In Our Corner: New Pain From Old Wounds

“This too shall pass.”

-Idiom

“Failure is not an option.”

-Gene Kranz, NASA flight director of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

“Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.”

-Proverbs 11:21-25

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My Dear Readers,

Recently, it was reported that a 15-year old boy, living in a state supervised residential facility for troubled youth was sexually assaulted by four of his fellow residents, with a staff member looking on, and beyond belief, laughing and even shaking hands with one of the attackers. It is also alleged that the following the incident, the victim confronted the adult and was in turn physically assaulted by the adult.

The excitement created by the media coverage is over. The perpetrators of the assault will be punished. Racist and stereotypical beliefs will be reinforced. Both the black minority and white majority communities will remain silent and life will continue in its drudgery as both victim and perpetrators slip quietly into oblivion. That is, until the next time.

Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.

In all actuality, they will simply be forgotten.

Yes, we can be assured that legal accountability is be initiated and severe consequences will no doubt be assigned to the perpetrators of these criminal acts. Felony convictions, incarceration within adult institutions, and lifetime registration as sexual offenders, are certainly possible in this situation, and Florida’ s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) stated:

“DJJ does not tolerate this type of behavior rand the contracted staff person involved in the incident has been terminated. Their actions are inexcusable, and it is our expectation that they be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Still, it remains too easy to treat this as an isolated incident. Research shows that 20% of men behind bars have been forced into sex. However, the unreported estimate is 50 to 80%. These statistics are not unknown. Instead it has been the norm to ignore the atrocities that happen within juvenile residential and adult correctional facilities until something shocking as what occurred in this Florida residential facility becomes public.

This Too Shall Pass… No, It Won’t

This is complex trauma, and without therapeutic intervention, these children, both the perpetrators and the victim, will continue to experience repercussions from this incident and the conditions that led to it. These young men will soon become adults, seeking employment, creating intimate relationships, and starting families, and they will bring the memories and unresolved suffering with them, potentially adversely impacting their partners and their children.

Failure is not an option.

Yes… it is. Failure is an option. In many cases, it is an expectation, especially when we, without hesitation, continue to travel the same roads and expect to arrive at a different destination. In essence, we fail by asking the wrong questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did the system fail?
  • Why would four juveniles rape a fellow human being?
  • Why would an adult stand idly by, laughing and observing the sexual assault?

Why” questions invite answers that circle back on themselves and as a result, they do not lead us to a full understanding of the foundation of the issue. A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead. Specifically,

  • What experiences are rooted within the adult and juveniles’ actions and behaviors?
  • What specific roles or models have the adult and juveniles observed and integrated within their developmental core?
  • What family resources and community systems do these individuals currently have? What family resources and community systems will be available to them as adults when they return from an institutionalized and repressive penal system?

Anger: The Common Thread in Pain

The four assailants and victim are in the midst of adolescent development. One can only imagine the sadness that each of the five juveniles must have felt being removed from their own families and communities and placed together in a residential facility.

Typically, when male children become sad, they act out in anger, not sadness. As explained by the rapper 50 Cent, this is not abnormal:

“Everyone has feelings, but there are some people who have trained themselves over time not to be out crying and doing all kinds of shit. When someone else would cry, we replace those feelings of anxiety and get angry instead.”

There are five reasons young men allow themselves to get angry rather than feel the pain:

  • Lack of understanding of how to deal with feelings; so when all else fails, anger works.
  • The feeling of sadness reinforces the state of weakness, and anger can restore feelings of strength.
  • Anger is a more comfortable emotion for young men than sadness.
  • Sadness is a form of weakness. Anger is more aggressive and masculine and places the individual in a state of feeling “in control.”
  • Anger is strong and feared by others; sadness is weakness and manipulated by others.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is a form of psychological stress. It is more than simple PTSD. It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events, often beginning in childhood and continues through adulthood.

The repetitive nature of the traumatic events often means that a person’s mental, physical and emotional states are all affected. It is often very difficult to function at work, school or in the community. It impedes and/or hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex Trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical period of a child or adolescent’s development.

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a set of symptoms resulting from prolonged stress of a social and/or interpersonal nature.

In additional to psychological damage, it can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, increases in alcohol abuse, and domestic violence, as well as inflammatory responses and syndromic symptoms, such as chronic fatigue and irritable bowel.

Complex PTSD results from events and experiences that are:

  • Repetitive, prolonged or cumulative
  • Most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploration, and mistreatment, including neglect/abandonment/ abuse by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults;
  • Occur most often at developmental vulnerable times in the victim’s life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age and/or infirmity.

Research shows that complex trauma is related to the following factors:

  • Age of onset
  • Type of violence
  • Relationship to the perpetrator
  • Impact on the environment
  • Degree of isolation and
  • Amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

These factors exacerbate the victim’s sense of:

  • Degree of helplessness and powerlessness
  • Stigmatization (not being good enough)
  • Betrayal
  • Sexualization (primarily for childhood sexual abuse cases)

Living With Complex Trauma

Just like any major illness, complex trauma can be intense, painful and scary. It is treatable, but only with the willingness of the impacted individuals to view it as a typical outcome when one is forced to endure traumatic experiences, and not as a character failing or an indicator of weakness.

