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The Wounds of Sisterhood: Black Women, Grief, and the Loss of Adult Friendships

 

September 26, 2018 was supposed to be a standout day for my best friend Sharmara. I imagine we would’ve sung happy birthday (the Stevie Wonder version of course), enjoyed a great meal or big bash even—mainly just spent time together marveling at how old we are now from our first meeting as high school freshmen in 1993. We would have lovingly reflected on how long our friendship has endured—through all the triumphs, heartaches, and “only you would understand” moments. What a day it would have been, honoring my best friend on her milestone 40th birthday. But we didn’t celebrate the way I envisioned. Six years ago, 17 days after her 34th birthday, Sharmara surrendered to a noble, four-year battle with pulmonary hypertension.

I spent this special birthday honoring my friend in her absence, tickled by the shenanigans we devised in our 19 years of friendship. Even at this stage of development, I miss her connection. I miss her severely and yet so tenderly. She is still the most kind-spirited and gracious person I know. She was the one who knew of my deepest aspirations. She was the one who saw my flaws as is and still look beyond them to dream so big for me—grander than I believed. Such bonds are so precious and needed throughout a woman’s lifetime.

RELATED: 3 QUESTIONS IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE CELEBRATING YOUR FRIEND

Recognizing the impact of this loss prompted me to consider the different wounds Black women sustain in sisterhood, including the demise of adult friendships. The breakdown of bonds once so fierce but ultimately divided by misunderstandings, lack of commitment, or even life transitions such as budding careers, marriage, and parenthood. As a defense, some women may offer a warning about the dangers of sisterhood: See, that’s why I have more male friends. In the face of the ironclad Black-woman-bond, why do many women relate to the aching hurt and sting of the termination of friendships, particularly those that blindside and leave you cultivating your own closure? Why do relationships conclude in this way? And when they do end, how do you heal and grow through loss? The following are gentle considerations in grieving the loss of a friend.

Mourning the Loss

Acknowledge how you feel about the loss of your friendship. Resist blocking, numbing, or diminishing your emotions. Often, the end of a relationship can be a sorrowful time and you may want to move as swiftly and far from it as possible. However, relationships take time to create and in these connections are memories that may later lend to sadness, confusion, frustration, guilt, and disappointment at the relationship’s dissolution. Know your feelings about the loss are valid and deserve to be explored. Consider a safe space to identify, vent, and process your emotions such as counseling with a professional experienced in helping individuals work through loss. You may also benefit from journaling or figuratively writing a goodbye letter to your former friend to express your emotions about the course of the relationship and its ending.

Grief and Acceptance

To accept the end of a friendship doesn’t mean that you like or prefer this outcome. Acknowledging the loss doesn’t diminish how you feel about it either. Still, accepting the relationship’s status is fundamental for healing as acceptance allows you to identify how to live with this loss now that it is a reality. As you acknowledge the end you can work to create a solution to live anew without the friendship.

RELATED: EXERCISE: THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF CARE

Trusting to Befriend Again

Vital to cultivating new friendships is the ability to identify the lessons you learned in loss and areas for self-improvement. With a balance of being open and wise, you can work to heal and foster connections that serve you well. Moving forward, consider what you need and desire most in friendship, as well as what you’re willing to offer and accept. And do just that. Remember, all friendships, current or former, are unique and not to be compared.

I know there will never be another Sharmara. Nevertheless, she taught me the value and power of sisterhood. She was the one who woke up hours before she passed just to see me and offer her parting words, “See you later, okay.” At the time, I heard her statement as a request but now I know it was really an explanation. A prepping almost. She had the last word and she was right. Just a little later, Sharmara. I will see you again.


Author’s Biography
Keisha is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Transformation Counseling Services in Columbus, Georgia, which focuses on grief counseling and perinatal mental health services for mothers and their families impacted by pregnancy and infant loss, and postpartum anxiety and depression. Keisha is an advocate and writer, contributing to articles in Essence Magazine, The New York Times, Bustle, and Elite Daily. Connect with and follow Keisha on Facebook and Instagram.

3 questions if you have trouble celebrating your friend

 

It happens to the best of us! Something major just happened to one of your friends and suddenly you feel like your life isn’t going anywhere. Maybe your relationship dynamic has shifted as a result of this exciting moment for your girl. You find yourself questioning where you are in life. You ask yourself: ‘Why is my friend stepping into this exciting new world and I’ve been in the same place for what feels like forever now?’ Whatever it is, it’s important to know you’re normal. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself if you ever find yourself in a position where supporting or celebrating your friend’s accomplishment feels hard.

