In Our Corner: Reconceptualizing FEAR- Moving From Distancing to Embracing

“Black women don’t have respect for Black men.  And if they do, its all caked in patriarchy, religion and other nonsense.”

-a Black man, on Black women

“Black women are fake. Black people are toxic. We don’t know how to talk to each other.  We hate each other.”

-a Black man, on Black women & Black people

“My mother and sister (both Black women) agreed…Black women are fucked up. Don’t deal with Black women.  Find someone of another group who does not have drama!”

-a Black woman, on other Black women

“My son knows his father ain’t nothing. Black men aren’t shit.  You can love them, but you can’t trust them.”

-a Black Woman to her son, on his father, and subconsciously about himself

“My mother taught me to never trust a Black man with your heart, he will fail you and break your heart …. Every time.”

-a Black woman on Black men

“In a Black man, I want a meaningful relationship and here I am at 55, all I found so far is heartache, drama, lies and betrayal.  I am sad, alone and yet better off by myself.”

-a Black woman, on relationships

“Why should I respect my elders? They don’t respect me.  You guys just want to play us. You guys are a bunch of losers.”

– an adolescent Black male, on adult Black males

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My Dear Readers,

It is once again my pleasure to write to you and in doing so, share clinical skill, experience and wisdom I have gained during my walk along my landscape, which is the LIFE I live with the opportunity to experience my surroundings.

Recently, I celebrated my 69th birthday.  To those living in the comfort of white privilege, reaching this “peak” may not be worthy of mentioning.  However, the reality remains that while we reside in the same country, we live in two separate distinct worlds.  One world is relaxed and comfortable in its protection from people characterized by the stereotypes and fears created by its citizens, while in another world, others are forced to live in a world of oppression, fear, and control through enforcement of the law.  In this second world, my world, small infractions can result in extreme and deadly consequences such as those suffered by Jayland Walker of Akron, OH, who was recently killed by police during a traffic stop.

However, today’s writing is not about the fear held by the privileged and powerful.  Here, my writing will speak to the fear that permeates the African American community.  I am referring to the fear that clouds the interactions between African American women, men, adolescents, and children. I refer to the fear that psychologically impacts intimacy in family and partner relationships. I speak of the same fear that is taught by adults to children, reinforced during adolescence and realized upon arrival into the young adult world.

African Americans face unique Choices at the Crossroads throughout their lives, and those lives are uniquely impacted by the decision as to the direction one takes. In my 35 years of clinical and therapeutic work, I have devised a clinical protocol, Self- Empowerment Leaping Forward (SELF), in which the individual has the following within the therapeutic environment:

  • Safe and Secure
  • Space to either
  • Sit with Silence or
  • Speak openly about
  • Secretive (hidden and rooted)
  • Submerged (unresolved)
  • Substances (materials)
  • Surfacing (arising) upon 
  • Self‘s psychological landscape.

My clinical work has shown that African Americans are and remain deeply clinically impacted by their historical, current, and daily experiences, particularly in interactions with those who seek to maintain privilege, power, and control over their movements.  From a clinical perspective, I place African Americans into two generalized groups: the Waiting Dead and the Walking Wounded.  The Waiting Dead can be defined as those who have all but given up on progressing and building a life for themselves and their families and are simply waiting for the end of their lives, whereas the Walking Wounded are the Survivors, who fight for dignity, power, and control day in and day out.

In these battles, where African Americans fail is that they often do not explore the impact that psychological trauma has had and is currently having on their lives, and how that manifests in the difficulties they experience with their mental wellness, ability to experience intimacy, and their relationships with their family and community. That, combined with an unwillingness to seek relief through valid psychological treatment approaches that can improve the quality of life, leads African Americans to instead seek measures that sustain survival methods, but do not provide sustained healing and resistance to the continued daily exposure to racism and psychological trauma.

In my work, I have seen that the African American community is a community of secrets that reinforces suffering in silence to gain temporary relief from the psychological pain it experiences every day.  The community also suffers from being silent about the psychological wounding within the family and between women and men. The African American community is bound together by secrecy, and yet continues to maintain distancing through the concept of FEAR. 

The root of this secrecy is that the African American family is vested in secrets that are not publicly shared for fear that this information may damage the image of the family.  One patient, who came out to his family about his homosexuality, recalled that his parents’ response and concern were more focused on whom he shared this information with, since their main concern was whether he would bring shame upon the family.  This individual, believing that his truth was a source of shame for the family, kept this secret for 15 years, creating additional psychological distress. This distress led to two suicide attempts and years of consumption of alcohol and drug abuse to medicate his psychological pain.