Individuals who suffer from complex trauma are often vulnerable to emotional and psychological struggles. These individuals are encouraged to seek treatment. The individual must define what a normal life is for themselves, and then pursue that life through processing their trauma in therapy.

Society, however, must be willing to understand what ails those suffering from complex trauma, acknowledge the pain, and work to end the suffering. In doing so, the traumatized will be empowered to balance the weight of their past experiences with their current realities and truly live the lives they seek.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

“Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends.” -Author unknown

My Dear Brothers,

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

The residential home in which these juveniles lived was one without love, where traumatic memories are now a permanent etching on the psychological self. It is now a place where those who lived together inflicted violence and terror on one another.

We may never know what male role models these juveniles had prior to coming to the residential facility. However, we do know what male role modeling they had while living within the residential facility. They were under the supervision of an adult who was no different from themselves.

Rather than provide guidance, mentoring, supervision and most important protection, this individual chose to add to their suffering by allowing, encouraging and ultimately reinforcing an environment that created a permanent wound on the psychological self on five youths. These wounds will never be forgotten and will be carried for the duration of their lives.

The actions and behaviors of one black adult male do not speak for the actions and behaviors of black men as group. To hold all black men accountable for the sordid actions of these individuals would play directly into the misguided and misinformed trappings of racism, stereotyping and prejudices.

However, as black men, we must want assume the collective responsibility of questioning the environment that would lead to this adult participating in the psychological wounding of those juveniles who were placed in his care.

Without having any information regarding the background or history of this adult, the indifference in his actions suggests that he too may have suffered from complex trauma in the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. If so, what we see here are the consequences of what occurs when psychological wounding and pain goes untreated.

What would be a positive outcome in assuming collective responsibility? Well, we can be honest in our self-reflection that many of us have endured complex trauma and could benefit from the process of healing the psychological wound.

Psychological wounding and pain seek, no…demand relief. Relief will be achieved via self-medication with drugs, sex or violence. Or, relief can be achieved through psychotherapy, positive role modeling etc. You must choose. One way, or another, human beings will find relief.

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Complex trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your mind.

It is a thief that lurks around until finds an open door. It flashes. If screams as it leaps into my soul.

It is a thief that steals in the day or in the night.

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly from me.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time, Remaining…In Our Corner.

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The Visible Man: Images vs. Reflections

“I also don’t believe in drugs…  I don’t want it near schools- I don’t want it sold to children. That’s an infamia.  In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people- the coloreds.  They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

-Giuseppe “Joe Z” Zaluchi, The Godfather (1972)

“Captain Hanks, I have spent most of my life in the navy trying only to succeed.  However, my quest has come as a great personal loss to those who love me.  They too have made sacrifices.  They too have endured great pains to support me.  If I walk these twelve steps today, reinstate me to active duty.  Give me my career back, let me finish it and go home in peace.”

-US Navy Master Chief Carl Brashear, Men Of Honor (2000)

My Dear Readers,

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am struck by the the racist and stereotyped depictions of African-American people in some movies and yet encouraged by the efforts of others to combat those depictions with more accurate and representative images in other movies.

In one film, The Godfather, none of the major characters are black, but during a pivotal scene, they are spoken of as “animals” and “people who have no souls,” and thus, deserved to be sold into the heroin drug trade.

In contrast, the movie Men of Honor tells the true story of US Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, a strong black man who, despite overwhelming odds, stood up to racism within the armed forces and retires from military service with honor.  For his performance, Cuba Gooding Jr. received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Images

We have many images of strong black fathers holding their own despite the overwhelming odds, struggling, and standing against racism, discrimination, and oppression.  Such fathers include notables such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Barack Obama (2009), Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) and Ralph Bunche (1950).

We also live with the images of fathers who are unknown to us.  As they are unknown so are their sacrifices and contributions.  Men such as the black soldiers who served in segregated labor battalions in France during World War I, who not only suffered psychological trauma from the work of locating and burying the war dead, but were vilified by White soldiers for that work as well.   The segregated all Black 761st Tank Battalion, which fought during World War II as an independent unit because no white American units wanted to be associated with them, but still fought gallantly, in the process capturing or destroying 331 machine gun nests, 58 cement pillboxes, and 461 armored vehicles.

Despite their courage and their achievements, both Generals Patton and Eisenhower  turned down requests for official recognition. To add insult to injury, General Patton once remarked:

“The 761st gave a very good first impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the [black] race.”

There are countless examples of these known and unknown stories of these black fathers.   My father was one of them.  Theodore T. Kane served his country in military service that included two tours in Vietnam, and after retiring from the military, he served another 20 years as a federal law enforcement officer.  My father was all about his image, appearing professional, “being all you can be,” and proving himself to be equal to his white colleagues.  When he died, none of his previous or current law enforcement supervisory/managerial staff sent a note of condolences to the family or attended his funeral service.

