Complex Trauma And Black Femininity: The Double Whammy

“Women are discriminated against as a group, regardless of race and ethnic roots. African Africans are discriminated against as a group, regardless of gender.  Since we are both Black and women, that how we get the ‘double whammy.’

-Terrie M. Williams, Author

“I love my man better than I love myself.”

-Bessie Smith, Any Woman’s Blues

My Dear Readers,

Last week’s entry created a variety of responses.  In the writing, I responded to the concerns of a young woman who appeared willing to endure psychological trauma in the form of emotional and physical abuse in order to save her marriage.   In doing this, she shared her concern that divorce would adversely impact her image and the image of her family within her sorority and church communities.

Four African-American women of different ages, backgrounds, and marital statuses responded to this article, and I will respond to them this week.  As I read their words, I noticed another common theme, the difficulty of life as a black woman.  Terrie Williams calls this “the double whammy.”

Below are their stories…

Dear Dr. Kane,

Your blog made me think of the many things I have seen black women go through during my 50+ years.  There are so few men for African-American women.  African-American men often don’t want them. Men of other races are not interested in them.

Many women hang on because they don’t see another option and feel that a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all.  I have known women who felt there was no hope in future relationships if they left the relationship they were in.  This took their choices away from them.

Making It Work, Tacoma, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am 28 years old, college educated and single. My most recent attempt to get to know a black man ended when the fool told me he had two kids from two women with a third on the way. What kind of man goes out cheating while his woman is about to have his child?

Some of my friends believe that “black men ain’t shit,” but I know that isn’t true. My father was an excellent model for me.   He was a loving husband and good father.  He passed away last year, but throughout my life, he gave me the foundation and values that I expect from a man to consider him to be a good potential partner in a relationship.

My question is this: where are the black men who had the strength and wisdom like my father?  I want to develop a relationship with a real man and not a half grown man who lacks maturity.  You’re the expert—please point me in the direction of a few good (grown up, black,) men.

Little Boys Need Not Apply, Renton, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

It’s hard for black folks out here.  Most black folks are struggling to keep their families together.  Shouldn’t you be giving us words of encouragement? It seems like you are encouraging people to leave their families!

Sometimes, hitting happens in a relationship.  I’m not saying that it’s right, but that woman you wrote about needs to work things out with her husband.  I disagree with you and I would tell my daughters and sons to stick it out. Not everyone can be blessed with the perfect relationship like you have.

Holding Up Families, Seattle, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

I need your help.  I don’t know what else to do.  My best friend is involved in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage.  She has taken the baby and left her husband before, but now she’s returned to him.  This has happened several times.

My girlfriends and I have done an intervention, provided her with resources and escorted her to a lawyer’s office for a consultation. However, she just told me that she is going to stay with him so that she can work on her marriage.

This sickens me.  I can’t stand by and listen to how he is abusing her and the baby.   I am losing sleep, I can’t focus on my own work, and I am reliving the abuse that occurred in my own parents’ marriage.  What can I do to save both my friend and myself?

Scared & Tired, Kent, WA

My Dear Women,

Thank you for sharing your words and experiences with me.  In reviewing your concerns, I have four points that I want to address in my response:

  • African-American men do not value or want African-American women.
  • If you are an African-American woman in a relationship with an African-American man, it is better to stay in that relationship, regardless of how bad it is, than to leave that relationship and risk never being in another relationship. Most young African-American men are lacking in maturity and aren’t able to fill the shoes of men of earlier generations.
  • African-American families must stay together, regardless of the costs. Domestic violence is not acceptable, but it is reasonable to expect that domestic violence may occur occasionally within the relationship, and the relationship still be worth staying in.
  • I want to stand by my best friend. I want to save her from an abusive relationship, and in doing so, I also want to save myself from reliving the abuse I witnessed in my own life.

Point 1

African-American men do not value or want African-American women. 

Without a doubt, there are African-American men who, for a variety of poorly conceived reasons, either do not value or do not want to be involved in intimate relationships with African-American women.  This may be one of many reasons to explain the lacking in availability of suitable men.

However, this reasoning is simply an excuse to accept things as they are and to not continue to seek out a healthy relationship.  This is a false illusion. To remain in an abusive relationship is to commit to the complex trauma that maintains it.

There is no difference between the impact of psychological trauma on African-American women and on African-American men.  In all cases, trauma reinforces the structure of fear, incapacitating the individual so that they develop a level of comfort within the traumatic environment, which helps them to continue to live in their fear.  Instead, the individual woman seeking a positive relationship must want to embrace her fear, remove herself from a dysfunctional relationship and maintain hope that she will find a positive relationship with another individual.

