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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