W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociologist and historian who lived from 1868 to 1963 once reflected that for a black man living in America:

“It’s a peculiar sensation.  This double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, and measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

History has shown that for hundreds of years, African-Americans, particularly men, have been doing the “right thing for the wrong reasons.”  It is human nature to be want to be validated by others, but the psychological error and therefore repeated failure to attain that validation comes from “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” We continue to measure ourselves by a standard that is both strengthened and perpetuated by our very failure to attain it.

Concluding Words

In the face of all of this, I believe that black fathers should not just simply live their lives, but to BE life for their families. Breathe love and life into your spouses and children.  Stop focusing on what others think about you.  Stop focusing on the imagery and be more concerned about substance.  Be the best father you can be.  Along with professional or work-related goals, seek the life you want and be the father you want to be with and for your children.

Racism and stereotypes are never going to go away.  Both are about fear, and such fear lies so deep within the individual’s soul that it cannot be forced away.  Only the individual holding such feelings can let it go.

Our choices are simple…we can advocate for self, seek balance in our internalized world and calmness in our external environment, and measure our own souls by the love and peace and joy we find in the worlds we build for our families and our communities.

My children are my blessings.  I look forward to walking my daughter down the aisle of matrimony and holding my first grandchild.  Again…don’t simply live life…be life.

Until we speak again… The Visible Man

For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http:// www.lovingmemore.com

Bobbi’s Saga: Believing In Life

“I have had lots of clouds, but I have had so many rainbows.”

– Maya Angelou, Poet & Writer

“I wonder what and where I would be if I had a normal childhood.”

-Bobbi

My Dear Readers,

This month, we continue with another installment of Bobbi’s Saga, the story of a woman walking her journey of healing from repeated sexual abuse that she endured as a child and pre-adolescent.

Bobbi’s story is one of shame, blame, guilt and a lifetime of suffering in silence.  In this month’s journal entry, she shares her continuing empowerment and journey of self-discovery with the hope that someone else can also take the steps of self-awareness, discovery, and empowerment.

I always start out a new journal with a life update.  I am now seeing Dr. Kane once a week after 6 years of therapy.  I have gone from having sessions three times a week and phone calls on opposite days of sessions to two days per week and phone calls on days without a session.  Then I went to two sessions per week and no phone calls.  Now I am at one session per week and no phone calls.

At today’s session, we discussed why I’ve continued my therapy for the last six years.  It is only now that I can be comfortable in discussing how I perceive myself and how others perceive me.  At that point, I didn’t think there could be a difference between when I started therapy and now.  I realize now that there may be a difference between what I see and feel and the way others see me.

There is so much that I don’t want others to see. The shame and guilt is gone, but that doesn’t mean that I feel comfortable revealing my history and sadness.  It still shocks me that I feel so much less pain.  I am surprised that the suicidal thoughts are gone.

Yet, the nightmares continue to be a major concern for me.  I recently had one where someone was robbing the house.  I was frantic and upset, and I woke up sobbing.  I then remembered to plant my feet on the floor, look around and see for sure where I am, then getting up, going to a different room and acknowledging the fact that I am safe and that no harm will come to me.

Although I hadn’t had any suicidal thoughts in a while, I continue to have intense flashbacks of these small, baby-like white panties in the corner.  They remind me of how young, small and vulnerable I was when I was raped.

The flashback also reminds me that my mother left me alone in the house at four years old while my rapist worked in the yard.  Talking about it now helps.  It used to overwhelm me for days at a time.  I would become intensely depressed, cry, and not be able to concentrate on anything else.  Now I am aware of it and although it bothers me, it does not overwhelm me. I am now having both the nightmares and flashbacks less often.

The only good thing that I can say about my mother is that because of her, I became a different type of parent.  I am happy the way the kids turned out.  I am not sure I would have been so careful with their lives if my own life had not been so terrible.  I want to make sure they know they are loved, that they are cherished, and that there is nothing they could do to make us (my husband and me) not love them.

I want them to understand that to me, there is no other important job than being a mom.  I feel that I’ve succeeded at that.  If I die tomorrow, I know that I was a good mom.

As we closed out this week’s session, we talked about the progress I’ve made in the last six years.  Whenever I thank him, Dr. Kane asks me: “Who gets credit for the work done in therapy?” I know that the answer is that I do—the patient always does—but I don’t feel that I deserve any credit.

I have always questioned and doubted what Dr. Kane tells me.  I thought I would never get better.  I didn’t know if I would live.  I never believed I would get to a place of harmony.  I hung on to every word Dr. Kane said, listening, processing, and being aware when there was a disconnect.  I started to feel his words, then believe them.  My only hope was to keep listening, processing, hoping and dreaming of getting to a better place.  I didn’t believe it would happen, and yet here I am today.

I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  I want to believe that there will be time to enjoy life.

Concluding Words

Bobbi has traveled a long distance in empowering the psychological self and the journey of self-discovery.  In my concluding remarks, I would like to provide some context for clarity as this relates to her journal entries.

