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The Feeling of Being Watched: Community Screening Healing Guide

Part 3: Psychological Impact of Discrimination and Surveillance

“The gray area between paranoia and the truth is a dangerous place."

-Assia Boundaoui

The themes, struggles, and deep scars surfaced by this film implicate communities nationally. State surveillance is a technology of white supremacy. Along with policing and incarceration, surveillance is a tool used to deify whiteness and demonize non-white peoples.

This film portrays the emotional, social, inter-personal and cultural realities of surveillance on Muslim communities in the United States. However, it captures the essence of surveillance of communities of color across the country. In post 9/11 America, law enforcement officials have documented how many times a day Muslim students prayed during a university whitewater rafting trip, which businesses shut their doors for daily prayers, which restaurants played Al-Jazeera, and which businesses sold halal products and alcohol. Capitalizing on their ability to recruit a diverse force with diverse language capabilities, law enforcement officials were able to send officers with various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds into communities, matching them accordingly. Such intrusive strategies have dramatic impacts on community engagement, and hospitality, healing, and spirituality.

The following information provides an overview of trauma, warning signs and symptoms, as well as suggestions for coping.

Trauma, Racialized Fatigue and Emotional Triggers

What is Trauma?

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Trauma can occur when an event:

● Happens/ed unexpectedly.

● You were unprepared for it.

● You felt powerless to prevent it.

● It happens/ed repeatedly

Signs & Symptoms

  • Physical
  • Eating disturbances (more or less than usual)
  • Sleep disturbances (more or less than usual)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Low energy
  • Chronic, unexplained pain
  • Emotional
  • Depression, spontaneous crying, despair, hopelessness, and anxiety
  • Panic attacks and fearfulness
  • Irritability, angry and resentment
  • Emotional numbness
  • Withdrawal from normal routine and relationships
  • Cognitive
  • Memory lapses, especially about the trauma
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Feeling distracted
  • ADHD symptoms

Wounds of Racial Trauma

“Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche. Without a clear and descriptive language to describe this experience, those who suffer cannot coherently convey their pain, let alone heal.” -Dr. Kenneth Hardy

Psychologist Dr. Kenneth Hardy explains that for those who experience continued oppression and marginalization (due to racism, bigotry and violence), it can lead to race-related trauma emotional wounds which must be acknowledged in order for the healing process to begin. These wounds include:

  1. Internalized devaluation
  2. Assaulted sense of self
  3. Internalized voicelessness
  4. Rage

Racial battle fatigue occurs when an individual must cope in environments that are hostile towards their racial or religious identities. Dr. Smith writes that this fatigue “is the result of constant physiological, psychological, cultural, and emotional coping with racial microaggressions in less-than-ideal and racially hostile or unsupportive environments. Microaggressions are subtle but offensive comments or slights directed at a Black person. An example of a microaggression is a statement like “I don’t see color” or “I don’t understand, don’t all lives matter?” The cumulative symptoms of racial battle fatigue are both physiological and psychological.

Signs of gaslighting:

Informed by fear, and at times, trauma, reactions to the film can vary between disbelief to a complete reorientation and introspection. Signs of disbelief, or doubt can dismiss, and therefore silence collective healing. This kind of dismissal may gaslight victims of surveillance, and instill doubt and self doubt. This stunts reconciliation and honest truth-telling, and should be identified at the earliest possible juncture.

Racialized fatigue can lead to:

  • constant anxiety and worrying
  • increased swearing and complaining
  • inability to sleep
  • sleep broken by haunting, conflict-specific dreams
  • intrusive thoughts and images
  • loss of self-confidence
  • difficulty in thinking coherently or being able to articulate
  • hypervigilance
  • frustration
  • denial
  • John Henryism , or prolonged, high-effort coping with difficult psychological stressors
  • anger, anger suppression, and verbal or nonverbal expressions of anger
  • denial
  • keeping quiet
  • resentment

What are triggers?

(Adapted from:

A trigger is the feeling you get when something happens and you have a sudden flood of negative feelings. For example, someone makes a half joking-half mean comment, and it hits a raw spot for you, and you feel destabilized by anxiety, shame, doubt, panic or sadness for the rest of the day.

A trigger can set off a memory, or flashes you back in time to an event that was stressful, confusing scary or traumatic. When experiencing this kind of trigger, your body will react with a similar emotional intensity that was experienced at the time of the original event.

You can also experience an emotional trigger that may not feel related to an event or specific image, but you suddenly notice yourself:

  • sweating
  • feeling disconnected (dissociating)
  • discomfort in your body or chest
  • having a hard time breathing
  • feeling like you're trembly
  • have the chills
  • suddenly feel dizzy

These are some of the ways that you know that you've been triggered, as you're left with a physical or emotional imprint for the moment in time.

Now, different things trigger different people as triggers are very personal, however, they are usually activated by the five senses; sight, sound, touch, smell or taste.

Emotional flashbacks may happen due to any of the following:

  • Feeling helpless in a situation that is out of your control
  • Feeling judged by someone else
  • Seeing disappointment in the eyes of someone important to you
  • Experiencing someone who is clingy and being needy, leaving you feeling stifled
  • Feeling chronically not "good-enough"
  • Sensing that you are not important or valued
  • Feeling abandoned when someone leaves you
  • Feeling judged, belittled or disrespected
  • Feeling guilty about leaving someone or ending a relationship
  • Experiencing sexual harassment
  • Being shamed in public
  • Someone insulted you and hit a sore insecurity of yours
  • Smelling a whiff of the cologne of someone who abused you

These are just a few, and each person has unique triggers to them and their life experience.

During the film, you may notice feelings of distress, or of your mind wandering to an experience that you have had in the past. You may know exactly what is causing you to feel anxious or short of breath, or it may seem to come out of the blue. This is normal. There are many strategies that you can use to help soothe or calm yourself when you are triggered.

Guided Imagery:

Your thoughts have the power to change how you feel. If you think of something sad, it’s likely you’ll start to feel sad. The opposite is also true: When you think of something positive and calming, you feel relaxed. The imagery technique harnesses this power to reduce anxiety.

Think of a place that you find comforting or safe. It could be a secluded beach, your bedroom, a quiet mountaintop, or even a loud concert. For 5 to 10 minutes, use all your senses to imagine this setting in great detail. Don’t just think fleetingly about this place-really imagine it.

  • What do you see around you? What do you notice in the distance? Look all around to take in all your surroundings. Look for small details you would usually miss.
  • What sounds can you hear? Are they soft or loud? Listen closely to everything around you. Keep listening to see if you notice any distant sounds.
  • Are you eating or drinking something enjoyable? What is the flavor like? How does it taste? Savor all the tastes of the food or drink.
  • What can you feel? What is the temperature like? Think of how the air feels on your skin, and how your clothes feel on your body. Soak in all these sensations.
  • What scents are present? Are they strong or faint? What does the air smell like? Take some time to appreciate the scents.



Feelings/Emotion Wheel