individual’s propensity to develop adverse mental health and physical health disorders. (Felitti et al., 2019) indicated that an individual who have a high ACE score developed or have some form of, “pharmacological or psychological benefit” that acts as a maladaptive coping mechanism. This is a response to the traumatic and/ or dysfunctional systems that individuals are exposed to during their life (p.783).  They further indicate that, “High levels of exposure to adverse childhood experiences would expectedly produce anxiety, anger, and depression in children. To the degree that behaviors such as smoking, alcohol, or drug use are found to be effective as coping devices, they would tend to be used chronically” (Felitti et al., 2019, p. 783).

Current literature suggests that families whose members have mental health and/or substance use disorders increase the probability that children within these units will have an increased risk of mental health disorders in childhood, in addition to having higher risk for adult substance use disorders. Bearing in mind that individuals that live in environments that are unsafe including high conflict, ‘prime’ them in developing maladaptive coping mechanisms, based on their early experiences and exposure to atypical behaviors and coping (Ohlmeier, Peters, Wildt, Zedler, Ziegenbein, Wiese, Emrich, Schneider, 2008). It is of the utmost importance to recognize the life-long effects of early environmental factors, stressors, and trauma of individuals in order to ameliorate the negative outcomes associated with these factors.

Hardtmann’s (1998) observations in which she provided counseling, treatment and self-help group sessions to the second and third generation descendants of Nazi perpetrators uncovered common family dynamics and transmission of historical trauma in the body and psyche. Essentially, their parents transmitted patterns of “denial, splitting, projection, and projective identifications to defend against, yet transmit to them, their past.” Subsequently, the family system reflected a “quasi-psychotic world, they developed fragmentary and distorted ego boundaries without a stable sense of reality.” These distortions and denials are evident in the United States today with overt reluctance to not only confront this nation’s history but to even have children in school settings learn truth about our history. Given this aversion, the embodied trauma continues. As stated by Hübl (2021), “Unresolved past is destiny; it repeats” (pp. 84).

White Supremacists Faulty Coping and Avoidance

Dr. Gabor Maté’ indicated in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts that: “Addictions always originate in pain, whether felt openly or hidden in the unconscious. They are emotional anesthetics. Heroin and cocaine, both powerful physical painkillers, also ease psychological discomfort. Infant animals separated from their mothers can be soothed readily by low doses of narcotics, just as if it were actual physical pain they were enduring. The pain pathways in the human brain are no different. The very same brain centers that interpret and “feel” physical pain also become activated during the experience of emotional rejection”. Dr. Maté quotes a former patient with a history of cocaine and heroin use that spanned 20-years of her 31-year life, “In moments I go from complete misery and vulnerability to total invulnerability” (2010, p.36).

Trauma affects the brains neural network and its ability to function in a typical manner (Rivas, 2021). It largely affects the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala, which are involved in the response to emotional stimuli and in the regulation of emotion (Lobo, 2011). Additionally, the PFC has a role in behavioral response, planning, forethought, and learning (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011). Other areas that are affected by trauma in addition to the PFC include the: “orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC), dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC), ventromedial PFC (vmPFC), ventrolateral PFC (vlPFC), and ACC”, these areas have been indicating to having a role extinguishing distressing memories within the individual (Lobo, et. al., 2011, p. 191). Subsequently, when children do not learn to effectively engage with people outside their own communities they lose the mental flexibility and adaptability to function in the greater world. In essence, they become socially stilted by the limitations inherited by unresolved generational trauma.

The PFC has been shown to play an active role in inhibiting the amygdala. Lobo, et. al. (2011) stated, “several forms of emotional regulation (e.g., extinction, cognitive regulation, and memory reconsolidation) depend on neural substrates related to a common pathway involved in the processing of aversive stimuli” (p. 192). The effects caused by PTSD on the functioning of the brain have been shown to cause the amygdala to become overactive, this can have a secondary effect of creating emotional lability. Lobo, et. al., indicated that an overactive amygdala causes “hyperarousal, exaggerated startle responses, irritability, anger outbursts, and general hypervigilance” (2011, p.192). Through understanding the effects of stress and trauma on various regions of the brain is paramount, due to hyperactivity of the amygdala and conversely hypoactivity of the PFC, is indicative of PTSD (Lobo, 2011). Deficits within any of these areas of the brain affect executive functions including; forethought, risk-aversion, destructive behaviors, and emotional regulation, these deficits have been shown to increase the risk of substance use disorders within individuals with a trauma history. The violence induced by white supremacy groups is only one indicator of unleashed fear as a result of the bad wolf being fed.