Point 2

Therefore, if you are an African-American woman in a relationship with an African-American man, it is better to stay in that relationship, regardless of how bad it is, than to leave that relationship and risk never being in another relationship. Most young African-American men are lacking in maturity and aren’t able to fill the shoes of men of earlier generations.

There is a widely held assumption and belief that African-American men of the previous generation were better equipped, stronger and more capable than the inferior and weak men of today.  These are false generalizations and illusionary beliefs.  I am aware of no clinical research that would sustain this false concept.

Although the technology has changed, the closed system that existed within African-Americans 25-50 years ago remains with African-Americans today.  The major difference is that the men of earlier times lived more closely together in a predominantly African-American physical and geographically centralized community, which gave off the image of strength, while forcing the individuals within that community who did not conform to its norms to suffer in silence.

The concept of the “man-child’ has always existed among African-Americans.  It is evident in situations where modeling of African-American male adulthood is scarce and mentoring in what it means to be a black male is even more lacking. As a result, black males of similar ages learn from, support, and mentor each other, which often leads them down a different path.  In these cases, some learn from the burns they suffer, and others never learn.

Point 3

African-American families must stay together, regardless of the costs. Domestic violence is not acceptable, but it is reasonable to expect that domestic violence may occur occasionally within the relationship, and the relationship still be worth staying in.

 This theme embodies one of the major issues in African-American geographical and societal communities.  Staying in an abusive relationship only serves the societal agenda of maintaining the image of a well-functioning family, regardless of the hidden reality of the emotional trauma and psychological injury suffered by those involved and as a result, that trauma and injury is passed on to the next generation.

The theme is well conceived, but it is destructive to the individual, as it only minimizes the suffering of the individual and sacrifices them for the image of the intact family.

Point 4

I want to stand by my best friend.  I want to save her from an abusive relationship, and in doing so, I also want to save myself from reliving the abuse I witnessed in my own life.

 The best friend has made her choice. She is choosing to remain in a dysfunctional and failing relationship.  In seeking to save her marriage, she is sacrificing not only herself, but the welfare of her infant who remains vulnerable and exposed to abuse within the family relationship.

Witnessing this situation has triggered the recollection of the writer’s own complex trauma from her parents’ relationship.  She now has the difficult choice to either empower herself by letting go of her friend,  or focus on saving a person who says she wants solutions to these problems, but is still  unwilling to leave the dysfunctional relationship.

Concluding Words

“We’ve incorporated it in our own mentality today that, no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working.”

-Dr. Brenda Wade Clinical Psychologist, Author

African-Americans in today’s world continue to respond to complex traumatic injury and psychological wounding.  The legacy of slavery has created a tradition of complex trauma passed down from generation to generation that serves only to further isolate and maintain suffering in silence among African Americans.   We can move towards openness by individually assuming the responsibility to heal from our own complex trauma.  Specifically, individuals must want to:

  • Cease depending on our societies, communities, and even our families to acknowledge our psychological injury or emotional pain. They can provide support, but they cannot provide the validation that we can only get from ourselves.
  • Understand and prioritize our emotional well-being.
  • Understand the difference between saving and empowering. Saving firmly holds us to the past and present, but empowerment propels us into the future.
  • Take the plunge; explore the possibility of living with fear and letting go of living in

Fear is here. Forever.  We either live in or with.  You must choose.

 The Visible Man…Dr. Kane 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Over Me: Sacrificing Self For Image

 

“Many of us harbor hidden low self-esteem.  We deem everything and everyone else more important than ourselves and think that meeting their needs is more important than meeting our own.  But if you run out of gas, everyone riding with you will be left stranded.”

-Bishop T.D. Jakes, Author and Founder, The Potter’s House

 “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unclaimed lives of their parents.”

-Carl Jung, Psychiatrist & Author

My Dear Readers,

There are many within the African-American community that see the community as the image of solidness and strength.  It is the impression that “we are one”.

In reality, we are not one, but many individuals whose diverse voices and stories are never heard.  Why? Because we are too busy maintaining that image of singular strength.   As a result, we suffer in silence. 

One of the first rules as children we learn is that image means everything.  We are taught:

  • To never let others know that you are hurting, physically or emotionally
  • That to look strong is to be strong
  • That no one respects the weak

These teachings are passed down from generation to generation. Instead of setting us free, it just reinforces the chains of our traumas.  I now realize that in the recent blogs I’ve shared regarding the impact of complex trauma on the African-American community, I too have contributed to reinforcing this false impression of African-Americans when referring to ourselves as a community.  We do not speak as a voice of one; instead, we are the collective voices of many.