  1. Is there somewhere in your life you should be working harder?
    It might be a good idea to take inventory of your life. What do you have going on? Is it better to focus on the ways you can take your opportunities to the next level? Or, is it better to focus on what others around you have going on? Often times, our insecurities are controllable when we allow ourselves to focus on the ways we can improve ourselves. Each step, no matter how small, can get us thinking more positively about our own lives.RELATED: EXERCISE: THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF CARE 
  2.  What is coming up for you?
    Is there a sense of grief about an experience you thought you’d have that you didn’t? Perhaps you’ve been having trouble getting pregnant and your friend just announced her pregnancy. Or, you have a friend that landed an amazing new job. Or, she just entered into her first serious relationship and it’s caused the relationship between the two of you to shift. The thing that’s important to remember is that your feelings are valid, they’re not wrong. How you manage it is where it becomes tricky. A great step is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever pain you’re feeling as a result of what you think is missing in your life. Confront the fear of not having it at the moment. Then, strategize. Write your goals on paper and plan the best most practical way you can go about achieving them step by step. As soon as you get closer and closer to your goals, the anxiety of not having what someone else has will fade. Don’t believe me? Just try it.
    RELATED: 31 DAYS OF AFFIRMATIONS
  3. How can you manage whatever you’re feeling in a way that still allows you to celebrate your friend?
    How would it feel to have a conversation about it? This is the biggest step toward acknowledging your fears or insecurities. Our friends care about us, they are our friends after all. Sometimes they can give us a different perspective. Maybe you were thinking about your friend’s accomplishments one way, but there’s an entirely different side you didn’t know about. Maybe there was a time she felt the same way you’re feeling right now. Whatever it is, talking to her about it is a great way of acknowledging how you feel with the source. It can be one step toward a more positive outlook on your own life.

31 Days of Affirmations

October 10 is my birthday and like all true Libras, I celebrate all month long lol! This year to celebrate, we’ve partnered with ThinkUp to bring you 31 days of affirmations. After the Mental Wellness Challenge in August, many of you shared that you wanted more opportunities to be reflective and think about the ways you can be more intentional about taking care of yourself, and I think this is a great way to do it! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Here’s how you can join the celebration:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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1. Download the ThinkUp app at therapyforblackgirls.com/thinkup. It’s free!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

2. I have chosen a collection of 31 affirmations called “Living Life on Your Terms” that can be found in the ThinkUp app. Each day we’ll share one of the affirmations on social media that you can add to your ThinkUp playlist. You can record them in your own voice and even add music. Feel free to add any of the affirmations that fit for you. You can also add your own affirmations or search the app for others.
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3. Journal about what comes to mind for you as you’re reflecting on the affirmations. Try to choose a time at the beginning of your day or at the end of the day for this exercise. Do some fit for you better than others? What made you choose the ones you did? There’s no right or wrong answers, more a reflection of your process. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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4. At the end of the month, if you’d like to, make a 1 minute or less video discussing what the experience has been like for you and how you plan to continue using affirmations as a part of your mental wellness plan and email it to kamron@therapyforblackgirls.com. We’ll choose one winner randomly who will win a premium version of the Thinkup app. 

Exercise: The Ultimate Form of Self Care

Regular exercise can improve our physical health, decrease our risk for serious health conditions, and help us feel better emotionally.  For many of us, our lives are so full that don’t know how to add exercise into our already packed days. Neglecting our health at the expense of our busy schedules is dangerous for many reasons, but ultimately it can stop us from being the healthiest version of ourselves, both in mind and body.  Understanding the impact that exercise has on our lives, allows us to make intentional choices to improve our health.

 Common reasons we avoid exercise

Lack of Time.  Lack of time is a major concern when starting and maintaining an exercise routine.  You take on so many responsibilities that you rarely have time for yourself.  When you have a brief moment to slow down, another critical task quickly moves to the front of the line. Even though your to-do list never ends, there is still that voice in the back of your mind – the voice of your basic needs – telling you that you need to make your health a priority.   Listen to this voice!  Find a few minutes in your day – 10 to 15 minutes – for exercise.  A quick walk in the neighborhood, a yoga tutorial online, a quick high-intensity workout – any of these are great places to start.

Guilt.   What will my children do when I’m exercising?  Am I a bad mom for going to the gym when my son is at football practice?  Guilt starts off as a subtle whisper, but left unchecked, it can grow louder.  Sometimes we think that taking care of ourselves is equivalent to selfishness.  What if I told you that exercising, and finding a consistent health care routine, is one of the most selfless acts you can give to your family?  Studies show that consistent exercise is linked to increased productivity and mental focus.  This means that exercising regularly can help you become more focused and present with your partner, children, and with yourself.  Letting go of self-inflicted guilt is an important part of building self-care through exercise.

Lack of knowledge.  Maybe you realize that exercise is key to your long-term health, both physically and mentally.  You’re ready to move!  And you know the recipe for success….diet and exercise!  Should be easy, right?  Wrong!  It is surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of exercise material online.  Cardio or weight training?  Aerobics or water exercises?  Run or walk? Not knowing where to start or what you enjoy can easily keep us stuck.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, consider finding a workout partner to start the journey with you.

What are the emotional benefits of exercise? 

Improve stress and overall mood.  Our bodies release stress hormones as our stress level increases, which may trigger our “fight or flight mode.” Stress also triggers increased heart rate, trouble breathing, and sweating.  Exercise can help decrease overall stress levels.  In fact, researchers found that exercise actually reorganizes the brain to increase resilience to stress.  Exercise also has been shown to improve mood by increasing endorphins.

Increases confidence.  Exercise can also increase confidence.  Setting, working on, and achieving a set of goals helps build a sense of personal accomplishment.  This is why many “couch to 5K” programs work, as they build slowly on small goals.  With each accomplishment, you can continue to work on building larger goals.  It feels great to accomplish something new.

Improve sleep.  Exercise also improves quality of sleep.  Sufficient sleep is connected to quality of life and overall health.  Because exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, it can also lead to improved sleep quality.  Here’s a bonus – there is a bilateral connection between exercise and sleep.  This means that as you begin to exercise more, the quality of your sleep will improve, and the quality of your workouts will improve as well.

