“I’m on an anti-resilience kick right now,” says Dr. Janelle S. Peifer, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond. It is, at first glance, a surprising statement. The founder of The Center for Inclusive Therapy and Wellness, Peifer supports clients, especially women of color, as they process the ongoing traumas of patriarchy, heterosexism, capitalism, and white supremacy.
I’ve asked Peifer about a contradiction in U.S. culture’s approach to healing: How can survivors of trauma honor and even feel gratitude for our own survival instincts, while acknowledging healing is often a complicated journey?
Peifer explains that Black women and other women of color, first gen women, and economically marginalized women are particularly likely to experience trauma. But they are also pressured to demonstrate outward markers of strength no matter what their internal experience: to keep showing up smiling at work, as parents and partners, and in their communities.
To conventional researchers, that outward strength is a sign of successful coping. But these researchers are missing a key point: “They’re neglecting to look at the internal experience of the individual,” Peifer says. “How do you feel? Just because you are doing all of the things, where’s joy? Where’s peace for you, relaxation, the ability to let go?” In contrast, Peifer is one of many voices questioning dominant U.S. culture’s insistence that marginalized people be inspirational role models of resilience. Instead, she and other therapists and activists invoke our collective right not just to endure, but to heal, to feel joy, and to rest.
When we experience trauma, society presents us with a false binary: We can either ‘indulge’ in that pain or ‘get over it.’
“Getting over it” is often code for ignoring injustice. But the wisdom of our bodies, and of the people — largely women and femmes of color — deeply engaged in healing work offer us a different framework. They don’t pressure survivors of trauma to ignore or simply push past trauma. Instead, they invite us to engage in an ongoing relationship with the way trauma lives in our bodies, to “engage with it,” says Peifer, and find ways “to make meaning and create.”