Gabrielle Union Talks PTSD and Being Cautiously Optimistic About the Current 'Racial Reckoning'

gabrielle union 2022
credit: Kathy Hutchins/

It’s been 28 years since Gabrielle Union was raped at gunpoint at only 19 years old. Now, despite all the work and therapy that she’s done to manage her PTSD, the current state of the world has become an everpresent trigger that she just can’t shake.

In an interview with Women’s Health, Gabrielle opened up about her struggles during the current COVID-19 pandemic and wave of Black Lives Matter protests.

She said,

“The combination of a pandemic and this racial reckoning, alongside being inundated with [images of] the brutalization of Black bodies, has sent my PTSD into overdrive. There’s just terror in my body.”

Symptoms of PTSD, such as hyperarousal and hypervigilance (the “terror” she speaks of), happen when the brain is triggered by something. Triggers put the body into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. And, in people with PTSD, the part of the brain that should regulate this response is less active, leaving them on alert and their bodies tense, just waiting to fight off a threat.

While triggers and responses can lessen over time, PTSD can’t be “cured,” it can be managed using coping mechanisms, which Gabrielle relies on heavily, especially right now.

“I break out my emotional fix-me toolkit, and I try to run through all the situations. I call it my ‘what’s the likelihood of X happening?’ method.”

It’s no wonder that seeing all of these images of brutality is triggering Gabrielle. And that’s only one piece of it. Her body’s hyperarousal and hypervigilance response is piled on top of the constantly looming threat the pandemic brings and the responsibility she’s feeling as a successful woman in the Black community right now.

And while most people are excited by all the so-called “change” they’ve during this racial reckoning that Gabrielle speaks of, she herself isn’t so sure.

“I’m not going to factor in change I have yet to see. For the most part, across all industries, you see the same power structure that existed before George Floyd. All of these initiatives that people are so excited about—if the people at the top haven’t changed, and they’re not interested in creating more space up here, how far are these people that we’re bringing in going?”

She certainly has a point. While three of the four officers responsible for George Floyd’s death have been charged, not a single officer has been charged for Breonna Taylor’s murder. In fact, 99% of police killings in the last seven years haven’t led to a single officer being charged.

Towards the end of the interview, Gabrielle recites the famous feminist rallying cry:

“We’re not free until everyone is free.”

Couldn’t be a truer statement if we ever heard one.


Demi Lovato: I Owe My Entire Career to Black Women

Ashley Ziegler
Aside from being a writer, Ashley is a mom of two girls and a wife to a passionate public school administrator. When she does have free time (cue laughter from working moms everywhere) she loves going to hot yoga classes, watching anything on Netflix that isn't a cartoon, and weaving her way through every aisle of Target while listening to one of her favorite podcasts.