Have you ever looked in the mirror and felt a disconnect between the person you see and the person you know yourself to be? 

Maybe compliments on your hair or achievements ring hollow because somewhere, a nagging voice whispers that you don’t quite measure up. 

Perhaps the world seems filled with subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages that your inherent identity – your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other core aspect of who you are – somehow makes you less than.

This persistent feeling of unease, this erosion of your sense of self, could be a sign of identity-based trauma. 

It’s not about a single, earth-shattering event, but the cumulative effect of ongoing microaggressions, prejudice, and marginalization that chip away at your self-worth and belonging. 

It’s the constant feeling of being on guard, the pressure to conform, the underlying fear that simply being you is somehow wrong.

What is Identity-Based Trauma?

Identity-based trauma refers to the emotional and psychological wounds inflicted when someone experiences harm, discrimination, or invalidation based on their social group affiliation. 

Unlike a single traumatic event, it’s the cumulative effect of ongoing microaggressions, prejudice, and marginalization that chips away at a person’s sense of self-worth and belonging.

Here are some examples:

  • A gay man constantly facing homophobic slurs feels unsafe expressing his true self.
  • A woman of color feels pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.
  • A person with a disability experiences social isolation due to lack of accessibility.

These repeated experiences can lead to:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Hypervigilance and difficulty trusting others
  • Internalized oppression (believing negative stereotypes about your own group)
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships

Is Identity-Based Trauma Different from “Regular” Trauma?

Trauma can be caused by a wide range of experiences, from a single horrific event like a car accident or assault, to ongoing emotional abuse in a relationship. 

These experiences are often clear-cut and have a defined beginning, middle, and end. They leave a deep mark, but the trauma can often be traced back to a specific event or series of events.

Identity-based trauma, however, is unique because it’s not tied to a specific incident. It’s the constant, low-level hum of negativity that comes from living in a world that doesn’t fully accept you for who you are. 

It’s the microaggression from a stranger, the offhand comment from a family member, the feeling of being constantly “othered” in a society that doesn’t reflect your reality.

Here’s how this distinction can make identity-based trauma particularly challenging:

  • Chronic and Unrelenting: Unlike a single traumatic event, identity-based trauma is often chronic and unrelenting. There’s no escape from the underlying societal messages or the social groups that might not fully embrace you. This constant exposure can take a significant toll on mental and emotional well-being.
  • Difficult to Identify: Because it’s often a collection of smaller incidents rather than a single event, identity-based trauma can be difficult to identify. You might not even realize the source of your anxiety, depression, or feelings of isolation.
  • Invalidation: The very nature of identity-based trauma can lead to invalidation. The subtle nature of microaggressions or societal bias can make it hard to convince others of the harm you’re experiencing. This can be incredibly isolating and make healing even more difficult.

Despite these challenges, it’s important to remember that identity-based trauma is just as real and damaging as other forms of trauma. Understanding its unique characteristics is the first step towards healing and reclaiming your sense of self.

What Are the Signs of Identity-Based Trauma?

The signs of identity-based trauma can be subtle and vary from person to person. Here are some common indicators:

  • Anxiety and depression: The constant feeling of being on guard or under threat can lead to chronic anxiety. Feeling like you don’t belong or measure up can contribute to depression.
  • Hypervigilance and difficulty trusting others: Always being on edge, waiting for the next microaggression, can make it hard to relax and build genuine connections with others.
  • Internalized oppression: You may find yourself believing the negative stereotypes associated with your identity group. This can lead to feelings of shame and self-hatred.
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships: Trust issues and a sense of isolation can make it challenging to develop and maintain positive relationships.

How Can I Heal from Identity-Based Trauma?

Healing from identity-based trauma is a journey, but it’s absolutely possible. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about identity-based trauma and its impact. Understanding the source of your pain can be empowering.
  • Find your community: Connect with others who share your identity. Sharing experiences and building support networks can be a source of strength.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Actively challenge negative beliefs about yourself or your group. There’s nothing wrong with who you are.
  • Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself as you heal. Acknowledge your pain and celebrate your resilience.
  • Seek professional help: A therapist specializing in trauma can provide valuable guidance and support on your healing journey.

Remember, You Are Not Alone

Identity-based trauma is a real and significant issue, but you don’t have to face it alone. 

By understanding the signs, taking steps to heal, and connecting with supportive communities, you can reclaim your sense of self and build a more resilient future. 

Here’s how you can start:

  • Find your strength: Healing is a process, and there will be setbacks. But remember, the very fact that you’re seeking information and considering healing is a testament to your inner strength.
  • Connect with your community: There are countless online and in-person communities for people who share your identity. Sharing experiences and building supportive networks can be a powerful source of strength and validation.
  • Embrace your authentic self: As you heal, you’ll rediscover the beautiful, unique person you are. Don’t be afraid to express yourself authentically, even if it challenges societal norms.
  • Seek professional help: A therapist specializing in identity-based trauma can provide valuable guidance and support on your healing journey. There are also online therapy options available that can make mental health care more accessible.

Remember, healing is not about erasing the past, but about learning to live with it and thrive in spite of it. 

There will be good days and bad days, but with compassion, self-acceptance, and the support of others, you can overcome the challenges of identity-based trauma and build a life filled with joy and authenticity.

For further resources, consider reaching out to organizations that support your specific identity or explore resources on identity-based trauma, including online therapy options for identity-based trauma. 

You are not alone on this path to healing.

Indigo Therapy Group

Therapy Services for the Greater Chicago Area


Northbrook Location

900 Skokie Blvd., Suite 255

Northbrook, IL 60062

Oak Park Location

1011 Lake Street, Suite 425

Oak Park, IL 60301


Things To Know

  • Elevators & Parking are available at both locations at the buildings. 
  • Virtual services are provided throughout Illinois.


Call: 312-870-0120

Fax: 312-819-2080

Quick Links