Reduces the risk of dementia.  A recent research study from the American Academy for Neurology found that women with high physical fitness levels were 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later than women who were less fit.  Although the study does not look at cause and effect of exercise and dementia, there is a chance that adding fitness could delay or prevent dementia.

Adding exercise and self-care into your day can help you live an efficient and healthy life!

Dr. Jacque Strait, Ph.D. is a licensed Counseling Psychologist and co-owner of Winding Way Therapy, and creator of Fit For a Queen Wellness Consulting.  Dr. Strait specializes in counseling for professional women suffering from life burnout.  She also provides wellness consulting to Women of Color who want to build better self-care through fitness.  To reach Dr. Strait, contact her at strait@windingwaytherapy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear graduate, what’s next?

Graduation season came and went; a season marked by major transition, lot’s of excitement, and definite celebration. Let’s say you’re the one that graduated. You spent years working toward a goal. The time came. Now it’s gone. While you should absolutely be enjoying the fruits of your labor, you’re not without some growing pains. While this time is marked by lots of celebration, you could be feeling apprehensive, confused, and even depressed.

RELATED: REAL TALK: POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

At least a few emotions indicate the entrance into a new phase of life whether you, specifically, are graduating or simply experiencing a separate major milestone (a wedding, birth of a child, new job etc.) This season is characterized by life changes and it’s crucial to equip yourself with the proper tools to manage the emotional shift. Here are at least 8 things you should look out for and implement during the summertime transition that could greatly impact your life post-graduation and set you up for success:
Breathe.

  1. So first, there’s a natural coming down of adrenalin that happens when you finish big projects. You’ve spent so much time working on this thing that, at times, felt like would never end and now it’s done. Then there are ceremonies, parties, dinners and it is pretty nonstop for a while. You’ll probably have a wave of emotions related to saying goodbye to friends who have become a large part of your life. And then, abruptly, it’s all over.  You’ll suddenly have a bunch of time on your hands and may even feel like you don’t know what to do with yourself. Before you try to fill the space with unnecessary noise – breathe. Feeling bored or like you’re not doing enough is not uncommon and you don’t need to beat yourself up over feeling down, even though everyone else feels like you should be on top of the world.  If you feel like a sobbing mess allow yourself to feel those authentic feelings. If you’re confused about what’s going to happen next, call a friend, go to dinner, process your thoughts with someone who cares about you. Know you’re not the only one feeling this way and that the feeling will likely pass as you get a little distance from all the celebrations.

RELATED: STAY WOKE. BUT GET SOME SLEEP!

Manage expectations

  1. You may have some concerns related to not finding the dream job right away. It’s important to remember most people don’t retire from the job they started straight after undergrad. Beginning one job now does not mean you’ll never have your dream job, or you’ll be there forever. It’s more important to interrogate what makes something a dream job. Can you find some of these same qualities in another job, internship or volunteer project? Could these opportunities potentially open more doors for you to land the dream job?

Give up on the comparison game

  1. You might be comparing yourself to others, whether it be on social media or live and in action. People all around you are embarking on new adventures and it’s easy to consider someone else’s grass, #goals. In reality however, most of our social media feeds show the highlight reel and not the full story. Try to manage your tendency to want to create a better story around someone’s picture than their actual reality. Like the pic and move on. It might also help to do some journaling if you notice your mood being impacted by what you see on social media. What comes up for you as you see pictures of others moving into their new fancy apartments or taking great vacations? This could give you a good place to start to do some digging about changes you might need to make to feel better about what’s going on in your life.

RELATED: THE BLACK GIRL’S GUIDE TO SELF-CARE

Get real about your finances

  1. You might be worried about having to pay back loans. Unfortunately, Sallie Mae (or whoever your lender is) may start calling and emailing shortly after your degree is conferred. Try not to get into default in paying back your loans. Instead, look into deferment or forbearance options that might give you a little more time to start paying back.

Exercise discipline.

  1. It’s easier said than done. You might feel caught off guard about the lack of structure and stability that school provided. For about 17 or 18 years now, there has been a certain rhythm to your life. Go to class, do your homework, eat some lunch, hang out with friends, repeat. And, even though your college years gave you a bit more freedom, now that you’re done. Your schedule really will require you to be disciplined and accountable. There won’t be any loss of points for coming in late or a grace period because you ran out of time. It’s now incumbent on you to figure out what’s important to you and map out your days accordingly.

 

Do you have an idea or tip you want to share with the us about making a major transition (new school, new job, etc.) make sure to share it in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #tbginsession.

5 things you didn’t know about suicide

September is National Suicide Awareness Month and the goal for this campaign is to share resources and information so that we are more aware of the signs that someone might be suicidal and how we might be able to help. I’ve found that there tends to be a lot of misinformation about suicide so wanted to take this opportunity to dispel some common myths that continue to pervade our culture.

Black people do die by suicide. Though Black people and Black women specifically have the lowest rates of dying by suicide, it is definitely on the rise and something we need to pay attention to. Suicide is now the 3rd leading cause of death for young Black people between the ages of 15-24. You may have seen recent articles discussing how suicide rates doubled between 1993-2013 for Black youth between the ages of 5-11, and how teen girls are dying by suicide at higher rates.

