One day, during a heated discussion in which I questioned why she chose to stay, my mother said to me, “You think I’m the only one going through this? There are women I know who are going through way worse than me! You think my situation is bad?” I abhorred the open acceptance of such a rationalization, but sadly, she was correct. At what point, though, does domestic violence become a competition or a standard of comparison for each experience for each experience similar to it? I can’t find an answer; it’s extremely detrimental to believe anything can justify domestic violence. Simply because something is widely accepted as a cultural norm, does not make it acceptable. If this is such an apparent, learned behavior within the Nigerian community, why do we fail to address the huge elephant in the room?
The Black American and African populations stigmatize the notion of therapy, therefore allowing many past traumas, developing mental illnesses, and disruptive behaviors to fester and persist within our families. In a 2008 presentation in London, Dr. Joy de Gruy Leary said, “When we start talking about chattel slavery, we’re not talking one trauma. We’re not talking about a specific event. We’re talking about generations of trauma— with no intervention.” Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome is a crippling wave of psychological damage and learned behavior passed down through generational inheritance since the beginning of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. There is an unconscious self-hatred today’s Black Americans inherited through the residue of slavery. From what I observe, we are the demographic of individuals who have the most amount of trauma, yet are the least present in the therapist’s office. My aim is to help fill the void of Black counselors and therapists, assist in the areas that need the most therapeutic intervention but have the least financial backing to afford such services, and encourage a change of perspective most Africans and African descendants have about psychotherapy.
As a child, I felt limited in what I was allowed to share with adults, and I longed for a therapist, but I was constantly fed this idea that “our people don’t do therapy.” I experienced mixed emotions when I learned I would participate in classroom therapy sessions during one of my courses. Curious, anxious, relieved, and mostly scared; I was scared of what these sessions would evoke out of me. I can understand why my culture, and many others for that matter, shun the idea of therapy. We fear the power of our own pent up emotions. We are intimidated by the destruction our innermost anger may cause. We shy away from the immense shame for feeling and behaving the way we do— or for the way we wish to behave. We’re terrified of exposing ourselves when we divulge our family secrets, worrying how we may be judged in the eyes of others. We let our defenses preserve our reputation, yet in the meantime, we sacrifice our mental, emotional, and sometimes, physical well-being. Even though I understand the reasoning, I also see its flaws.
I realize that a couple of my personal strengths are as much as a liability when I use them without a boundary of balance. For example, I’m incredibly resilient, which may sometimes lead me to ignore my need to grieve, and I am introspective, but without the proper reins, I become my own worst critic. More than anything, I want to rewire this belief that strength is about toughness and suppression. Building myself around this mentality has hurt me more than it has helped. I’m learning that strength is about vulnerability, openness, and exposure. Strength is about finally having the courage to say, “I need help,” and it’s time I learn to be at peace with that.
Osueke, Olivia N. WoodGreenFilms. (February 18, 2014). Post traumatic disorder Dr Joy de Gruy Leary. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/XRQ-Ci6LwVw.