Bobbi’s Saga: The Trap Of Gratitude

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”

-Chinese proverb

“If you refuse to look into the darkness of your past, your future will never become bright.”

-Anonymous

“My empowerment is not about him; it’s about me.

I am not blame nor is the shame mine to own.

It is simply my responsibility to make this life

About… Self. “

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

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My Dear Readers,

We return to Bobbi’s Saga as she continues her journey of self-discovery and struggles with the concept of gratitude in the achievement of her work with her psychological self.

Bobbi in her own words…

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It is typical for Dr. Kane to conclude our therapy sessions with the question “Who gets the credit for your work”?  I always say, “We do.”  Expecting me to say “I do” is like asking me to call Dr. Kane by his first name, Micheal.  

I always think about that question for a while.  If I could have done this by myself, I would have.  If I could have reduced or lightened the guilt and shame, I would have.  There are so many things I have learned from Dr. Kane, like:

  • The flashbacks will never completely go away
  • I am not at fault or blame for the sexual assaults
  • The shame and guilt are not mine to bear.
  • Suicidal thoughts may come and go.

It is because of Dr. Kane that I have moved towards knowing that:

  • I should love myself
  • I should put myself first or consider what I want.
  • I have the right to say no. I used to believe I did not have that right.

I feel I will be able say “I do” to Dr. Kane’s question when my self-esteem and my self-image increase.  I have lived not believing that I had any worth at all!  When I am told positive things about myself, I have a hard time believing and accepting the compliments.  It is easier for me to believe positive things about other people.

How does a person believe positive things that are said to them?  Especially when they only heard bad things and feel bad about being abused?  The result is they feel like a bad person. 

Being told you are bad and feeling like you are a bad person makes it easy to believe and accept that I am a bad person.  I would like to feel like I get the credit.  I just don’t feel I have earned it or that I deserve it.

I have recently passed the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.  I have been thinking about how mean she was to me. I have always wondered why I seem to forget some of the bad things she did to me.  She was a terrible mother.  As an adult, I tried so hard to please her, but it did no good.  As a child, I tried to be good and stay out of trouble.  It also did no good.

I am shocked as to how I have reacted to her death.  I always thought that when she died, I wouldn’t be affected.  I was wrong.  No matter what she has done to me, I have always wanted love from her.   I see this as another example of one of my unrealistic beliefs.

I want to thank Dr. Kane for his support, care, and guidance on this journey, keeping me alive, helping me feel safe enough to reveal my secrets to him.  He has helped me to believe that the flashbacks and pain will become lighter.  It is also because of him that I know and understand that I deserve to have a good life… a life filled with kindness and affection.

Today, I have an appointment with Dr. Kane.  Before I see him, I like to think about what I want to talk about.  There are times I focus on feelings of guilt and shame.  Sometimes I leave my session feeling lighter, other times I leave with the thoughts weighing heavily in my mind.  I hope the intense thoughts will calm down and be replaced by pleasant thoughts.

There are some weeks that I leave disturbed or think about the session all week long.  I think of how long I’ve had the problem, and what are the solutions if any, and what I can do to lessen the fear, pain, guilt and shame. There are times when my flashbacks take over and we process to where I remain balanced and achieve calmness in my external environment.

The sessions are always helpful and thought provoking.  Often, traumatic memories come up in the session.  I think that is because the session is a safe place.  It is the only safe place I have.  There is nowhere else I can express my pain, shame and guilt without being judged or have the fear of people viewing me as strange, weird, or troubled.

Mother’s Day is soon arriving.   Despite my siblings’ prodding, I have decided not to visit my mother’s gravesite.  Instead of honoring her, I will spend the time focusing on me and doing what I want for me.

Today is a good day.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

In Bobbi’s writing, she seeks to acknowledge the therapist for her successes in therapy.  Notice the ongoing struggle she “endures” with me as I continue to question who gets the credit for her work.

It would be normal to ask ourselves:

  • Why are Bobbi and the therapist struggling over “who gets credit for the work done” in therapy?
  • Why won’t Dr. Kane simply accept her appreciations and cease making gratitude an issue?
  • Why won’t Bobbi call Dr. Kane by his first name? Why won’t Dr. Kane encourage this?  Why not create less formality in the doctor-patient relationship?