Bobbi grew up blaming herself for the condition she had been placed within.  She isolated herself from others, feeling that others had the ability to look in her eyes and see into her past.

Recalling Bobbi’s comments about comparing herself to her mother and excelling in the role of mom, Bobbi in the role of protector, intentionally sacrifices herself so that her children could lead lives free of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.   When she says that she is ready to die, she is not being suicidal—instead, she feels complete, accomplished, and prepared to die with the knowledge that unlike her mother, she was a loving and caring mother, and doted upon her children.

Bobbi has done well in her psychological work over the last six years.  She has accepted that although she bears no guilt, blame or responsibility for her sexual, physical and emotional abuses, she can learn to balance the traumatic experiences that were forced upon her.  To gain balance, she has had to accept that nightmares and flashbacks may always be a part of her life. However, with processing and relaxation techniques, these flashbacks and nightmares can lose the potential to overwhelm her and consequently drive her to suicidal thoughts.

While Bobbi is to be congratulated for her willingness to stay the course and continue to process this trauma, the work remains incomplete. One matter of concern is Bobbi’s desire to give the credit of her outstanding work to the therapist.   As Bobbi states in her own words about belief:

“I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  Believe there will be time to enjoy life.”

This belief can only come once Bobbi takes ownership of the therapeutic work and its outcome.  It is and will continue to be the therapeutic goal that the patient can finally feel fully empowered within the psychological self.

Until the next time ….Bobbi’s saga continues…

Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference?

Obey without question.  Your life and that of the family may depend upon it.

-Unknown

Do as I say, not as I do.

-Unknown

My Dear Readers,

Occasionally, I receive letters that, in my mind, speak to different concerns than what is being directly addressed by the writer.  Essentially, the unwritten message that is transmitted by the letter sometimes is more telling than the actual topic of the letter.  This week’s letter is one of those.

As a clinical traumatologist, I have long held that African-Americans continue to respond to complex psychological trauma as descendants of people who suffered slavery, segregation, and domestic terrorism. This psychological trauma lurks throughout their daily lives, seeking an opening in which it can strike, creating disruption, discord, and distrust.

In this week’s letter, the surface topic is a conflict in communication between a father and an adult daughter.  Between the lines, however, is FEAR that is reinforced by generations of complex psychological trauma.

Below is such a story….

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I am writing with the hope that you can help me resolve a conflict I’m having with my adult daughter, who lives with me. My pastor, who I asked for advice, maintains that per God’s law, a child must always obey the parent.  My daughter, however, is a strong-willed and independent black woman.  This no doubt contributes to our conflict.

This all started when my spouse passed away several years ago.  My daughter now wants to care for me, getting all up in my business regarding my health.

For instance, I went to the emergency room recently. When my daughter found out, she was extremely upset.  She said that she was upset because I kept here in the dark about my health issues.  I told her that I didn’t want to worry her, but she stopped me in my tracks when she said that by not telling her this vital information, I was lying to her.

I was stung, angered and hurt by her remark.  As a parent, having spent 30 years protecting, raising, providing and ensuring that she would have the education and the will to care for herself, I am disappointed that she would disrespect me in such a manner.

I realize that we are of two different generations, but I am old school Mississippi in the way I was brought up; I would have never disrespected my father.  My father’s word was law, just like his father’s, and his father’s before him, and was never to be questioned.

But, I want the war between us to be over.

I have many issues of my youth that I have never spoken about. I do not want my past life to be a concern. My daughter has read your writing and respects what you have to say.  What can I do to get her to see this issue my way?

Clash of the Titans, Seattle WA

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My Dear Man,

I appreciate that you have taken the time to write.  However, you should take this time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want to happen here? Do I have a hidden agenda?
  • Do I really want the war to be over?
  • Am I seeking feedback on my behavior?

There are several deep issues here regarding parent and adult children interaction that I can and will respond to.   However, to clear the air, I want to respond to the questions that have been stated.

What do I really want to happen here?  Do I have a hidden agenda?

Of course you have a hidden agenda.  You’re assuming that since your daughter has respect for my writing, that she is going to change the course of her actions if I agree with you that she should do as you ask.   However, what exactly are you asking for?  Secrecy?  For her to ignore your healthcare matters?

Do I really want the war to be over?

Nope.  You want the problem to go away.  You want what you cannot have, a spirited independent daughter who will always obey you.   And, you seek to hold onto the old ways, the ways of your fathers.

The assumption that you make in your letter is that the ways of your fathers worked and therefore, not only is it good enough to work now, but it is in the normal evolution of things—and that something is wrong with your daughter because she dares to break from that tradition.  But, if that is your logic, then why did you spend, 30 years protecting her, raising her, providing for her, and ensuring that she has the education and will to care for herself?

Could it have been that you wanted your daughter to

  • Have more choices than you or your spouse?
  • Be empowered and never have to depend on a man for her livelihood or direction?
  • Stand on your shoulders and upon your death, be able to strive, thrive and do more than simply survive?