RELATED: LET’S BE CAREFUL WHEN DISCUSSING SUICIDE

Suicide is not act of selfishness. Many of us have not had significant depressive symptoms or felt the incredible despair that typically accompanies the decision to end one’s life. So, it seems unfathomable that someone would want to end their life. But it’s important to remember that at the point when someone is considering suicide, they often feel like they are a burden on their loved ones and feel like everyone would be better off if they were gone. They often do not see a way through or out of the pain they are experiencing.

Asking if someone is suicidal will not make them suicidal. I can assure you that someone who has not felt suicidal in the past will not become suicidal simply because you ask. Often times, not asking indicates that you can’t handle your friend sharing that level of pain with you. It makes it secretive and like something that should not be shared, which is not what we want to happen with someone who is feeling suicidal. We want them to be open and honest so that we can help them get connected to the help they need.

RELATED: REAL TALK: POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

People don’t attempt suicide for attention. All attempts at hurting one’s self should be taken seriously. Even if someone does not seriously intend to kill them self, an attempt is typically a signal that something larger is at play and that professional help is necessary.

People who are suicidal don’t always look depressed. Sometimes a person who has decided to end their life will actually have a bit of an improved mood in the days before their suicide because they are at peace with their decision. We saw this recently when Chester Bennington‘s widow, Talinda, released a video of him laughing and joking with his family days before he died by suicide. She wanted to help shed light on the fact that depression and suicidality don’t only look one way.

Helpful Resources

  • You can talk with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1-800-273-TALK
  • In the US, you can text with a crisis counselor 24/7 by texting the word TRIBE to 741-741
  • If you’re looking for a therapist in your area, make sure to check out our therapist directory at therapyforblackgirls.com/directory

 

Help! I can’t stop checking my ex’s IG

Going through the motions of ending a relationship can make you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. One day things are going great and then the next day, you and your partner are done. When your relationship ended, you may have felt as if there was no closure when ties were severed with your partner. Old feelings linger, and your curiosity drives you to explore what your ex has been up to since the break-up. It’s not uncommon for people to spy on their ex’s social media account when they don’t feel like there is closure to the relationship, because it’s an easy way to intrude into their space without being found out. Here are the reasons why you secretly watch your ex’s social media account…

1) Your emotions run high when saying goodbye to your partner. Just like when you lose someone in death, you go through a range of emotions including shock/denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and eventually acceptance. There is saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” which implies that after separation from someone, there are times when you miss them, and you romanticize the relationship. When you romanticize your partner and relationship, your memories focus on the good times you had together while minimizing the bad times. To your dismay, you may start thinking to yourself “our relationship wasn’t so bad.” After that, you start to mentally justify all of the things that your partner did right, how no one else can fill that void, and maybe you should give it another shot. The easiest way to do this is by checking up on your ex on social media – and see how they are doing since the breakup. It feels safer to silently monitor how things are going for them since you two are no longer together.

RELATED: TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF AS A STEPMOM

2) You hate being alone. Being alone after ending a relationship is difficult. Lying in bed alone at night leaves your bed and heart feeling empty. You long for and crave that closeness that your ex provided for you; whether it was the conversation, sex, or just being in your space – things just don’t feel the same when you are single and alone. Trying to find ways to fill the void for the activities that you used to do with your lover on the weekend can feel exhausting. And since you recently broke up you may feel like you don’t know how to occupy your time or your space, which may leave you to wonder what your ex is doing. Perseverating on the feelings of familiarity and security that your ex provided for you cause you to spy on their social media account and follow how they are spending their time – so that perhaps you “happen” to show up where they are and increase the likelihood of rekindling the intimacy flame. You also may think of ways in which you can extend the relationship. It’s not uncommon to want to continue the relationship by being “friends with benefits” to satisfy the craving for intimacy.

3) You want to see if they were happy without you. You ask yourself “is my ex missing me as much as I miss them? Are they hurting as much as I am? How are they moving on without me?” You’d like to think that you were an integral part of your ex’s happiness, and it may be difficult for you to surmise that they can possibly move on and be happy without you. Peeking at their social media gives you the opportunity to see how they are handling their lives emotionally without you in it.

4) Fear of failure. No one wants to feel like they have failed in their relationship. Social media makes it easy for people to fake happiness. People usually only post bright, beautiful, and uplifting photos and statuses. People are getting married, having babies, and getting engaged all around you. Your timeline is filled with happy smiling people – not couples with problems or breakups. How would it look if you changed your status to single? It’s as if you feel like you will be judged on the longevity or your ability to remain in a relationship. There is a lot of pressure associated with appearing as though you are perfect on social media, thus if your relationship fails, it may feel like you are a failure in your ability to love, beloved, and be perfect. There is shame around admitting to others, that despite your best efforts, your relationship didn’t work out. Thus, spying on your ex and keeping up a charade that the two of you are still together, to avoid embarrassment is not an uncommon tactic to maintain an image on social media.

RELATED: THERE IS NO MOVING ON AFTER A BREAKUP

5) Lack of closure. There is this idea that because your relationship ended, that the two of you must properly say goodbye in a special way to mark the parting of your paths. You may feel like you can’t truly move on because you didn’t say good-bye, discuss why things ended the way they did, or let your partner know how you felt when things ended. Thus, you feel that you and your ex have unfinished business. Thus, you may spy on your ex to try and find the right opportunity to talk to them about how things were left.