I have often written that “why” questions provide responses that circle back to themselves, and as a result, they do not bring full understanding of the foundation of the issue being questioned.  A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead:

  • What is preventing Bobbi from accepting credit for her work in therapy? What internalized beliefs would Dr. Kane be reinforcing should he accept Bobbi’s gratitude?
  • What is the desired outcome of trauma informed treatment?

 

What is preventing Bobbi from accepting credit for her work in therapy? 

Bobbi is living in fear of the possibility of obtaining her objective of a normalized life, and that is preventing Bobbi from accepting credit for her work in therapy.   Bobbi has placed the psychological self in a psychological no man’s land that is left unoccupied due to her fear and uncertainty when it comes to claiming ownership of her life and her psychological self.

Currently, this is comfortable for Bobbi because she is in conflict.  Consciously, she seeks relief from the internalized hell of complex trauma.  Unconsciously, however, after many decades of living with complex trauma and its “secrets,” she lives in fear of the unknown life that she could have outside of the complex trauma that she has experienced.  In doing so, she has reinforced this well dug in position.

Bobbi has unconsciously created an insurmountable barrier for herself preventing the ability to take credit for her achievements in therapy by tying the goal to an inappropriate cultural norm of addressing me by my first name.  Notice that there is no internal or external pressure being exerted to do so.  However, by tying both together, she has attached a rule to her own development that she never wants to break, which is an artificial limit that she is putting on her own healing.

So what does she do?  She returns to therapy twice weekly where she is safe to explore the areas of complex trauma devastated by sexual assault, physical abuse, abandonment and isolation.  Consciously, she continues to heal where unconsciously, the psychological self continues to hold its position.

 

What internalized beliefs would Dr. Kane be reinforcing should he accept Bobbi’s gratitude?

Bobbi is an amazing woman.   She is the epitome of a woman who has survived horrendous abuse, and withstood abandonment and isolation enough to be able to educate herself, marry wisely, and successfully raise three children.  However, the illusion of amazement abruptly stops here—and what we see in therapy is a woman who has repeatedly sacrificed herself at the behest of her mother, siblings and children.

Historically, Bobbi has held firmly to the belief that she is unworthy.  Although she can give compliments, she is unable to receive compliments.  Specifically, Bobbi is willing to acknowledge the commitment and the work of the therapist, yet she is unwilling to accept the same words about her actions.  She maintains the well dug in position that she could not have obtained the current state of growth and healing of the traumatic wound without me.

Therefore, she seeks to “hand over” credit of her work and accomplishments in therapy to the therapist and not to herself.  It is my belief that psychotherapy is a journey of self-discovery.  The roles of the therapist is to be a guide and companion for the individual as they navigate key areas of their journey.  It is for the therapist to facilitate the process of therapy, to be available to assist in the interpretation of materials as such arises from the journey and in being present provide safety from an isolating journey.

Accepting credit for her work would fly in the face of Bobbi’s belief that she lacks the ability to walk alone, even though she already has.  This is simply another step towards achieving her objective of living a normative life following her successful work in healing the traumatic wound.

What are the desired outcomes of trauma informed treatment?

There are five desired outcomes:

  • Safety (physical and emotional safety)
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency (meaningful sharing of power and decision-making)
  • Choice (voice and agency)
  • Collaboration & Mutuality (partnership and leveling of power differences)
  • Empowerment

The desired outcomes are achievable when the S pathway can be made available to the individual seeking to heal the traumatic wound.   The S pathways consists of providing a safe secured space to search within and to speak; ending the silence and releasing what lies submerged below. The result is that Bobbi can sustain security in self and reinforce her self-esteem and self-conceptIt is during the process of self-discovery that the individual can learn advocacy for self, balance within the psychological self and calmness within the external world.

Bobbi continues to do well in healing her traumatic wounds.  She understands that the traumatic experiences are permanent etchings on the psychological self and may never fully go away, but that the objective is to learn how to normalize her life and be able to balance the weight of the traumatic experiences. Although she remains in conflict regarding her self-esteem, her belief that she is not worthy has lessened.

This is evidenced by her refusal to continue sacrificing herself, specifically in her refusal to visit her mother’s gravesite, choosing instead to spend time with the psychological self.  Furthermore, Bobbi is now willing to “share credit” of her therapy with the therapist instead of issuing outright credit to the therapist.

It will be the objective in therapy to continue to work within the S pathways to where she will one day move to full actualization by holding full credit and therefore move successfully from no man’s land to self-assurance in walking her journey of self-discovery.