Fear simply defined is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat”.  In this situation, the family’s fear was based on the threat to the family’s image within the African American community. From the son’s perspective, the parents saw the threat to his physical and mental health as a more tolerable risk than potentially losing their “good name.”  The fear of losing the relationship with the family, or worse, being blamed for the family’s shame, led the son to maintain the secret, sacrificing himself for the protection of his family.

Like other normalized emotions such as sadness, happiness, or disappointment, fear is simply an emotion.  However, the African American community has created its own concept of fear; taking it outside the range of normal emotions to create and reinforce a patten of behavior that includes running, distancing, exclusion, and isolation.

This concept can be best described as the common sentiment FEAR: (False Expectations (or Experiences) Appearing Real), consists of beliefs, values and comments that are reinforced by interactions among the African American community. The focus becomes how such beliefs, values and comments are being utilized to create and maintain distance, resulting in distrust, loss of communication, and effectively running away from achieving and establishing dialogue which can create new beliefs, values and open communication.

Reconceptualizing FEAR-Facing, Embracing, Acknowledging & Responding = EMPOWERMENT 

First, we can begin the reconceptualization by transforming our view of fear to be what it really is: an emotion that is normal just like other emotions.  Second, we can remove the negative aspect that is motivated with fear by viewing fear as a positive and desired emotion. Third, we can follow the following protocol:

  • Facing– The emotion of fear is to be confronted directly by the psychological self, rather than distancing the psychological self from it.  The objective is to transform our attitude towards fear to wanting it rather than rejecting it.   
  • Embracing-The emotion of fear is to be held within the entity of the psychological self, not to be pushed away.  It is for the individual to create the imagery of placing “one’s loving arms” around the object that is feared.
  • Acknowledging fear, as an emotion, is accepted by the individual as theirs and not one else’s. It is in aloneness that the individual seeks warmth for and from the specific fear.
  • Respondingthe individual continues to handle the fear warmly as the individual continues to move into the tomorrow with the fear.
  • Empowerment– The protocol culminates in transformation: the individual no longer seeks external power, but instead achieves empowerment, which is internalized within the psychological self.  It is within this transformation that the individual no longer holds on to the illusion of power, but now realizes that empowerment allows them to walk the landscape known as LIFE.

An example that illustrates this revised concept of FEAR:

Mr. P lives in a community of which he is one of a few African Americans.  He is a corporate professional driving an expensive automobile.  In session, he expresses his anger and frustration at being racially profiled, followed and being pulled over by the police during numerous traffic stops for “minor violations.”

“Dr. Kane, I felt l so angry, scared and just could not react when I saw that the cop with his hand on his weapon and standing in a stance as if he was going to shoot me.  My mind went blank, and I began to stutter as I answered his questions.  What the fuck was I supposed to do? He’s the law and I am supposed to trust him, but he looked like he was going to shoot me. I went home feeling weak, got drunk and cried like a girl.  I wished I had stood up to him.”

Clinical Observations and Considerations

As he describes his experience, the patient is reacting to the incident.  He is viewing himself as powerless and now sees his manhood as being challenged not only by the police, but by himself.  He risks placing the self in a situation in which an interaction with the police could be escalated.  Although he is a professional, a homeowner, and earns a six-figure salary, he is clinically at the Surviving stage of “Walking the Landscape.”  The clinical objective at this point is to help the patient progress to the Driving stage in which he becomes empowered and therefore responsive rather than reactive to the situation he is in.

We begin by transforming the way in which the patient views the incident.  In doing so, the objective is that the next time this happens, he plans specific behaviors rather than simply having a knee-jerk reaction, which, as he related in session, is about feeling powerless or lacking in power.  Let’s transform the concept of FEAR when being stopped by the police.

Facing: Understand that on the street, the police have the power and you do not.  The focus is to control yourself and the scene you are now a part of.  Understand that the police, like others, may believe stereotypes of Black males, and their interactions with you will be based on those stereotypes or their past interactions with other Black males.  Do not assume that an officer of similar racial ethnic background will treat you differently.  When you interact with a police officer, visualize the color BLUE and nothing more.  Understand that the police officer, when interacting with you, may also be psychologically impacted by his own experiences, stereotypes and fears.  

Embracing: Understand that your fear is simply an emotion that now has been alerted and aroused. Visualize placing your loving arms around your body and hugging yourself.  Allow yourself to be okay with what you are feeling and to normalize the feeling of distress.  Take a moment and visualize yourself in the future as momentarily detained and on your way to your destination prior to be stopped by the police.