Ok, now that you know why you silently spy on your ex on social media after the break-up, how can you stop doing it and move on?

1) Honor your emotions and process the breakup. Allow yourself to go through the grieving process, by giving yourself time and space think about the hurt and pain that the breakup has caused, as well as thinking about the finality of the breakup. While going through the pain of grieving doesn’t necessarily feel good, it’s a necessary and healthy part of letting go. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, however, you must allow yourself to do it. It’s okay to cry, get angry, and pass on going out with friends if you are sad about what has happened. If you find that you have difficulty processing your emotions around the breakup, then try finding a therapist that can help you with the coping process. Also, reach out to family and friends.

RELATED: BOOSTER SESSION: SEX WITH THE EX

2) Stop isolating yourself. Being alone can trigger you into feeling like you have to occupy your time, and your space – which you may feel is empty. Rushing back to your ex may feel like an easier option because there is comfort in being with them – especially if feelings are still there. You may also feel like your ex is easily accessible because they still have feelings for you too. Instead of reaching out to your ex or looking at their social media account; pre-schedule activities with friends or for yourself during times when you know you are going to be alone. Find ways to enjoy spending time with and distracting yourself like going to a movie, trying a new restaurant, taking a walk, learning a new hobby, etc.

3) Avoid triggers. Steering clear of triggers in the beginning stages of a break-up can be necessary for you. That can include avoiding spaces like social media, and other platforms where everyone may seem to be a happy couple. When you are triggered to check-up on your ex on social media, develop a strategy where you do something else instead like call a friend, watch tv, etc. Also, be mindful of what causes you to feel like you need to spy on your ex. This can help to understand and avoid the unnecessary emotions of discomfort, feelings of failure, and feeling like you owe people an explanation about your break-up.

4) Buy a body pillow – and a vibrator. Finding a way to quell those normal emotions of wanting to be close to someone intimately can be a useful way to help you move on and prevent you from reaching out to your ex to fulfill those desires. It can be helpful to occupy your bed-space with a body pillow or a large stuffed animal. Also, quelling your desires can be done by using a vibrator, which can prevent you from impulsively reaching out for sex with the ex.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not addressing serious forms of cyberstalking or abuse.  This blog post is to be used for educational and informational purposes and should not be substituted for treatment with a licensed mental health professional. The suggestions mentioned may not be applicable to everyone.


Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD., LPCC is a Licensed professional clinical counselor and a registered psychologist. She currently has a private practice called Lifetime Counseling and Consulting in Oakland and Sacramento, CA where she specializes in working with women who have been in emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships with narcissists, as well as with individuals who were previously incarcerated for various crimes. Dr. Jones has a podcast called A Date With Darkness Podcast, which specializes in providing education and tips from healing from narcissistic relationships

To contact Dr. Jones please visit: https://www.drnataliejones.com

Taking Care of Yourself As A Stepmom

A stepparent is anyone dating or married to a partner with children from a previous relationship. When most people hear the word “stepmom”; many preconceived notions come to mind.  Many people think of stepmothers through the lens of old outdated fairy tales and myths. The reality is that the average stepmother is often, isolated and very much misunderstood by society.

Research shows that stepmothers have a much more difficult experience parenting and step coupling than stepfathers. Many stepmothers are expected to be maternal and nurturing toward their stepchildren, even if their stepchildren are rejecting. Biased gender roles, gender stereotypes, and unrealistic expectations contribute to the difficulty that many stepmothers experience.

RELATED: THERE IS NO MOVING ON AFTER A BREAKUP

The average stepmother is expected to hold the same role that a biological mother fulfills such as working outside of the home, and performing the majority of the domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, planning family events and schedules as well as child rearing. According to attachment theory Bonding refers to a very particular type of attachment that occurs when a child is born and developing in utero. It’s natural for a biological mother and father to see themselves reflected in their children. Biological parents can see their child through loving eyes, even in the midst of their child’s challenging behaviors and children have a natural biological bond with their parents.

Stepparents, on the other hand, are newcomers to an already established family dynamic and are outsiders from the onset. Stepfamilies are born out of the loss of a previous relationship. Stepmothers are often expected to parent and nurture children who are grieving their original family and who do not yet have a bond with their stepparent. Stepmothers come into their role, with a partner who may have unrealistic expectations of what a stepmother “should” be.

RELATED: THE BLACK GIRL’S GUIDE TO SELF-CARE

In stepfamilies with single fathers, the responsibilities of child rearing are often transferred from the biological father onto to the stepmother. During this transfer; Stepchildren can become resentful of their stepmother’s new role in the family. Stepmothers often experience the responsibilities of parenting but usually have very little authority related to their stepchildren and their behaviors. It is common after a breakup or divorce for Biological parents to elevate their children as peers and become permissive parents; which leads to more stepparent stepchild conflict and resentment.

Stepmothers can experience high levels of depression; due to the lack of support they may receive from their partners, within their household, and from their community of biological moms. Many biological mothers can vent and express feelings of frustration and overwhelm related to their children, but stepmothers often have the experience of being shamed or silenced when expressing a similar sentiment of their stepchildren.