The word community, as I, and others have used it, is monolithic in nature.   Dictionary.com defines the term monolithic as “characterized by massiveness, a total uniformity, rigidity, invulnerability.”

Given this definition, we cannot say that there is such an entity as “the African-American community.”  Each individual person who considers themselves African-American is distinct, separate and divisible from others, and operates independently with separate and distinct wants and needs. We (and others) may find it easier to label ourselves as “a community,” but what we, and others who choose to use that term, are really doing is choosing to ignore the many different ways that we express our “African-Americanness.”  Doing so assumes that all African-American people think, feel, and act the same, which only feeds the stereotypes and illusions of us in our interactions with fellow African-Americans, and with people of other races and cultures.

This week, let us listen to one of those individual voices and stories. Jennifer grew up in a closed societal system and now that she is married with two children, she is trapped in another closed system.  Let us walk with her a while as she walks her journey towards healing from the permanent emotional scarring and long- term psychological injury that can result from being impacted by complex trauma.

Below is such a story…

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am writing to you because I feel trapped and I don’t know what else to do.  I am a black woman raised in the Pacific Northwest.  I have been married for four years and I have two children:  a three-year-old boy, and a 14 month-old girl.  Both my husband and I are college educated and are employed in the aerospace industry.

I know that I should be happy, but instead, I am very unhappy in my marriage. My husband is very secretive—he does not tell me how much he earns from his job, or contribute to paying for our household expenses.

He always brags to others about his family, but he refuses to spend time with the children or with me.  When I want to go out with my girlfriends, I have to hire a sitter because, as he often tells me, he does not want to be “stuck at home” or have to “babysit the children.”

He can be emotionally abusive, especially when it comes to the weight I have gained since having the children.  He’s put his hands on me violently several times.  I haven’t filed domestic assault charges because I know that in doing so, I would cause him to lose his security clearance.  I know how hard it is for a black man to get a job and I don’t want to be the reason he loses his employment.

I am terrified now because in one of our most recent arguments, he threatened to take the children away from me.  I am now afraid to leave my babies with him because he may leave the state and never allow me to see them again.

We both had hard childhoods.  My husband grew up in an emotionally and physically abusive home.  He used to watch his father repeatedly beat his mother.  I also recall emotional and physical abuse in my home.  My father left us when I was five years old.

I made a promise to myself that once I married, it would be a lifelong commitment.  I remember how painful it was when my father left us.  I was five years old and I can recall everything that happened that day.   I can also remember the pain I had in growing up without my father involved in my life, and I don’t want to inflict that on my own children.

Please tell me what I can do to save my marriage and keep my family together.  My husband has threatened many times to leave.  I am afraid that one of these days, he will follow through on that threat.  I have suggested marriage counseling, but my husband won’t agree to it.

My mother wants me to stay in the marriage, but she doesn’t feel that my husband should be forced to attend counseling.   She is concerned about the children, but is also concerned about the potential for a divorce to negatively impact her own image in her sorority, our church, and our community.

I do not want a divorce.  I want to save my marriage.  I want our family to remain intact.  What can I do?  Please help us.

Fighting For My Family,

Renton, WA

My Dear Woman,

I can feel the pain and suffering from your letter, and for that, I extend empathy and compassion to you.  However, while you are seeking my help to save your marriage, you are also looking to extend your suffering by sacrificing yourself to maintain this painful situation.

In focusing on “saving” your marriage, you are making three significant errors:

  • Sacrificing yourself to remain in a marriage that is physically and emotionally abusive
  • Sacrificing the wellness of your children so that your husband will potentially remain present, and the family unit can be maintained.
  • Acquiescing to the willingness of your mother to prioritize the image of herself in her sorority, her church and community over the safety and wellness of her daughter and grandchildren.

The Marital Relationship

In all honesty, the marriage that began four years ago no longer exists.  All that remains is a title and the image of success that you show the people of the community in which you live.

A marriage is about a covenant made between two individuals.  In any form or language, it speaks to the commitment of two people:

“To have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

This marital relationship was put in jeopardy the moment that domestic violence was utilized as a means to communicate between you and your husband.  Violence of any kind—emotional, mental, physical, financial, and many other types—erodes trust, which is the foundation of any relationship, especially a marriage.  The two of you must feel comfortable being vulnerable and exposed with each other—this is a key element in the development of a secure marriage.  This security is threatened when there are repeated threats to leave the relationship.

The Family Relationship

Just like the marriage, your family has the appearance of solidity and contentment from the outside, but there is no substance within.  Trust is lost when one parent shows open hostility or resentment when it comes to providing individual care for the children.