Am I seeking feedback on my behavior? 

No. It is clear from your writing that you are looking for opinions that support your point of view. You quote your pastor, who provides the power of “God’s Law” as a justification.   You have identified four generations, including you, of your daughter’s male relatives that dictate that parents rule without question.

Your forefathers lived during a time of domestic terrorism in which they had no governmental protection.  Therefore, it’s logical that in order to protect themselves and their families, parents would require strict obedience to their direction.  However, in this day and age, many African-Americans do not live under the similar life threating restrictions.

You are seeking to hold onto the patterns established for you during your own childhood.  You and your daughter are responding to a legacy of unprocessed psychological complex trauma passed down from your grandfather and his ancestors, and now you are passing it down to your daughter. As a result, your desire for blind obedience from your adult daughter may be a signal that you are living in fear.

Your daughter is showing you:

  • Love, trust, commitment
  • Sacrifice, duty, validation

You have responded by:

  • Being deceptive, keeping her in the dark
  • Lying by omission (not sharing the truth is the same as telling a lie)

Rather than hold tightly to your fears, consider the POST model of partnership, open communication, strategies for success, and teamwork approach.  Specifically:

  • Partnership-Re-evaluate your restrictive attitudes. Take actions that show that you and your daughter have the same objective of your continued good health and welfare, and therefore, are working together to achieve this objective.
  • Open Communication– Encourage the free flow of communication in both directions. Your adult daughter is your partner—embrace her as such. Be willing to share your feelings with her.  Encourage and support her in her role as your advocate in achieving the defined objectives agreed upon by both of you.
  • Strategies for Success-Let go of your current strategies—they will only lead to failure. Instead, identify strategies that will lead to specific actions that will address your issues. One such strategy is mutual respect.  Do things that show your daughter that she is respected and validated by you as an adult capable of making sound decisions, both with you and on your behalf.
  • Teamwork Approach-Implement these strategies as a unit. Come together as one voice, and commit to the strategy and actions as a team effort.

Please accept my condolences regarding the recent loss of your beloved spouse.  It is evident due to the manner in which you and your spouse partnered in raising your daughter, that the both of you must be congratulated for your hard work and success.

In honor of your spousal relationship, however, make the commitment to process your own unresolved feelings regarding your past history and begin living in this new era with your daughter.  Stop keeping secrets from her and begin to enjoy the trusting relationship that you have worked so hard to obtain.

It is time to stop surviving.  Allow your daughter to stand with you so you can thrive.

Concluding Words

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This concept has value, but when it comes to the impact of complex psychological trauma, many individuals repeat fruitless behaviors not out of insanity, but out of the desire to maintain the comfort zones they have normalized in their lives. Essentially, individuals maintain the same behaviors and hope for a different outcome out of fear.

We fear the unknown, and we fear change.   In this case, people of older generations fear the new world that we feel may minimize our sacrifices and shouts for a new beginning.  It looks like the writer fears that his roles of provider and protector are going to disappear. Instead, his role is changing and in order for him and his daughter to thrive, he must stop living in fear and move towards living with fear.

“Trauma is a permanent fixture on the psychological self, so the objective is not rid yourself of the experience, but to learn how to heal, balance the injury, while carrying the wounding experience and continue the journey we know as LIFE.”

(Dr. Micheal Kane)

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

REPOST: The Choice You Make: Conflict or Harmony?

My Dear Readers,

Conflict is a reality within our lives.  In fact, we unconsciously want conflict.

Why? Because we find balance and calmness in conflict.  As a result, even though conflict among our loved ones can be painful to watch, we often feel the need to be the bystander.

Typically, when individuals seek psychotherapy, it is because the individual wants it.  Psychotherapy is like hopping on a train: it can be a rough journey, but in therapy, the individual seeks a “safe, secure space to spill their spoilage.”

There remains an old saying:

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

Simply put, I need help for my son.  I am an African-American woman who at a young age had two children.

I had my two children at a young age. At the time, my husband was an excellent provider, and we lived well. However, our lives went downhill in the late 1980’s when he fell into the grip of crack cocaine addiction, and I made the decision to end the relationship.  As a result, my ex-husband was never involved in my son’s life.

I went on to marry another person who was a great stepfather to my children.  He was always involved in their activities, and was very supportive of them.  Unfortunately, he passed away after a long illness when my son was in his early teens

This was the beginning of a very difficult time for my son.  He had problems in school, began associating with a rough group of kids and started smoking marijuana.  We managed to keep it together for a while, but when he turned 19 years old, I caught him selling drugs out of my home.

This behavior was clearly unacceptable.  I put him out of my home, and he has been living on his own for the past 10 years.  He now has a good job with benefits and has left the rough crowd and the drug scene.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is the tension and poor communication between my son and his father. I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the two of them together and have failed.

My son is angry with his father for not being involved in his life.  When speaking of him, he refers to him as “the sperm donor.”  On the other hand, my ex-husband is angry with my son because during the one time he attempted to reach out to him, my son severely cursed him out. His father now feels disrespected as a man and has ceased all communication with him.