Tips toward a healthier, realistic Stepfamily dynamic

Establish Healthy Boundaries with your partner:

If your partner is leaving you alone with their children during visitations; and you feel uncomfortable with this; it might be time for a heart to heart. At the beginning of your relationship, it’s best practice for your partner to continue parenting as they did before the two of you became a couple. It takes the average stepfamily  4 to 7 years to function as a traditional family. It’s crucial for you to define your role as a stepmother and to determine which activities you are comfortable participating in and which activities you would like to delegate to your partner. Learning to say no and delegating to your partner regarding their children can be hard because society has a particular perception of how women “should” interact with all children.  

Utilize Self-Compassion:

It’s easy to listen to that inner critic or to allow others to project their ideas onto you regarding your role as a woman and stepmother. You may worry that you are not “doing enough” as a stepmom if you set boundaries, but keep in mind your partner is ultimately responsible for their children. Try not to beat yourself up for needing a break. Try to tap into those passions you once had before this relationship. As women, we tend to put everything into our intimate relationships, but it’s essential to maintain your interests and friends outside of your stepfamily.

If you are a stepparent and are experiencing signs of depression such as sadness, guilt/shame, irritability, low energy and feelings of isolation, please seek help from a licensed professional You are not alone.

 

Shelly Ware is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California specializing in Stepfamily dynamics and Women’s Issues. http://www.mycounselingclinic.com

There is no moving on after a breakup

Often after a breakup (usually around the 1 month mark), you begin getting the mostly unsolicited advice from friends and family that you just need to move on. And while people’s intentions are often good and kind-hearted, this advice really sucks. The truth is that there is no moving on after a breakup. There is only moving through!

The idea of moving on gives you the impression that there are specific steps you can take and that if followed precisely, one day you’ll be all better. Moving through allows you the space to go two steps forward and ten steps back, because honestly that’s often what happens after a breakup. Moving through does not force you to rush and feel better. It allows for the days that are not so bad and the days that are terrible. It would be great if you could move on from the pain but the only way to heal from a breakup is to move through the pain until it’s done. Need some help moving through? Try this: (more…)

The Black Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year

Traffic has picked up. The lines in Target are a little longer, and Twitter is filled with pictures of teary-eyed parents and hashtags repping the Class of 2020. It can only mean one thing, Freshman Year! I have spent the majority of my career on college campuses and the excitement of welcoming a new class of students is only rivaled by that of graduation. The glee, anxiety, and absolute wonder are all palpable as you walk around campus. The first few weeks are a huge adjustment as you are making new friends, figuring out how to live with a stranger, learning all the names of the buildings, and learning the words to your new alma mater. Many of the decisions and choices you make your freshman year can either set you on the course for success or leave you with some serious regret. In an effort to help you make the most of your first year at your new home, here are some tips you may find helpful. Enjoy!

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The Black Girl’s Guide to Self-Care

The Black Girl's Guide to Self-Care

This week, this month, this year has been a lot! I echo the feelings of many when I say I’m exhausted. The murders this week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have added to the long and constantly growing list of Black people killed at the hands of law enforcement and has served to once again heighten the collective anxiety of the Black community. I’ve found myself glued to my Twitter timeline searching for updates and information about these cases. I’m noticing that I’m clenching my jaws and tensing my shoulders unconsciously. My patience is a little thinner and I’ve been munching on ridiculous amounts of Frosted Flakes and Oreos. All of these are signals to me that I am stressed and probably need to take a step back. I talk about self-care often, preach it to friends, family, and clients, and truly believe in it. But as with many things, fall short in following it for myself. The concept of self care can also at times feel elusive, so I wanted to compile a list of specific things you can do to allow yourself some joy! I hope this serves as a reminder to myself and a nudge for you too 🙂

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Let’s Be Careful When Discussing Suicide

Let's Be Careful When Discussing Suicide

Yet another news story has broken about a Black woman dying while in custody of the police and not surprisingly, the details of her death are sketchy at best. Sandra Bland, reportedly died by suicide in a Waller County jail cell, following a traffic stop in Texas. The suggestion that Ms. Bland died by suicide seems highly unlikely for a variety of reasons. The first of which is video following the stop where Ms. Bland can be heard asking why the officer had slammed her head down on the ground. Secondly, it has been discovered that as many as 4 deaths that have occurred in the Waller County jail have been ruled a suicide. These facts coupled with the horrible track record that police have with Black women, strongly point to foul play and not suicide.

So while I agree with many others that it is highly unlikely that Ms. Bland died by suicide in that jail cell, some of the online discussion surrounding her suspicious death has been very concerning. As a means of negating the official report offered by the Sheriff’s office, people began to comb through Ms. Bland’s Facebook page to gain more insight into her life. She had recently taken what was described as her dream job, had just visited with family for the holiday, and was a beloved member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Some members of the online community began offering up smiling pictures of her with family and friends engaging in fun activities and tales of her last days as proof that she would not have taken her own life, and that is the part that was troubling. The idea that someone who is thinking of ending their life by suicide would not have smiling pictures or be excited about a new job only adds to the stigmatizing narrative that people who die by suicide are always sad and depressed, have a particular look, and that it would be easy for us to tell if a loved one was struggling in this way.

How often have we read about high profile suicides by Black women and the immediate thought is “I never would have known she was struggling” and disbelief that a woman with so much seemingly going for her would end her life. Again, I do not know if this was the case with Ms. Bland, but I do believe that the conversations that have followed her death shed light on the ways we continue to struggle with mental health and suicide, particularly as it pertains to Black women. So as we continue to fight for justice to get the truth about what happened to Sandra Bland, let us also take this opportunity to be mindful of the ways we talk about mental health and to gain a greater awareness about suicide.