Trust is also lost when one spouse threatens to remove the children from the safety of the parental relationship.   Parenting and involvement with one’s children are essential in aiding the development of your children’s identity, reinforcing their self-esteem and the teaching of values and mores in preparing them to become productive and contributing members of society.

Analysis: The Individual Relationship = The Psychological Self.

What is not mentioned in this letter is the complex early childhood trauma experienced by both Jennifer and her husband.  Both spouses were emotionally abused and psychologically impacted by their parents’ dysfunctional relationships.

Jennifer’s husband continues to act out his memories of his father’s domestic violence on his spouse.  On the other hand, Jennifer is willing to sacrifice her own psychological self and well-being to avoid the pain she experienced when her parents divorced, and to spare her children the same experience.

Holding on to these complex traumas enable both individuals to, in their own way, protect the imagery of marriage and family.  They relive this pain every day to avoid revealing that their union isn’t as solid as the “community” would expect it to be, despite the fact that many in the “community” themselves suffer in similar ways.

Concluding Words

Rather than focus on saving the marriage, I would encourage both Jennifer and her husband to focus on their individual empowerment.  This can be achieved by investing in individual psychotherapy with the stated focus on the healing their wounds from the complex trauma they experienced in their childhoods and continue to relive today.  However, both individuals may not ready to choose this course of action.

The major impediment they may face is the fear of letting go of learned behaviors, such as the habit of holding onto image at the expense of substance.  This may occur regardless of the negative outcomes they experience as a result of these learned behaviors.

The sense of “community” may be based on the sharing a common history of 400 years of slavery, segregation and the psychological traumas that result from shared history and current shared responses to racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment.  However even with a group identity, if we are to either recover/heal from traumatic emotional and mental injury or empower ourselves, we must seek to do so on an individual basis, accepting individual responsibility and not be confused with group identification.

Therefore, for the purpose of this and future writings, we will examine complex trauma with an eye towards individual treatment, and how individuals who have addressed their traumatic experiences can benefit their physical communities and social groups.

To clarify:

  • African-American communities throughout the United States are comprised of individuals who are responding to cumulative incidences of complex trauma that occurs not only on an individual basis, but also as a racial and cultural group. Not only are these experiences psychologically wounding, but individuals who experience complex trauma continue to remain vulnerable to the impact of these experiences.
  • The African-American individual responding to complex trauma is, in and of themselves, a closed system. Traumatic experiences tend to encourage individuals to close themselves off for protection, but this actually can make the wounding worse. Generally, closed systems are isolated and not emotionally sustainable, relying on the emotional wellness and the regard of others to survive.  As a result, closed systems can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of complex trauma.
  • The African-American individual responding to complex trauma engages in avoidance and denial behaviors. Avoidance is the act of dodging, shunning or turning away, where denial is the failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.  It can also be the refusal to accept the reality of an event or the reliability of information received.

 

We will continue to explore this in subsequent writings.  Until then, the journey continues…

 

 

Depression and Black Men: Why We Won’t Cry

 

“The large number of trauma cases we see in urban areas involving Black males, in large part, stem from the hopelessness and helplessness that is depression.  Treating these cases require not just surgery on the body, but surgery on the soul.”

-Dr. Angela Neal-Barrett, “Soothe Your Nerves”

 “After a while, it’s not acting when you have to suppress your feelings.  Everyone has feelings, but there are some people who have trained themselves over time not to be crying and doing all kinds of shit.  When someone else would cry, we replace those feelings with anxiety and get angry instead.”

-50 Cent, Hip Hop Artist & Entrepreneur

My Dear Readers,

Let me start this week’s blog entry with the definition of an apology. To many, an apology is a debt that one individual recognizes that they owe to someone else.  However, given my emphasis on self-oriented psychology, I prefer to work with a definition that validates self-awareness.

I define an apology as:

  • A heartfelt gift that I extend to those that I have offended or confused by my words and/or actions.
  • An acceptance of responsibility and acknowledgment of remorse for actions I have taken that resulted in the injury of another.
  • A gift, like any other, that can be accepted or rejected. Its acceptance or rejection does not increase or diminish the injury.

Recently, one of my patients stormed into session stating that a previous blog posting had caused conflict, confusion, and contradiction in his own clinical work.  Initially, I was somewhat shocked and immediately became defensive.  Me?  He must be mistaken.

However, after reviewing the blog posting, it was clear to me that he was correct.  Not only had I injured him in the clinical journey he was taking, I had inadvertently injured myself as well.  In the blog “Stopping the Reflections of Complex Trauma,” (3.28.16), to reinforce a point about men and tears, I had quoted words from a song by The Temptations called “I Wish It Would Rain:”

 “Everyone knows that a man ain’t supposed to cry.

