PTSS – Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Dr. Joy Angela DeGruy has worked as an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at Portland State University. The main focus of her work was on the intersection of racism, violence, trauma, and chattel slavery in America. The following video features Dr. DeGruy at a Gustavus Adolphus College lecture on PTSS:

Dr. DeGruy has more than 30 years of professional experience in the world of social work and all of its issues. She organizes training and workshops in the fields of historical and intergenerational traumas, strategies on social justice issues, mental health, and evidence-based program development.

Dr. DeGruy is a nationally and internationally recognized educator and researcher who is holding a BSc degree in Communications, Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and Social Work, as well as a Ph.D. in Social Work-related Research.

All through her research, Dr. DeGruy has been shining a light on all sorts of critical issues that continue to affect society, in particular in the United States. Students and coworkers who have been experiencing Dr. DeGruy personally in her work will testify that they have been extremely “inspired, stimulated, and enlightened.” Dr. DeGruy’s seminars, lectures, and workshops have continuously been lauded as among the most inspirational and dynamic currently presented on issues and topics of race relation, culture, and today’s social issues.

Dr. Joy DeGruy has dedicated over twelve years of her academic life to researching qualitative and quantitative aspects of race-related and inequality issues. She has developed the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) theory and published the findings of her studies in her book titled “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing”. In this book, she addresses and explains the residual impacts related to generations of American slavery, opening up discussions about how the American black community should use the power and strength gained during the past for present-day healing processes.

What exactly is PTSS?

PTSS is the theory that’s explaining many adaptive survival behaviors’ etiology in African American individuals and communities in the U.S. Etiology is medical science branch that addresses the origins and causes of abnormal behaviors and diseases. PTSS is resulting from many generations of African American oppression as a consequence of century-long chattel slavery. This slavery form was founded on the belief and conviction that Americans from African descent were genetically and inherently inferior to white individuals. Consequently, this resulted in institutionalized racism and discrimination which is continuing to perpetuate harm and injury.

Dr. DeGruy’s book incorporates her extensive research in both Africa and America as well as her Social Work experience as a practitioner and a consultant to various private and public institutions and organizations that cover a period of more than twenty years.

In her book, Dr. Joy DeGruy first exposes her readers to the conditions that were leading to the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean and resulted in racism and repression that continue to exist today. After that, she describes the extreme obstacles that African Americans were faced with resulting from the slave trade. Then Dr. DeGruy addresses the issue of adaptive behavior. This resulted in both negative and positive behaviors that allowed African American slaves to survive or even thrive.

Dr. DeGruy is concluding her book by reevaluating these adaptive behavior characteristics that were passed down through so many generations. Dr. Joy explores also the options to replace maladaptive behaviors with ones that are expected to sustain and/or promote the healing process and to advance African American identity and culture.

These institutionalized practices consequently resulted in MAP:

  • M stands for Multigenerational Trauma in relation to continuing oppression.
  • A stand for the Absence of opportunities to access available benefits in the U.S. society or to heal. This is leading to:
  • P which stands for PTSS (Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome).

These circumstances may lead to predictable behavior patterns that we observe:

Key PTSS Behavioral Patterns

Vacant Esteem
This refers to insufficient development of basic or primary esteem, according to Dr. DeGruy. This phenomenon occurs often with feelings of depression, hopelessness, and an overall self-destructive attitude.
Marked Tendency for Violence and Anger
This refers to an extreme feeling of suspicion and negativity regarding the motivations of others. We often see extreme violence against the integrity and property of themselves as well as others, including their own community and group members such as relatives, friends, and/or acquaintances.
Internalized Racism and Racist Socialization 
This refers to a distorted self-concept, literacy deprivation, Learned Helplessness, and/or aversion or antipathy for some or all of these:

  • Their own ethnic/cultural group members
  • The customs and mores associated with their own ethnic/cultural heritage
  • Their own ethnic/cultural physical characteristics