 

Black Women and the Complicated Relationship with Psychiatric Medications

Black Women Psych Meds

Dr. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist, recently penned an article for The New York Times entitled “Medicating Women’s Feelings“. In it she discusses her feelings about the abundance of psychiatric medicines that appear to be prescribed for women to medicate what are perfectly normal emotions and responses to situations. She describes a situation where one of her clients called her to ask for an increase in the dosage of her antidepressant medication. When the client was asked about her reasons for wanting an increase, she detailed a situation where her boss had openly humiliated her at work which led to her being in tears in the office. Dr. Holland suggested, and I agree, that more medication was not the answer in this case but having a conversation about this event with her boss was likely a much better solution. While reading the article, I found myself agreeing with many of the points made.  Similar to Dr. Holland, I believe that there is a tendency in our society  to overmedicate and undervalue the importance of paying attention to more organic ways of improving our mental health (i.e. developing healthier coping strategies, learning to be more assertive, setting healthy boundaries, etc). I also agree that women are often unduly penalized for having more emotional expressions and that instead of focusing on how we can squelch these emotions, we should be focused on teaching everyone how to pay attention to emotions and what they may signal about our life and our mental health. However, I also found myself thinking that for many of my clients, 95% of whom are Black women, the concerns presented in this article would never be an issue, because so many of them are reluctant to try psychiatric medications, even when they seem warranted. (more…)

On the Couch with Mary Jane Paul, Session 1

On the Couch with Mary Jane Paul (1)

One of the major reasons I started Therapy for Black Girls was to reduce the stigma associated with seeking therapy. It’s important to change the community narrative that therapy is only for “crazy” people. Therapy is not only helpful to relieve symptoms of mental illness. It’s also incredibly useful in increasing mental wellness. Sometimes these concepts seem a little abstract without concrete examples, so in an effort to bring these ideas to life I’m starting a new series on the blog called On the Couch. This series will focus on the work I might do with a fictional character if they were an actual client in my practice. Today, we have our first session with Mary Jane Paul from BET’s Being Mary Jane. The first session with any client is the intake session where I collect a lot of information from the client about the history of their concerns, their families,  and their reasons for seeking therapy. This will also serve as a nice recap if you haven’t been keeping up with the show 🙂 .

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How to Ace the Clinical/Counseling Psych Graduate School Interview

 how to ace clinical counseling psych grad school interview
Tis the season! No I’m not talking about Mardi Gras (though I won’t blame you if you want to run out and grab a slice of King cake now.  🙂 I’m talking about Grad school interview season! Between now and March, literally thousands of bright eyed and brilliant students just like you will be flying, driving, and ubering from city to city to interview for slots in Clinical and Counseling Psychology graduate programs. Here are some tips to help you prepare to be your most confident and convincing self, along with some questions you should be prepared to answer as well as questions you should ask the interviewers.

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Real Talk: Postpartum Depression

Real Talk-Postpartum Depression

Vanessa and Brian had tried for months to conceive after a miscarriage 2 years ago. They were terribly excited about the upcoming birth of baby Erin and could not wait to hold her in their arms. Vanessa was a planner so for months the nursery had been done. Her bag was in the car. The car seat had been installed, and her mother, who only lived an hour away, was prepared to be with them for at least 6 weeks following the birth. They were all set. Little Erin came into the world on a rainy June morning but no one could pay attention to the weather when her little face brightened up the entire room. After 12 hours of labor, Vanessa was exhausted but in amazement of the miracle her body had performed. The past few years of disappointments and sadness were all a faint memory now. Erin was finally here!

The first week was pretty rough for Vanessa. She was healing from labor, getting very little sleep and having trouble getting Erin to latch. Throughout it all, her husband and mom were great. They would rock little Erin while she took a shower and her mother made sure she ate 3 meals a day. Because she was a planner, Vanessa had read all the books so she knew that in this first week her mood might be all over the place and that she might have trouble adjusting to her new role. What she was not prepared for however was for her mood changes to last for the next 3 weeks and become more severe. She continued to have trouble sleeping and had to start offering Erin formula because the pediatrician was concerned about the weight  Erin had lost. Vanessa felt defeated by this as she had planned to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months. Additionally, Vanessa felt weird around Erin. In her mind she knew what she should be feeling towards her beautiful baby but for some reason she just didn’t feel connected. Vanessa found herself crying everyday in the shower, was not interested in eating very much even though her mom was still there doing all the cooking, and she did not want to hold Erin and preferred that Brian or her mom be the one to try and rock her to sleep.

Vanessa was confused and upset at the feelings she was having. She and Brian had hoped and dreamed of this time with Erin and now that it was here, she didn’t feel like she was showing up.