But listen, I got to cry, cause crying eases the pain.”

The patient, whom I will call Alvin, (not his real name) is an African-American male in his late twenties.  In his younger days, he was considered to be “hard”, and “street,” and as a result, could not show emotion, for fear of being considered “soft,” as evoked by this passage from Kahlil Gibran:

“Many of us spend our whole life lives running from feelings with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain.  But you have already borne the pain.  What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.”

-Kahlil Gibran

In the Temptations quote I used, Al tells me that he initially focused on the first line: “Everyone knows that a man ain’t supposed to cry.”  However, Al is not able to come to terms with the second line, and that’s where the traumatic injury begins: “But listen, I got to cry, cause crying eases the pain.” 

The traumatic injury in this case arises from the negative feelings Al has experienced in his life that is now being reinforced by what I call “the trifecta,” conflict, confusion, and contradiction.  In this case, the trifecta expresses itself in the form of an expectation of how a man, specifically a black man, must present himself on the streets.

As communicators, we tend to make the mistake of denying responsibility for causing injuries when another person brings them to our attention.  It is important to understand that depending upon the severity of its impact, the injury may become a permanent fixture within the psychological self-experience of the person affected.

Where the Trifecta refers to negative experiences, The Triad, in contrast, serves as a healthy response that brings balance to difficult situations.  The Triad is commitment, clarification, and compassion.

Removing the person from the environment where they were injured does not remove the environment, or the injury, that lives within.  This is the case with Al. He is no longer the hardcore gangster he once was. Today, Al resides in a Puget Sound suburb, commuting every day by ferry to the corporate world in downtown Seattle.

An outsider looking in would no doubt believe that Al has “arrived,” and that he is “living the good life.”  He’s married, he has a family, and he’s a homeowner—what could be the problem? The issue is that Al is stuck.  He is holding on the environment he left behind.  As a child, a family member repeatedly sexually assaulted him.  Following that, at the age of twelve, he joined a gang.

Since then, Al has been in and out of the system.  He has been involved in shootings, and has watched his friends die and go to prison, all memories that continue to stay with him.

Still, Al refuses to admit to, or even face the abuse he suffered head on. He refuses to touch the psychological self and grieve the loss of friends who have died or the individuals he has harmed.  Al’s way to deal with all he is bears is to deny that it ever happened.

The key to healing these wounds, whether Al believes it or not, is the willingness to openly cry.   So what’s the big deal?  Just let it flow, right?

Clarification 

The “big deal” is that Al, like many black men, are born into communities that function as “closed systems.”  Such communities are isolated and not economically sustainable.  Furthermore, its members are particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of complex trauma.  Al’s tendency to minimize and deny his traumatic experiences and the impact they have had on him is a behavior he has learned within his community in yet another effort to ignore the existence of an unacceptable truth or emotion.

In order to heal, Al must acknowledge both the truths of his repeated rapes and his complex trauma. However, this would require him to honor his feelings and the fact that he as a man, has feelings that can lead to tears—two things that he obviously has shame about. It is a widely held belief that a “real man” would never be so weak as to cry as an expression of emotion.

 Commitment

 In therapy, Al acknowledged that the image he continues to maintain is crumbling.  His desire to separate from his emotions had created a wall of silence with his children and discord in the marriage.  In addition, as a means to ease his pain, he had begun consuming alcohol more frequently.

Al wanted the “easy way out.”  He wanted to resolve his individual, family and marital problems without embracing his own pain.  In doing so, he sacrifices his psychological self to bring harmony to his family—and the harmony he brings, if any, is fleeting at best.

It was only in making that commitment to healing his psychological self that Al was able to begin to accept the reality and the impact of the traumatic experiences he suffered on his life.

Compassion

Al was able to utilize the therapy environment to create a safe secure space to embrace his emotions and in doing so, allow his tears to flow.   In doing so, he was able to let go of the black male taboo of holding onto his silence.  He was able to recognize that his silence reinforced his shame, which led to more silence.  It was through his compassion for his psychological self that Al was able to embrace the biggest obstacle of his trauma—the closely held belief that only he, and no other men, suffer from traumatic injury.

Concluding Words

In Greek mythology, the story of the phoenix describes a bird with brightly colored plumage that dies in a fire of its own making only to rise again from the ashes.  In Al’s case,  Al is the phoenix who has endured trauma experiences for two decades, constantly dying as he holds to the teachings of a “closed system.”  With the work he has done to achieve clarification on the issue, the commitment he has made to the self, and the compassion that is within that commitment, Al now has an opportunity to rise once more and seek a different life as he continues the journey of self-discovery.