In general, I am very concerned about how this is impacting my son’s life.  At one moment he can be calm and laughing, but the minute his father’s name is mentioned, he goes into rages, and afterwards, shuts down. I have spoken to him about counseling, but he has rejected it, saying that nothing is wrong with him and he can handle himself.  However, he is unable to see that others are being impacted by his behaviors and negative moods.

I am going to reach out to his father once again to see if he would reach past his own anger and help our son.  I would appreciate any advice that you have so I can pass this on to my son.  It hurts me to see him in so much emotional pain.

A Mother’s Love, Seattle, WA.

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My Dear Woman,

First, I want to extend my condolences regarding the passing of your beloved.  It appears that now that he has passed away, you are turning your focus towards the relationship of your son and his biological father.

Although I was born in New York City, I was raised in the segregated South.  We have a saying “You don’t call the plumber when the toilet is working.” That can also be loosely translated into” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Both quotes describe aspects of human nature—the inability to simply leave things alone and avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve what is either already working or sufficient.  One of the consequences of not leaving things alone is that your efforts are risky and may backfire or create problems that you did not intend.

Before you go further and perhaps create confusion, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I unable to listen to what my son is saying?
  • Why am I determined to force a relationship between my son and his biological father?
  • What damage am I creating in the relationship between my son and I?

Your son is no longer a child. He is an adult.  He has the right to determine or decide whether he wants his biological father involved in his life.  Furthermore, he has the right to have or hold onto his anger.

Although you may have compassion and remember that his father was an excellent provider during your son’s infancy, the reality is that regardless of what reason, excuse or justification he or you may have, your son feels that he was “abandoned.”  It is essential that you do not seek to change or repair their relationship. Ultimately, it is up to them.

Follow the model Five R’s of RELIEF,

  • Step to side, take a moment, take a breath (RESPITE);
  • Own your feelings (REACTIONS);
  • Process what is occurring in front of you (REFLECTION);
  • Share your words (RESPONSE) and
  • Give yourself time to review what has occurred (RE-EVALUATE).

Your son is wounded by the abandonment.  Furthermore, he may still be grieving the death and loss of the stepfather who raised him.  Finally, due to his unresolved anger, your son may be responding to his own internal conflict associated with his feelings toward both father figures.

Be honest with yourself.  Are you, by your actions, stating, “I know what is best for you?” Are you really attempting to force them into a relationship that neither wants?

Although you say that your intent is to improve communication between father and son, it is not your wound to heal.  Both individuals are emotionally wounded and have victimized the relationship. It is their relationship to fix.

Instead of the biological father being “bad” or the son as being “disrespectful” it would be helpful for both individuals, using the Five R’s of RELIEF, to examine the following:

  • Why do I feel wounded? (Answer: drug involvement).
  • What actions or behaviors bind us together? (Answer: drug involvement)
  • What were the actions or behaviors that led to both of us being ejected from the home? (Answer: drug involvement).

There is no right or wrong here.   Both individuals at an early point were in emotional pain and turned to drugs as a means of medicating the emotional pain.  This contributed to the ongoing wounding of both people.

They must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing the wound.  Both individuals must want to seek common ground, but this is not possible as long as they continue to live in fear of each other.

Individuals with long standing emotional pain may choose to live with the pain rather than take the opportunity to move forward and learn other coping methods. Individual psychotherapy rather than counseling would be a different way to allow both of them to work towards what is so desperately needed: emotional balance.  In psychotherapy, the therapist becomes the guide and companion on the journey called self-discovery.

The therapist’s role is to provide a Safe, Secure, Space for their patients to Spill their Spoilage.  It is within this environment that the therapist and the individual seeking treatment walk the journey together, uncover hidden pain and trauma, and work through it together.

Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

In life, there are things we want and yet cannot have. Regardless of your good intentions, you will fail in achieving your objective of improving communications between father and son.  Your son is no longer a child.  As an adult, he has a right to choose his own direction, even one that you strongly disagree with.

Both men, father and son, must want to improve their relationship. Before they do this, however, they must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing their individual wounds.

You cannot do this work for them. Your involvement is clearly not desired.  By continuing to force the issue, you risk damaging your relationship with your son.

They have the opportunity to stop being victims and survivors.  If they choose to do so, they can become empowered, and begin to drive, strive and thrive in their journeys.  The song remains the same: Fear is here. Forever.  You must choose to live in or live with your fear.

The Visible Man

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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REPOST: The Meaning Of Black History Month

My Dear Readers,

Black History Month concludes this week, so I am using this week’s post to explore its meaning.

Black History Month means different things to different people, so I am very aware of the mixture of feelings, particularly pride, sadness and yes, anger that can arise.  I feel them myself.  So, as my grandmother would say, I intend to “rake the mud on the bottom and watch the muddy waters rise to the top.” So cometh the muddy waters.  As I have stated before, my comments are solely my own and do not represent the thoughts of others within my community.