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Self Care in the Face of Racial Injustice

Self Care in the Face of Racial-5
Photo by Parker Williams, Akiba Photography

More than most years, it feels like Blackness has been especially under attack this year. The collective feeling of trauma feels palpable in my office, on my campus, and throughout my social networks. It feels like every time there is another major verdict to be delivered, a new viral video dropped, and with each breaking news headline, there is a collective holding of our breaths. While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is a diagnosis used to describe a collection of symptoms in an individual, it sure does feel like as a community we are suffering from this right now. A shared sense of paranoia, anxiety, angst, and hopelessness are all completely valid and understandable right now. During a time when there is so much pain and suffering in our face, and when so many of us are dedicated to fighting injustices, it is especially important to pay attention to taking care of and sharpening our tool, which is our selves. We cannot continue to shut down the highways and transit stations or march against these evils if we do not remember to engage in restorative self care. Here are some things to consider: (more…)

Where My Girls At? The Importance of a Strong Support System

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

On last week’s episode of Scandal we saw what it looks like when you have a true ride or die friend in your corner. When Abby was shaking under a desk facing an incredibly stressful situation she called the only person who could handle it, Liv. And what did Liv do? She didn’t pass judgement, she didn’t ridicule Abby for overreacting, she simply showed up with a choice of new dresses and asked, “What do you want?” How many of us have that person or people in our lives? Better yet, how many of us truly allow them to show up for us? Tell me if this sounds familiar. “I’m the rock in my group of friends. I’m the one that everyone calls when there is a problem, but I don’t share my problems because I don’t want to be a burden to my friends. They already have enough going on.” Now Math is not my strongest area but I do know when something is not adding up and unfortunately, too many of us are practicing this flawed logic. We pride ourselves on being strong and a great friend while in the same breath robbing others of being a great friend to us.

Research suggests that a strong support system is key in maintaining our mental health. Having people we can count on provides protective factors against depression, it enhances our sense of confidence and esteem, buffers us against stress, makes us feel less isolated,  and helps to hold us accountable when we set goals. However, in order for us to reap these benefits, our support system must be both functional and utilized. A support system is not just a bunch of people who call when they need a ride or who update you on the latest office gossip. Our support system should be made up of people who actually show up when they say they will, allow us to show all parts of ourselves and who provide us with what we need and in the ways that we need it. This is not something that happens overnight and it may take some time to curate this group but it is well worth the effort. Here are some tips that may help you to create and better utilize your support system. (more…)

Celebrating My Fabulousness! It’s My Birthday!

magic

 

Today I am rocking my Black Girls Are Magic tshirt (get yours here) with my favorite wide leg trousers and blasting Beyonce as loud as my speakers will allow because IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! I can honestly say that this has been a wild ride of a year. I had my first child, bought my first home with my husband, got a new job, and have started on the incredible journey of this blog so I would say a celebration is in order! That’s right, I’m throwing my own party because sometimes you just have to forget about all the stuff that’s going wrong and focus on what’s going right. Sometimes you have to ignore how the world would like to identify you and pay attention to the fabulousness that is YOU! (more…)

Stay Woke. But Get Some Sleep!

All too often I see sisters saying things like, “They sleep while I grind,” and “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of ambition, drive, and perseverance, but what are we really saying when we use these phrases? When did it become cool to brag about not sleeping? Restful sleep is all too easily ignored and we don’t realize just how important it is for us to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If gone unchecked, a lack of sleep can really wreak havoc on us physically and mentally.  It can lead to issues like a loss of memory, decreased motivation, more depressed mood, decreased concentration, and increased anxiety. But a good night’s sleep involves more than just turning out the lights and cozying up on your satin pillowcase. Here are a few tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene.

1. Stop reading, eating, and studying in bed. Your bed should only be used for sleep and sex. Doing all of these other things in bed confuses your brain about what should be happening when you get in bed. Try to use other parts of your room or home for other activities so that your bed is really a place to retire.

2. Unplug! Of course it’s super tempting to check all of your social media accounts right before you dose off but doing so can lead you right down the rabbit hole to a sleepless night. When was the last time you really just spent 5 minutes on Facebook? It’s very easy to get caught up with the latest trending topic and lose track of time making it more likely that you won’t get the requisite number of hours of sleep. If possible, try not to keep your phone next to you at night so that it’s not even tempting to get into this bad habit. Also try unplugging from the television. Even if you think you’re not paying attention and only have it playing as background noise, your brain is still tuning in and being activated. (more…)

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Therapist

Perhaps the hardest part about deciding to participate in therapy is choosing who would be a good fit as your therapist. After all, you will likely be sharing some of your most intimate thoughts and concerns with this person. You want to be sure that they are a good fit! But do you know what factors would contribute to this? Here are 5 questions you may want to consider as you search for this person: 

1. How important is it that your therapist match you in characteristics like race, ethnicity, gender presentation or sexual orientation? Research has been consistent in finding that the most important factor in whether or not therapy will be helpful  is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist. There is a need to feel “known” by your therapist that helps one to be more vulnerable in the space. If there are particular characteristics about a therapist that you believe will allow you to feel more comfortable and ready to work, then by all means search for that! However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you cannot have a quality therapeutic relationship with someone who doesn’t come in the package you thought you wanted. Many times you may be able to work through things with a therapist who is less like you in ways that you could not have imagined.

2. What type of personality works best with you? Are you someone who needs to be gently nudged into making a change or would you prefer a straight up, no chaser approach? Are you someone who needs lots of structure and activities to help you work through issues or do you prefer processing an issue from multiple perspectives until you land on something that fits. Each of these things will be important to consider as you decide whether a therapist will be a good fit for you. You may be able to get a sense of this from therapists’ websites but it will also be important to ask about these things either during a consultation or during your first appointment. (more…)