I began this article by the extending of an apology to the readership and myself.  To Al and others, my intentions in using the song of the Temptations were to support a position taken in the blog.   Although no harm was intended, traumatic injury did result.

The journey of self-discovery can be about learning.  In doing so, as one walks, one gains in wisdom.  To do so, black men young and old facing similar obstacles must make the ultimate choice of living in fear or living with fear.  The error here is in the belief that we can ignore the traumas that have been inflicted on us and hide from our pain.

Once burned, we learned.  If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will b burned again and again and again until…we learn.

  Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobbi’s Saga: When Loving Me More Means Letting You Go

 

Sometimes you don’t realize you’re actually drowning when you’re trying to be everyone else’s anchor.”-Anonymous

“At some point you have to realize that some people can stay in your heart but not in your life.”      –Anonymous

All my life, I have wanted a good relationship with my mother and never had it.  To keep trying and let her make me feel sad, angry and guilty regarding our relationship does not make sense.  I know I will wonder how she is doing but I can’t help her.”  -Bobbi

My Dear Readers,

We return this week to the voice of Bobbi, who is sharing her journey of healing from decades of memories of sexual, emotional and physical abuse suffered during her childhood and adolescence, with her mother often in denial about the abuse or actively punishing Bobbi for speaking about it.

Following six years of intensive outpatient therapy, she no longer considers herself a victim, although she acknowledges that she was victimized. She has survived the repeated emotional, physical abuses, and sexual assault, but she is no longer a survivor; instead, she is now a striver on the journey we know as life.

Bobbi, now in her early sixties, is providing care and assistance to her mother who continues to reside alone and is suffering from mid-stage cancer.  The mother, now in her eighties is receiving a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.  In the midst of assisting her mother, Bobbi is working to come to terms with her feelings, which are a mixture of conflict, confusion and contradiction.  It is through her therapeutic journey of self-discovery that she learns to balance these feelings and in doing so, she brings clarification to her suffering and ultimately compassion for her mother.

In this excerpt from her journal, Bobbi writes about her feelings following an incident after one of her mother’s medical treatments.

PLEASE NOTE: FOR AUTHENTICITY’S SAKE, THESE WRITINGS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CREATE DISTRESS FOR SOME READERS DURING AND FOLLOWING READING. PLEASE USE DISCRETION WHEN SHARING WITH THOSE OF YOUNG AGE OR LACKING EMOTIONAL MATURITY.


Part 1: The Incident

I just left my therapy session and wanted to write down my feelings.  I was advised that writing would help dissipate my anger.   I left the session less angry than when I came, but I am still angry.  In the treatment room, my mother leaned forward towards me; there was about a yard between us.  She twisted her neck, turned up her mouth, flinched her eyes and raised her voice at me. The look my mother gave me in the treatment room brought back memories of my childhood.

It brought back intense memories of when I was a kid.  I hated the way she treated me then and I hate it even more now.  When my mother gave me that look, it brought back sudden memories.  It was the same mean look she had when I was a child.  The only changes were the wrinkles and sunken face.

It brought back vivid memories of how she used to get inches from my face, bulging her eyes, twisting her mouth, screaming and telling me what I should do and how I should feel.  I remember how scared I felt and how much I hated her.  I had wished so much that she wasn’t so mean.  I couldn’t understand what I did was bad.   I tried so hard to be good and not get into trouble.

I was always afraid of what she would do next.  I was so scared that I truly believed she would kill me.  She used to always get down on her knees and in my face and say “I brought you into this world and I will take you out”.   She wanted us [the children] to be scared of her and it worked.  It brought back a rage in me that I didn’t know that I had. The rage I had in the treatment room was like the fear I had as a child.  The rage was so intense I had to leave the treatment room.

As a child I never had joy.  I had fear, pain, shame and guilt.  There wasn’t much good in my life.  I didn’t know how other kids lived.  I thought everyone had a mother like mine.  My mother never allowed me to visit other kids to come over to our house.   She never played with us.  She wanted us [my siblings] to play by ourselves.

When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to have anger.  Now I have intense rage.  Rage that continues to build.  Rage that began when I saw her face.  Now I keep seeing her face and hearing her voice.  It is like a flashback happening over and over again.

Why?  Why am I so kind to people?  Why do I always want to do the right thing?  Why do I give a damn?  I want not to be angry.  I want that tight feeling inside my chest to go away.  I want the thoughts in my head to go away.  I want the flashbacks of how my mother looked when she was talking to me to stop.  I remember how much I hated my mother.  I hated her when I was young and when I left at 12 years old.