Acknowledging: Understand that most importantly, you are no longer in control.  You are now under the control of the police.  Accept that for this short time, you are under the police officer’s direct control.  You cannot leave the area until the police officer grants consent for you to do so.  As you have already embraced your fear, now acknowledge and accept that given this specific situation, having fear is a positive and natural reaction to the situation, and not a weakness or a negative statement about you.

Responding: Understand that you can respond to the situation in a calm, collected, and calculated manner.  Provide the police officer with the requested information, such as your driver license, registration, and insurance card. Be polite in your responses.  Do not respond in ways that will lengthen the police stop or escalate the interaction.  Do not engage in arguments, actions or any behaviors in which the police officer can perceive as a threat to the officer’s safety.  If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by the police officer, do not seek to resolve the matter in the street, as you will lose.  Instead, hold the officer accountable by filing a written complaint with the Internal Affairs Section.  

Empowerment -Understand that although you lack power during the encounter, you have the empowerment to engage in a manner that will further your ability to be safe and achieve a safe outcome.

In later sessions, Mr. P reported having less concerns about being stopped or pulled over by the police.  He adds that having filed several complaints with the police chief and mayor’s office in his city, the police stops have ceased.

Concluding Comments

“Why should I respect my elders? They don’t respect me.  You guys just want to play us. You guys are a bunch of losers.”

-an adolescent Black male, on adult Black males

My Dear Readers,

This quote speaks of the psychological pain that continues to permeate the African American community. In session, a 15-year-old adolescent recalled his memories of elementary school when Black men would always arrive on the first day of the new school year.  They would be dressed in suits and ties or wearing uniforms of their various professions and occupations.  He states:  

“They would high five us kids, patting us on the back and applauding us as we walked between them into the school as they lined up in two rows.  And then after all that cheering, photo taking for the media, they would disappear.  The next time they were seen was the following year at the beginning of school.  They just wanted to look good in front of the cameras.  They didn’t care about us.  They used us.  They don’t respect us.  I don’t care about or respect them.”

His words reflect the common themes indicated in the quotes at the beginning of this blog.  As the community continues to wrestle with psychological trauma created by internalized hate, distrust, and distancing from each other, they also continue to react to the psychological trauma of micro aggressive and macro aggressive assaults that continue to appear without warming or notice. 

The 17 psychological traumas and 16 forms of racism, combined with psychological traumas within the community, exacerbate the psychological distress and create what I call the waiting dead and walking wounded. The waiting dead, having been bombarded by external assaults and continuing to ignored and unsupported within their communities and families have given up “wanting to live.” The walking wounded experience the same traumas but continue to hold to survivorship.  It is within the work of psychotherapy utilizing the protocol of Self- Empowerment Leaping Forward that the survivor can continue to walk their landscape and experience the stages of LIFE:  Driving (empowerment), Striving (setting the direction and pace) and Thriving (identification of goals and accomplishment of objectives).

Now than ever before, there are more African Americans wanting to seek mental health treatment. However, there are not enough mental health providers available to serve African American communities nationwide. Specifically, data from the American Psychiatric Association shows that only 2 % of the estimated 41,000 psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists in the US are African American.  Such low numbers of African American mental health providers are placing a heavy strain on the industry, forcing such providers to make difficult decisions in identifying which individuals will receive mental health services and treatment such as psychiatric hospitalization, medication and psychotherapy.  Understanding the pressures faced by African Americans, it explains the reasoning that African Americans have the highest rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)(8.7%) than any other ethnic groups.

A failure of the African American community is its focus on reacting rather than responding to the external challenges such as  microaggression/macroaggressions, or the internal challenges that face the Waiting Dead or Walking Wounded.  Clinically, what is desired, wanted and recommended is comprehensive planning and strategies within the clinical realm to assist its members to respond rather than react to the challenges as indicated.  One such strategy is to understand how the emotion of fear has been conceptualized and how the current concept continues to handicap the community’s belief system, values and self-imagery.  The recommendation would be to focus on reconceptualizing the emotion of fear so that the idea of fear would be constructive rather than destructive.

Throughout the years, African Americans have known suffering in this land for 403 years and this suffering is likely to continue as those who fear Black skin continue to seek power, privilege, and control over Black skin.  We cannot afford to wait for relief to come; for 403 years the relief has not arrived, and it is upon us to provide opportunities for ourselves to create mental health wellness as we seek to walk the landscape we know as life.

**********************************************************************

 The Negro Speaks of Rivers

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

********************************************************************

Until the next time,

Remaining … In Our Corner

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