We live in two worlds. In one, we are shown the glamour experienced in one of those worlds, and yet, what is hidden is the world of pain and suffering that may have been the foundation for these individuals’ successes.

As a kid growing up in the southern United States, the black history I lived was not the black history I was to learn later on in school.  I learned about the contributions, achievements, and the accomplishments of Black Americans such as:

  • Crispus Attucks: the first casualty of the Boston Massacre and the American Revolutionary War. He became the icon of the anti-slavery movement.

  • George Washington Carver researched the promotion of alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes.

  • Sojourner Truth was among the first women’s rights activists.

  • Harriet Tubman served as an abolitionist, humanitarian and spy for the Union during the Civil War.

  • Frederick Douglas was a leader in the abolition movement, a social reformer, a writer and statesman. He was the first black American nominated for the Vice President of the United States in 1872.

These contributions, accomplishments and achievements are important, but the common theme is that all of them, at one time, had either been sold into or born into slavery.

What can we as a nation, a society, as a community of African-Americans and as individuals learn from the struggles of these five individuals?  We can understand that their struggles and traumatic experiences in their personal histories led them to great achievements as they assisted in sculpturing the American political and economic landscape.

It is in the duality of living in two worlds that the pain and suffering of one population and the guilt and shame of the other population are both hidden away. The history remains so far removed from our modern lives that in our outrage as a nation regarding the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot in a locked cage by the blood soaked hands of ISIS, we lulled ourselves into ignorance of this country’s past in which 4,743 African-American men, women and children were lynched between 1882 and 1968.

One of those lynched was Jesse Washington in 1916.  A young white man who witnessed the murder wrote in a postcard to his family about the “carnival like atmosphere” in which he and his young friends “enjoyed front row seats.”  He included a picture of Washington’s charred body with the caption:

“This is the barbeque we had last night.  My picture is to the left with a cross over it.  Your son, Joe.”

A historian describes the photograph:

“…Jesse Washington’s stiffened body tied to the tree.  He has been sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman.  No witnesses saw the crime; he allegedly confessed, but the truth of the allegations would never be tested.

The grand jury took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict, but there was no appeal, no review, no prison time.  Instead, a courtroom mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground and cut off his testicles.

A bonfire was quickly built and lit.  For two hours, Jesse Washington, still alive, was raised and lowered over the flames, again, and again, and again.

City officials and police stood by, approvingly.  According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000.  There were taunts, cheers, and laughter.  Reporters described hearing “shouts of delight.”

When the flames died away, Washington’s body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs.  The party was over.

Yet the “party” is not over.  The lynchings and other traumatic experiences of African-American people would continue well into the 21st century.  During the days of “nigger hunts,” blacks were victimized and killed by a variety of means in isolated sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.

To many whites, killing African-Americans “wasn’t nothing.”  As reported by whites, it was:

  • “Like killing a chicken or killing a snake”

  • “Niggers jest supposed to die ain’t no damn good anyway—jest go an’kill’em.”

  • “They had to have a license to kill anything but a nigger. They are always in season.”

  • “A white man ain’t a-going to be able to live in this country if we let niggers start getting biggity.”

  • (about lynchings) “It ‘s about time to have another one. When the niggers get so that they are afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them.”

Learning about and understanding Black History allows us to remain aware that there may always be those who, due to their own fear, maintain their perceptions of what African-Americans deserve, and display behaviors that reflect that. Only in understanding the pain and suffering as well as the achievements and accomplishments, that we can fully understand the importance of staying true to our direction and goals even in the most difficult of times.

Concluding Words

People should feel that history is not only about significant achievements of “great” historic figures; it can also be about how the individual lives her/his life.   It is from these stories of personal achievement and tragedy that we learn wisdom, perseverance and the commitment to walk one’s own path or direction.

The mistake that is often made with Black History Month is to limit its richness and celebration to the month of February of each year.  Instead of limiting it to 28 days of February, let’s utilize this period as a springboard in making or creating or telling our story.

Let’s use March-January to make history, February to be reflective, and then start it all over again, making history.

Black personal history and community history can be gained just from interacting with people in the neighborhood, such as teachers and mentors. The celebrated contributions and achievements often begin with small steps.

“Life is like a marathon. Finish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place. Cross the finish line. Just finish the race. Finish what you start.”

Ten Flashes of Light on the Journey called LIFE.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

REPOST: The Impact of Racial Labeling

Originally published on April 20, 2015. 

My Dear Readers,

Labeling is a necessity in life.  It is through labeling that we identify differences among ourselves.  However, it comes with a price that we pay when this labeling impacts the way we view our relationships.

Recently while looking at Facebook, I came across an interesting video of a young black man following an encounter with a police officer. Prior to reading the post, I took a deep breath to prepare myself for what I assumed was going to be another traumatic experience concerning a black man and the police.

In viewing the video, I was surprised as the young man spoke eloquently about the traffic stop in Lexington County, SC and how he and the police officer handled themselves.  The young black man stated that as he was being pulled over, he followed his protocol of safety—he kept his hands on the steering wheel, and remained polite and calm.  He added that the police officer was professional and most importantly, both the police officer and the black man left the encounter alive and without incident.