Until the next journey…Bobbi’s saga continues…

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In Our Corner: Erik Killmonger and the Inner Pain Of African-American Men

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.”

-Paul Dunbar, We Wear The Mask

“I want to return to the scene of the crime.

I do not want to go back.

Going back can only bring pain, suffering and unresolved memories

Returning, I am armed with wisdom and knowledge, which I can take into my future.

I am empowered.

Whatever I was, I am no longer.

The past is what is what it was.  It cannot be recovered.

I live today, to understand and uncover.

I seek tomorrow.  To explore and discover…

Self.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Returning to the Scene of the Crime

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My Dear Readers,

In the previous blog, I wrote about the  the unconscious messages of betrayal and loyalty within black male and female relationships in the movie Black Panther.   I observed that in the movie, black women were portrayed as being loyal, committed and unquestionably trustworthy, while black men were characterized as being deceptive, disloyal, and therefore, untrustworthy.

The responses to my commentary on the portrayals of the film’s depiction of male betrayal and trustworthiness were immediate and wide-ranging, from hostility and suspicion, to questioning my motives, to accusing me of taking the movie too seriously in my analysis.

All of these response types have one common underlying theme: fear.  It is normal for an individual or a society as a whole to fear what they do not understand.  In this case, the film itself and my analysis of it may have exposed  feelings that are generally unconscious until one is faced with something that challenges black men to look within their psychological selves.

Charles from Fort Lauderdale, FL writes:

“Your article Black Panther got me to think about my own betrayal of relationships throughout my life.  As I sit here typing, I am allowing myself to feel the trauma as well.

I can see now that I don’t trust women but tend to use women, which I believe is the root of my own pain.  So now I have learned not to ask the why question but rather, the what is the foundation question.  I just would like to say thank you for walking with me on this journey.”

In this, our third In Our Corner post,  we return to Black Panther, which has now grossed over $1B.   This week, we will focus on the villain Erik Killmonger.

  • Why is Erik Killmonger a key representation of African-American men?
  • Why is he cast as a dark, yet sympathetic villain?
  • Why is he being depicted as an angry black man, raging out of control?

I have written before that why questions provide responses that are circular back to themselves, so as a result, they do not help us to understand the foundation of the question we ask, which often gives us a more useful answer than simply why one thing or another happened. So, we ask:

  • What is it about the character of Erik Killmonger that he captivates the audience as the sympathetic villain?
  • What is the impact of the pain, the hurt, anguish, and the rage that lives within Erik Killmonger?

Erik Killmonger’s appeal to African-American audiences comes from his character being a clear and direct representation of the generational and psychological trauma of the North Atlantic Slave Trade, but not as a depiction of being sold into slavery and the ensuing centuries of racism, discrimination, and oppression, but as the result of that sordid experiment—generations of people who were, despite that severe adversity, able to thrive and become successful.

In this respect, Killmonger’s is a story of his success in gaining education and skills, mastering the cruelty that he was shown as a child, and wielding it with an efficiency and glee that surpasses even the most evil slave master.

However, this is not how he was born; this is what was crafted by King T’Chaka abandoning young Erik in America after killing his father, and Killmonger is who he had to become in order to survive: to emotionally detach from himself as a human being, and the feelings associated with that, evident in his comment to his father N’Jobu on the ancestral plane, when N’Jobu noticed that Erik shed no tears for his memory.  Erik, a dry-eyed child, simply said:

 “People die every day.  That’s just part of life around here.”

What motivates Erik Killmonger? A frighteningly rational and focused hate for King T’Chaka’s and Wakanda’s traditional stance of non-intervention in the face of the profound suffering that he and other African descendants of the ones who were taken have experienced, feeding into a righteous anger. Where Wakanda could have helped, yet did nothing for generations, Killmonger, knowing his royal lineage and having prepared for ritual combat and to take the throne all his life, is more than willing to use what he has to help those that he knows suffer throughout the world.  In essence, by killing T’Challa, the last of his line, in ritual combat, he kills Wakanda’s apathy of the suffering of Africans in the entire diaspora.

“I lived my entire life waiting for this moment.  I trained a lot.  I killed in America, Afghanistan, Iraq… I took life for my brothers and sisters right here on this continent!  And all this death just so I could kill you.”

But, it’s not all just an altruistic desire to liberate Africans around the world.  Killmonger, the abandoned child of Wakanda, is different from most African-Americans in that he actually knows what country he is from, and knows for sure that they abandoned him intentionally, and in that, there is a desire, also coldly rational, within Killmonger to inflict the same or greater harm on those who inflicted such catastrophic harm on he and his family, and to put an end to anyone else who would have adopted that same philosophy that harmed so many.

