Trauma with Resmaa Menakem

Trauma is currently a hot topic of study and discussion. But for far too long, we’ve ignored it at our peril. Here, with guidance from clinical therapist and author Resmaa Menakem, we explore both the broader landscapes of trauma and how racialized trauma is situated within it. We look at the ways we are all suffering from its ugly legacy and the roles we can play in helping to heal the traces it has left on our bodies, minds and society.

This week Pilar interviews a special guest, clinical therapist and author Resmaa Menakem. We’re talking about trauma, the effect it has on us as individuals, and also the impact it has on us in groups and as members of society.

Resmaa’s most recent book, My Grandmother’s Hands (see linked resources below), explores themes of ancestral and racialized trauma, topics informed by his personal and familial experiences, as well as his professional clinical expertise. Resmaa’s insights are also informed by a broad array of cross-cultural explorations, including two tours in Afghanistan as a military contractor.

Resmaa’s teachings are relevant to anyone who has experienced any kind of trauma, which, as he points out, is all of us. So here, we talk about the lasting impacts trauma leaves on our bodies, hearts and minds, as well as our families, communities and societies.

We also talk about what it takes to heal trauma’s current wounds, as well as its legacies of pain and depression, and we leave you with some experiments to help you better recognize and resolve the sources of trauma in your own life.

“Trauma with Resmaa Menakem” Episode Highlights

  • Resmaa’s background as a healer, therapist, cultural trauma navigator, and coach — and the meaning of his name
  • A discussion of his latest book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and the woman who inspired it
  • The five brutalities that have defined America from 1492 to the present day (colonialism, enslavement, genocide, imperialism and land theft), and how they became the seeds upon which our entire culture is built
  • Looking closely at white body supremacy in order to abolish it, and the importance of understanding that “it’s not the shark; it’s the water”
  • The effects of our shared history on everyone’s mental and physical health, even before conception
  • Resmaa’s HIPP theory of the origins of trauma: Historical, inter-generational, persistent institutional, personal
  • The six-fold weight of a trauma event on the body and the vagus nerve response
  • The importance of repetition, consistency and “doing the thing that sucks” in healing
  • The ways the body can get stuck in trauma, and simple strategies for moving it through
  • Why community is essential, and how it serves our resilience
  • Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism?
  • Resmaa’s intended audience for his book, My Grandmother’s Hands — whom it is for and not for, and why

Resmaa’s Experiment of the Week

You can do this exercise sitting or standing, but if you are standing, put a little slack in your knees. Start by breathing naturally, and notice what is accepting the breath and what wants to push against it. What’s happening in the body? Then turn your neck to look behind you and notice without judgement if anything shifts. Does anything settle, drop or activate? Turn your neck to look over the other shoulder and notice again if anything shifts. Bring your neck back to neutral, and look for the room’s exits. Look up, then down, and straight ahead. Notice if the experience now is different than when you started. If any part of your body wants to move allow it to do so, using your hands to give it support. Notice the texture of that energy — is it about protection, or something else? Continue to breathe, and slow your breath. Slowly open your eyes, take a deep breath in and hold it for a pause, then let it go with a sigh. Repeat the deep breath two more times. Note that this practice may or may not have a dramatic impact the first time you complete it, but as it’s repeated, it can bring up all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions. Stay on the lookout for your system’s responses. 

Pilar’s Experiment of the Week

As you listened to the podcast, did you note any resistance to anything you heard? Did you feel an unwillingness to embrace any of the ideas? A desire to argue with them or to find reasons that they do not apply to you? If so, listen again after you’ve had a chance to process the information, and read Resmaa’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands.


  • Resmaa Menakem’s books, including his latest, My Grandmother’s Hands, available signed by the author (standard copies also available via Amazon and other retailers)
  • More about Resmaa and his background as a healer and thought leader
  • Resmaa’s Chromatic Elephant podcast with fellow trauma expert Tyler Reitzner, in which they explore the context and impacts of racism and white-body supremacy — boldly inviting “the racialized elephant into the room” and sitting with both the discomfort and the transformative insights that elephant brings
  • The study on how depopulation in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans contributed to climate change
  • Resmaa’s free 5-day course on racialized trauma
  • Links to the sites and collected works of Rachel Cargle and Layla F. Saad (leading writers/teachers/podcasters referenced by Pilar)
  • Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and her other books about racial and social justice
  • Some reading on the vagus nerve, including the basics of what it is and how it works (via clinical psychologist Arielle Schwartz, PhD); some insights on why it is an important key to wellbeing (via New York magazine’s The Cut by Edith Zimmerman); and a medical description of its role in modulating the gut-brain axis via an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry)

Order Our Books!

You’ve heard us talking about them for years. Wouldn’t you like to read them? Both are on shelves now and getting rave reviews!

The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World by Pilar Gerasimo.


The 4 Season Solution: The Groundbreaking New Plan for Feeling Better, Living Well, and Powering Down Our Always-On Lives by Dallas Hartwig



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