Part 2: The Next Day

Today, I feel sad and depressed.  I found myself frequently crying and hiding tears from public view.  I know that I did nothing wrong.  But I know that this was my last chance to make the relationship work.  I have tried all my life to make the relationship work.  Each time it failed.  I fear that my mother will not make it through this cancer.  This will mean that the last positive relationship I had with my mother ended when I was 4 years old. I hope the depressed mood goes away.  I feel my depression is getting worse.  Hopefully in the morning, I will wake up in the morning and feel better.

Part 3: A Few Days Later

This morning I woke up feeling not angry but very sad.  I kept crying every time I thought about my mother.  I have tried all my life to deal with my mother.  It always turns out the same way in her treating me badly.  I have decided that the relationship isn’t worth the pain she was creating in my life.  Coming to this decision my chest is less tight and I can now eat.  My sleep is now normal.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.

I have decided to stop participating in my mother’s medical care regarding cancer treatments.  I will not take her to her appointments anymore or make phone calls to her healthcare providers.  This makes me feel sad because the next time I see her she will be close to death or dead.  She has used up all of her chances to maintain our relationship.

All my life I have wanted a good relationship with my mother and never had it.  To keep trying and let her make me feel sad, angry and guilty regarding our relationship does not make sense.    I know I will wonder how she is doing but I can’t help her.  

I gave it a good try.

Discussion-Dr. Kane

In this entry, the common theme is the trifecta of emotions that Bobbi is experiencing as she attempts to come to terms regarding her unresolved feelings towards her mother.  This trifecta is conflict, confusion, and contradiction.   At the time of the original incident, Bobbi was involved in a confrontation with her mother while sitting in the treatment room of the healthcare provider.

The Conflict

Bobbi has spent her entire life seeking to resolve her feelings regarding her mother.  During the sixty years of her life, she has weathered the storms of the trifecta i.e. conflict, confusion, and contradiction, all which have severely weighed her down as she has embarked upon her own marriage and raising her own family.  As a four-year-old, Bobbi sacrificed her psychological self by keeping the secret of her sexual assault to protect her family.  Bobbi then went on to sacrifice her body as her mother’s husband repeatedly sexually assaulted her.  As a child, she kept the horrible secret for almost three years as she did not want to see her mother suffer emotionally for the actions of her husband, a man Bobbi’s mother trusted with the well-being of her children.

The Confrontation

The confrontation in the medical office resulted in Bobbi experiencing a flash that can best be described as an emotional response that occurred suddenly and was quick and intense.  This response developed into a series of flashbacks.  Flashbacks are sudden clear recurrent and abnormally vivid recollections of traumatic experiences.  As the situation unfolded when Bobbi’s mother gave her “that look”, it created a vivid memory that arose from that provocation as she experienced the incident.

The Confusion: Bobbi’s Mother’s Betrayal

It was only after being told by her stepfather of his intentions to “give her a baby” that she came forth and disclosed this horrendous truth to her mother.  Instead of receiving the protection, support and help she expected from her mother, she was viciously proclaimed a liar, threatened with blindness with a fork, beaten with a broom and ejected from her family home.  As she is ejected from the family home, it is her mother who, in seeking to maintain her “image” within the African-American church/community, spreads the story of being forced to eject her daughter because “she raised her hand towards me.”   As a result, the family honor is upheld, the sexual abuse remains the “family secret,” and Bobbi is sacrificed and tossed away into the state foster care system where she is shuffled between numerous families before aging out at eighteen.

Trapped in a mire of conflict, confusion and contradiction, Bobbi has spent the majority of her life believing that she is not is not worthy of love and protection, that she is responsible for the horrendous crimes committed against her, and consequently, that she deserved the outcomes that came with those crimes.  It is only following six years of intensive therapy that Bobbi is able to empower the psychological self and in doing so, sharpen her own awareness and understanding of parental failures as well as understanding why her acquaintances, family members, and the African-American church and community accepted what happened to her.  Yet, she continues to be trapped in a mire of conflict, confusion and contradiction as she seeks to achieve the love now as an adult that she never received as a child.

Rage

At the beginning of the journal entry, Bobbi wrote, “I was advised writing would help dissipate my anger.”   Actually, because of the intensity of the traumatic experience and the traumatic recall of her childhood interactions with her mother it brings with it, what Bobbi is really looking to achieve is the dissipation of her anger. Instead, she should be looking to process the incident, not to dissipate the anger.

Anger is a natural, and most of the time, healthy response to an incident that promises harm. However, it does not disappear before its time and before healing has occurred.  Healing can only come after we process the incidents that generate that anger.