“The world took everything away from me.  Everything that I ever loved!  But Imma make sure we’re even.  Imma track down anyone would even think of being loyal to you! And Imma put their ass in the dirt, right next to Zuri!”

What is Erik Killmonger?  He was a little boy who lost his father.  He was a child who was abandoned by his family.  He is the psychological self, seeking attachment, belonging and connection.  He has the words and actions of a villain, yet he has many redeeming qualities, and a more than valid ax to grind against the other members of Wakanda’s royal family.  Still, he is dangerous: he is the “angry black man” who cannot be reasoned with, he is believed to “lack control,” and he must be destroyed.

In the final fight scene, many will question why T’Challa offers to heal Killmonger and save his life—this is because T’Challa sees the error in his father’s (and in Wakanda’s) attitude towards the world and specifically, those who were taken from African countries and their plight, and sincerely wants to make a change.

But, Killmonger rejects the gesture—his inner pain and the fact that he failed in his life’s mission means that he truly has nothing left. He can’t use vibranium to liberate the Africans outside of Wakanda that he wanted to help.   He couldn’t possibly live in the society he tried to destroy as a citizen, much less as a prisoner who murdered both Zuri and a member of the Dora Milaje. (His attempted murder of T’Challa was done through ritual combat, so it wouldn’t count as a crime towards him.)  Rather than be locked up, Killmonger responds:

“Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships because they knew that death was better than bondage.”

That quote made me and many others in the theater gasp upon first hearing.  Of course, this is who we as African-Americans would have wanted to be, right?  The ancestors who chose death over bondage?  Who kept their dignity instead of succumbing to generations of rape and murder and cruelty?

But there is something different here.  Our ancestors jumped into the ocean to get away from unjust, barbarous chattel slavery.  Killmonger, on the other hand, simply doesn’t want to face punishment for using the colonizer’s tools and tactics to murder two of the African people he claims to want to lead.  The African-Americans in his mother’s lineage who survived slavery enough to create him as a descendant would have something to say about death being better than bondage when they had to endure bondage to ensure that their bloodline, which led to him, survived.   Surely we can revere those who endured as much as we can revere those who refused, right?

This isn’t to say that the lessons of Killmonger cannot assist us in our own journey of self-discovery.  They can.

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Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

My Dear Brethren,

I write for my general readership, but as with all In Our Corner blogs, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self-discovery.

Black Panther is an excellent movie, and both its conscious and unconscious messages are breathtaking and worthy of uninterrupted discussion regarding psychological trauma in the African-American community.

For those who question my motives and intentions, I seek to influence the intellectual mind by keeping it balanced with the psychological self.  These discussions are incredibly important for the African-American community, and specifically for black men in that this film allows its black male characters to have rich emotional lives, and they are not simply heroes and villains—they are real, complex people, in real, complex situations.

A clear yet unconscious message in Erik Killmonger is that he was abandoned by family, he utilized the country he was left in to transform himself into a stone cold assassin, and used that unimaginable strength to impose his will on the country that abandoned him. While his success is admirable, the pain in the psychological self that drove that success also contributed to his failure and eventual demise because he never integrated that pain and transformed it into something that served him better.

You can hear Killmonger’s psychological self screaming when he talks about the pain he grew up in, and the pain he feels for other Africans in the diaspora.  This is a result of complex trauma, a myriad of 13 separate types of traumas that African-Americans face on a daily basis, which can be draining and overwhelming.

Mark, age 32, describes his trauma:

“I get on and off the mat every damn day.  Every day I go in and face people who either ignore or disrespect me.  At the end of the day, I feel alone and abandoned.  Every day I trudge forward.  Every day.”

Trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self.  The memory of the incident at point of traumatic wounding or injury will never ever go away.

However, in choosing to opening up to others, such as friends and loved ones, and when wanted, seeking counseling or therapy, the individual can learn to balance the traumatic wound or injury achieving advocacy, balance and calmness in walking the journey of self-discovery.

Steppin’ Into Tomorrow

We cannot step back into our past,

Nor must we want to.

It is our fear of the unknown that chains us.

The future holds new possibilities

We can journey into the future

Holding onto Belief, Faith and Trust …

In Self.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time…Remaining In Our Corner.