What I find interesting about the video is the young man’s comment that “we should all stop the labeling.”  He added that not all police officers are bad and not all black men are good. Needless to say, the post went viral; such comments were not expected from a black man.

The young man is correct.  Not every police officer is bad, and not all black men are good.  However, the fact remains that society grants the police officer the power to take a life when justified to do so.  In doing so, the society turns a blind eye, a silent tongue, and a deaf ear to the screams and pain of the black community when it comes to police misconduct.

Labeling is indeed destructive.  In identifying differences, there is real possibility that labeling will also reinforce stereotypes, prejudices and bias we hold towards each other.  In doing so, the ultimate outcome is that we are living in fear of each other.

The question is: can we really stop the labeling?  The young black man doesn’t realize that he, by following his safety protocol, he acknowledges the label he bears—one of being viewed as a threat to the police officer—and, by using the safety protocol, is consciously sending a message to the police officer differentiating himself from “those people.”  He is essentially saying, “I am not a threat to you.”

However, what about the others who did not follow similar behaviors, but also do not pose threats?  Are they not worthy of being shown the same professionalism?  Can I assume that the police officer in the next encounter will treat me in the same professional manner that the young black man was treated?

We will not stop the labeling because it is not in the interests of the dominant group to do so.  Why?  Fear.  The dominant group has historically lived in fear and from the way life is looking, they will continue to do so. Labeling allows society to rationalize and makes sense and justification of its actions and behaviors.

There is an old saying: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, flies like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Not necessarily.  Using that analogy, black people must walk and talk like white people because their very skin carries the label of “criminal,” which is incorrect in most cases. Through this reasoning, we must act like white people, but we are not guaranteed to be treated like whites, regardless of how well we behave.

Labeling of black people continues to this very day.  On 4.12.15, the media reported that two African-American men, both students at Troy University, were arrested and charged with raping a woman during Spring Break on a Florida beach in broad daylight.  The sexual assault, carried out by four individuals, was witnessed by hundreds of others who did nothing to intervene.

The entire assault was videotaped on a cell phone.  Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen in his press conference, stated:

“This is happening in broad daylight with hundreds of people seeing and hearing what is happening and they are more concerned about spilling their beer than anyone getting raped. It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods.

This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.  No one should have to fear this would happen in Panama City Beach, but it does.”

There have been six recent incidents involving law enforcement and alleged abuses:

  • Columbia, SC: A state trooper shot a black man at a gas station after ordering him to get his driver license.
  • North Charleston, SC: A police officer shoots a black man five times in the back as he runs away. The police officer plants a weapon next to the victim’s body.
  • North Augusta, SC: A police officer fatally shoots an unarmed black man in his driveway.
  • Tulsa, OK: A reserve sheriff’s deputy fatally shoots a black man while he is subdued on the ground.
  • Los Angeles, CA: Ten sheriff’s deputies are placed on administrative leave for the beating of a white man who had been subdued following a long distance chase on a stolen horse.
  • Sacramento, CA: A sheriff’s deputy is placed on administrative leave following the beating of a white man and stomping on his head after being asked by the victim in a polite manner to stop blocking traffic.

Most of the incidents share the following common thread:

  • The six incidents were all caught on video,
  • All the individuals involved were either suspended, placed on administrative leave, or fired from their respective law enforcement organizations.
  • All of the individuals have been immediately identified, formally charged for criminal actions, and/or may be charged pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
  • The local law enforcement authority and city leaders have immediately issued statements of condemnation of the actions and have been transparent regarding releasing information regarding these incidents.

However, due to racial labeling, the incidents are being portrayed differently.

  • The actions of the law enforcement officers are being portrayed as either rogue cops, traumatized due to a prior shooting (the SC state trooper) or being poorly trained.
  • The actions are of the law enforcement officers are being cast as “isolated incidents.”
  • We are asked to view the law enforcement officers as individuals and not be reflected on the law enforcement or policing institution as “group behavior.”

In incidents regarding the actions of the law enforcement, there is now the clear intention of transparency to prevent the “labeling of the police as a group’.  Why? Because neither the police nor the greater society want law enforcement at large to be viewed as out of control and untrustworthy.

This does not apply to the two black men involved in the sexual assault at the beach in Panama City, FL.  The two men have been suspended from school, immediately charged and awaiting trial.  Unlike with the police officers, who are being identified as individuals involved in criminal or alleged criminal behaviors, the media and the police are going to great lengths to label these young men not as individuals, but rather as members of a group engaging in “animal type behavior.”  To restate the comments of Sheriff McKeithen,

“It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods. This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.”

Earlier I stated that that the dominant group will not stop labeling, especially when it comes to the identification of black men.  Fear sells.  It sells guns and ammunition.  It impacts the voting and legislation in federal, state and local government.

Racial labeling and fear go together like two favorite deserts that we can’t seem to do without.  It is as American as apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  There is much more to come.  Fear sells… and the dominant group is buying it.

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.