Goldstein and Volkow (2011), indicated that limbic reward regions in addition to disruptions within the PFC has a negative effect, which can lead to the “erosion of free will” and possible substance use disorders (p.652).  Research on substance use disorders has focused on the reward center of the brain and primarily on the neurotransmitter dopamine (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011). Current research has begun to examine the role of SUD and the “impaired response inhibition and salience attribution (iRISA)” within the PFC (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011, p. 652). iRISA causes an individual to give primacy to the use of their substance of choice along with environmental use cues, this is accompanied by “decreased sensitivity to non-drug reinforcers and decreased ability to inhibit maladaptive or disadvantageous behaviours” (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011, p. 652; Rivas, 2021). iRISA “causes the individual to prioritize obtaining and use, over other responsibilities, daily living tasks, relationships and to engage in anti-social behaviors in order to satiate their needs” (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011 as cited in Rivas 2021, p.). Goldstein & Volkow (2011), indicated that the PFC is activated in the brains of individuals who habitually use substances, when they are presented with cues associated with using their substance of choice. It was also note that these individuals appeared to have less gray matter within their PFC, the authors did indicate if this was precursor or resultant of prolonged substance use (Goldstein & Volkow, 2011). The relationship between the hyper/hypoactivity of the areas that are affected by PTSD, indicate the need for further research, albeit the relationship between trauma, substance use cause by neural deficits.

A crucial feature of trauma is that it impacts the entirety of the individual, resultant in maladaptive coping strategies such as, “Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 278). Avoidance is an unconscious or conscious attempt to avoid negative thoughts, memories, sensations, or emotions associated with a traumatic event (Kumpula, Orcutt, Bardeen, & Varkovitzky, 2011). Avoidance may present in a myriad of ways, with substance use being an “effective”, albeit passing instrument of avoidance. Substance use numbs the person and assists in the avoidance of thinking about the trauma. As discussed in the previous paragraph, avoidance can manifest itself as numerous psychological, behavioral, or emotional responses

An alarming reality is that many persons within our society will be exposed to or experience multiple traumatic events, these multiple traumas may then develop into complex PTSD (Rasmussen, Arefrord, Winje, and Dovran, 2018). Complex PTSD is repetitive occurrences of traumatic events, such as; childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse (Rasmussen, Arefrord, Winje, and Dovran, 2018). Individuals with complex PTSD have a higher likelihood of engagement in more serious substance use and more risk associated behaviors (Taplin, Saddichha, Li, & Krausz, 2014). Viktor Frankl (1959) stated:

A man who could not see the end of his ‘provisional existence’ was not able to aim at an ultimate goal.  He ceased living for the future…therefore the whole structure of his inner life changed; signs of decay set in…  His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal. (p. 70)

Evidence of unresolved trauma generational trauma has manifested into destruction of lives, property, and mental health. For the United States to rise above its’ violent origins it is imperative to address ways to disrupt the patterns that impair the legacy we leave our children. Our recommendation is that rather than feeding the bad wolf that we consider expanding efforts that heal the body and reengage the heart. In essence, we look to feed the good wolf.

Feeding the Good Wolf

Given these inherited imprints from previous generations, the inability to respond creatively to the challenges of today speak to fixated positionalities that inform and fuels white supremacy. Doucet & Rovers (2010) posit that cognitive restructuring, a coping strategy of intellectualization, can be employed for distancing from negative parental imprints. Additionally, cognitive reframing promotes the construction of a positionality that not only promotes wholistic reintegration of the individual’s physiological, mental, and emotional components but can also foster increased affinity with BIPOC communities.