The Triad

Where the Trifecta refers to negative experiences, the Triad serves as a healthy response seeking to bring balance to difficult situations.  The Triad is commitment, clarification, and compassion.  Although Bobbi is initially reluctant to heal and inclined to hold onto her rage, starting this process allows her to realistically review her childhood relationships and the role her mother played in stunting her development.  Bobbi wrote:

“As a child I never had joy.  I had fear, pain, shame and guilt.  There wasn’t much good in my life.  I didn’t know how other kids lived.  I thought everyone had a mother like mine.  My mother never allowed me to visit other kids to come over to our house.   She never played with us.  She wanted us {my siblings] to play by ourselves.”

Looking at her childhood, Bobbi begins questioning her commitment to others and what she wants for her psychological self.  She writes:

“Why am I so kind to people?  Why do I always want to do the right thing?  Why do I give a damn?  I want not to be angry.  I want that tight feeling inside my chest to go away.  I want the thoughts in my head to go away. “

As Bobbi begins to examine her commitments, she also reviews what she has done to create a healthy relationship with her mother.  She now finds herself moving towards the acceptance that despite her best efforts, she hasn’t been able to create that healthy relationship, and that she has done all that she can do in that respect.   Given this, Bobbi begins the process of “letting go” of her mother as she begins to accept both the impending death of her mother and the inability to establish a healthy relationship.  Bobbi states:

“I know that I did nothing wrong.  But I know that this was my last chance to make the relationship work.  I have tried all my life to make the relationship work.  Each time it failed.  I fear that my mother will not make it through this cancer.  This will mean we never had a positive relationship after I was four years old. “

Bobbi completes the objective of the triad, which is to bring balance to difficult situations by affirming compassion for the self as she measures the cost of continuing the relationship with her mother despite the pain it was creating in her life.  By developing that compassion for her self, Bobbi finds the desire to focus on her own self-care.  Bobbi writes:

“I have tried all my life to deal with my mother.  It always turns out the same way in her treating me badly.  I have decided that the relationship wasn’t worth the pain she was creating in my life.  Coming to this decision my chest is less tight and I can now eat.  My sleep is now normal.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.”

The Epiphany

Towards the end of the entry, Bobbi has a moment of sudden insight or intuitive understanding, also known as an epiphany.  Bobbi concludes her writing by realizing that despite her best intentions and actions, she will never achieve a healthy relationship with her mother.  As a result, she has decided to stop participating in her mother’s medical care, and thus, accepting the impending death of her mother, since she will not bear witness to the ongoing decline, and she will likely not see her mother again until that death has occurred.   In doing this, Bobbi has decided to respect her own life and come to the acceptance that her mother has wasted her chances of creating a healthy relationship.  Bobbi writes:

“I have decided to stop participating in my mother’s medical care regarding cancer treatments.  I will not take her to her appointments anymore or make phone calls to her healthcare providers.  This makes me feel sad because the next time I see her she will be close to death or dead.  She has used up all of her chances to maintain our relationship.”

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

The trifecta of conflict, confusion, and contradiction has mired Bobbi for almost six decades of her life.  It is through working within the framework of the triad of commitment, clarification, and compassion that allows Bobbi the ability to release herself from the need to achieve her mother’s love and a healthy relationship.  As a child and as an adult, Bobbi sought from her mother that which she was incapable of providing: love and a healthy relationship.

We don’t know that much about the history of Bobbi’s mother.  Factors arising from journaling and therapy sessions conclude that the mother knew of the truthfulness of the sexual assaults by her husband and chose to sacrifice her daughter in order to maintain her marriage and image/standing within her extended family and local community.  Both Bobbi and her mother share several characteristics: they are both residents of a closed system that is isolating and non-sustaining and both have been psychologically impacted by complex trauma which resulted in permanent emotional scarring and long term psychological injury.   The difference is that Bobbi’s mother chose to betray, sacrifice, and abandon her daughter, where Bobbi chose to continue to provide compassion, care and resources to the person who had forsaken her.

It is through walking the therapeutic journey of self-discovery that Bobbi has empowered her psychological self to seek love from within and in doing so she is capable to create emotional distance between her mother and self.  It is possible that although Bobbi decided to cease assisting her mother in her cancer treatment, she will return to help out.  If she did this, it would not be a failure, backslide or error.  It would simply be another example of the compassion being exhibited by this extraordinary individual who, despite repeated incidents of poor treatment and abuse, returns to do what she feels is the right thing to do.   The positive note is that Bobbi, in the process of empowering herself, is loving herself more.

Join us her next month for the next installment of Bobbi’s Saga.

Dr. Kane, Clinical Traumatologist