Recent studies have been conducted with undergraduate and graduate students who have learned about historical Euro-Americans who transcended racial group adhesion and acted in tandem with BIPOC to subvert white supremacist policies and behaviors. These humanists understood the oppressive nature of racism, acted against it, maintained relationships with BIPOC, experienced attacks for not adhering to and identifying with racist structures. In their rejection of white supremacy, these individuals who are largely absent from our history books (Zinn, 1999), maintained a spiritual, rather than religious identity. This, being critical, as white supremacy in the U.S. has coopted Christian identity to promote separatism rather than unity. Once learning about these individuals and about their role in attempting to change the trajectory of this nation’s future, the students developed a different perspective of white people. Rather than viewing white people as being solely perpetrators of atrocities, they were able to recognize that ALL people are on a continuum of response to the issues we see today and that withholding the good acts of these people from their knowledge is also a tool to sew division and discord for the sole purpose of maintaining white supremacy (Borunda and Leslie, 2021; Leslie et al., 2021)

Recognizing that amplifying an inclusive narrative will generate integration there are strategies by which to address not only historical collective trauma but it’s intergenerational remnants that we see today.  This confirms that if we feed the good wolf, we will produce the results we would like to see.


In Conclusion, it has been discussed in the previous text that inherited or intergenerational trauma gives rise to environments and systems that promote and continue white supremacy. Within this society, researchers, educators, and clinicians recognize long lasting effects of early environmental factors, stressors, and trauma occurring in the lives of our fellow man. By identifying these early experiences and their negative effects, we can better understand how they are generationally transmitted. It has been well known that racists attitudes, bias, and familial racists beliefs are not inborn; they are learned through social interactions and familial attitudinal behaviors that are communicated within the family systems (Kinzler & Spelke, 2011). These microsystems are further impacted by the macrosystems that communicate social expectations, beliefs, and mores through social institutions, such as churches, schools, and governmental institutions (McRae, 2018; Banaji & Greenwald, 2016; Rizzo & Roberts, 2021). As abhorrent belief systems are continually reinforced through the environments that humans interact with on a daily basis, it is important to understand that they can be changed.

Mr. Flores identified a problem when he outed practices within the National Football League that do not adhere to policies established to change the racialized patterns established by white supremacy. As we have set forth the understanding that embodied trauma can be attended to we can further the way people think about themselves and about how they think about others. This cognitive restructuring can create a powerful and healing narrative that can potentially alter the day to day reality of all people within the United States. When the good wolf resides in the hearts and minds of future generations, we will, then, have much to celebrate and will no longer be haunted by the trauma of previous generations.


Keywords: White Supremacy, Intergenerational Trauma, Cognitive Resonance, Transcendent Identity



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  • Dr. Rivas is a faculty member in the Counselor Education program at California State University-Sacramento (CSUS), in the rehabilitation counseling concentration. Dr. Rivas began his career in academia at the director level in academic advising, student retention, and student disability services before moving on to faculty roles at both the community college, baccalaureate, and graduate levels. Prior to teaching at CSUS, he taught at the undergraduate level at MSU Denver and prior to that, at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at the graduate level. At UCCS, he taught: clinical mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, student development theory, educational psychology, educational leadership, and within the Air Force Officer Commanding (AOC) Leadership program. Dr. Rivas has clinical experience providing mental health & substance abuse counseling in both private practice and with community agencies working with court-mandated offenders and individuals with chronic and severe mental health diagnoses. Dr. Rivas holds clinical licensure in Colorado as both a Licensed Addiction Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with the national credential of Master Addiction Counselor. His research interests focus on equity and access to care, disparity in treatment for those with SUD, and the effect of socio-economic-status on clinical relationships, diagnosis, and prognosis. -- Email: /

  • Professor Emeritus, Dr. Rose Borunda, taught in the Counselor Education program and the Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program at California State University, Sacramento. In her early career she worked in the child abuse prevention field, served as a school counselor, taught at a tribal college, and worked directly with tribal communities across the U.S. as a consultant for UC Davis Tribal TANF. Her three books and journal publications promote positive identity development and cross racial bridge building. During her tenure as a Professor at Sac State, Dr. Borunda served as Department Chair for the Counselor Education program, Interim Director and also then as Associate Director for the Doctoral program. She currently serves as a CapEd Faculty Ed Fellow and continues to mentor students, write, and present. -- Email: