Self-Worth, Relationships and Sex

Self-Worth, Relationships and Sex

Have you ever felt caught in a mode of hustling or negotiating for your self-worth? Do you ever feel like no matter how much you give to others, especially your partner, it’s never enough?

Over the last two decades, Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon has become one of today’s most trusted voices in the world of relationships and her work on Relational Self-Awareness has reached millions of people around the world. 

What is Relational Self-Awareness? Relational self-awareness is the idea that the healthiest foundation for intimate partnership is an ongoing, curious, and passionate relationship with the self.

Shame and blame can be detrimental to any kind of relationship, especially romantic relationships…

Shame might show up as something like: “I’m too broken… My trauma is too big… I’m not enough…”

Blame might show up as something like: “If you didn’t have that characteristic or issue, we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

But there’s no one to blame and there is no use in shaming yourself. 

When you start to take note of the patterns and the unique dance between you and your partner, or as Dr. Alexandra calls it, the Golden Equation of Love (“my stuff + your stuff = our stuff”), your relationship will grow to be much healthier, passionate, stable, and loving. 

Through relational self-awareness, Dr. Alexandra is inviting people just like you into that perspective and providing tools for how to return to that perspective when you lose hold of it.

What if my partner and I get into an argument or disagreement? Dr. Alexandra recommends this strategy for resolving conflict: Next time you’re having a conflict with your partner, stop and walk away from each other, sit down, and write down the story of the conflict from the perspective of a neutral third party who loves you both very much.

This practice forces the mind and heart into a more compassionate, relational stance, thus improving relationship satisfaction.

Behind every complaint or irritating frustration is an unmet need. 

When you have a healthy relationship with yourself and you know how to self-soothe and be there for yourself, it’s much easier to have your needs met. When your needs aren’t met, try doing some self-reflection, identify your needs, and lovingly communicate them to yourself and your partner. Trust me, mountains will be moved when this becomes a habitual practice!

Remember, you don’t need a relationship or a ring to affirm you or to prove your self-worth.

The self-worth journey is all about learning a different way of being with yourself. It’s not something you check off your to-do list, it’s a continual journey of navigating your life. 

To have a healthy relationship with yourself means that when you encounter challenging situations, you don’t expect perfection from yourself. Instead, you give yourself grace and figure out how to prepare or gather your resources so you can support yourself through this difficult time. We’re humans. Humans have difficulties sometimes and we have the power to accommodate for that.

It’s time to take your sexy back, ladies!

The significance of self-worth gets multiplied when we start talking about sex and sexuality. Dr. Alexandra emphasizes the importance of establishing boundaries, becoming aware of your needs, and identifying whether or not you feel safe and satisfied during sexual interactions. If you know what makes you feel good and can communicate that, the rewards are profound. That may sound obvious to you, but our culture has done a great job of making women feel like they should be passive during sex and shouldn’t explore and talk about their sexual desires. 

Have you explored your body and your worthiness lately? What might be blocking your pleasure? 

If we are hustling for worthiness during sexual intimacy, we’re focused on performing. When we’re performing, we’re not able to focus on the pleasure and connection between ourselves and our partner.

Through mindfulness, exploration of the self, and stepping out into your self-worth journey, I know you can reach the most mind-blowing, life-altering, self-affirming bliss you’ve ever experienced in a romantic relationship. Just remember, it all starts with the self.

About Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon:

Over the last two decades, Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon has become one of today’s most trusted voices in the world of relationships, and her work on Relational Self-Awareness has reached millions of people around the world. Dr. Solomon is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, and she is on faculty in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University where she teaches the internationally renowned course, Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101. In addition to writing articles and chapters for leading academic journals and books in the field of marriage and family, she is the author of two bestselling books, Loving Bravely and Taking Sexy Back. Dr. Solomon regularly presents to diverse groups that include the United States Military Academy at West Point and Microsoft, and she is frequently asked to talk about relationships with media outlets like The Today Show, O Magazine, The Atlantic, Vogue, and Scientific American.

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How Low Self-Worthy sets you up for Toxic Relationships

How Low Self-Worthy sets you up for Toxic Relationships

When we feel unworthy, we have an unhealthy relationship with ourselves, making it more likely for us to have toxic relationships with other people. 

Toxic relationships leave us feeling like we are not good enough and that if we could just look prettier, communicate better, be better, or do better… that we’d be worthy of love and acceptance. 

Our relationship with ourselves is the foundation for our relationships with romantic partners and other people, so if we’re in a place of low or conditional self-worth, we won’t feel worthy just as we are. We treat ourselves poorly when we don’t feel that we are worthy of love, respect, and success. This sets us up to attract and be attracted to partners that make us feel like we have to prove our worth and earn their love. 

Even if you’re with someone who loves and accepts you for who you are, you might reject their love because you don’t feel worthy of it! This rejection of love could cause you to sabotage your own relationships in order to push them away so you can cozy up to your unworthiness again. How unhealthy is that?!

This relates to the concept in psychology called cognitive dissonance, which involves feeling uncomfortable when you’re faced with something that contradicts your beliefs. If you believe negative thoughts about yourself, you’ll feel comfortable in relationships that feed off negativity… and vice versa.

Are you tired of pushing away the love that’s offered to you or chasing love that’s just out of your reach?

Your mindset and what you believe about yourself are so essential for building and nurturing healthy relationships, both with yourself and with others. 

Think about your current relationships and your past relationships, as well as the dynamics you have felt most comfortable with. Have you felt more comfortable with a partner who treated you poorly than you were with somebody who treated you with respect and as though you were worthy and lovable?

If you’re feeling exhausted, overextended, unworthy, and not fully yourself in a relationship, I know how you feel. Take a deep breath. It’s time to work on connecting to your unconditional self-worth. This path to unshakable self-worth is the same path that will lead you to true love and acceptance. 

You are not the problem here. If you believe you’re the problem, you’ll keep changing in hopes that maybe you’ll be able to save the relationship and maybe they’ll treat you better. In reality, once you recognize that the relationship dynamic is toxic and is contributing to you feeling unworthy, you can make a more informed choice about whether or not you want to continue the relationship.

I invite you to compassionately offer yourself some comfort and challenge the idea that you should take what you can get. 

It may be hard to believe that you are unconditionally worthy, but it’s the truth of who you are. 

You are unconditionally worthy of receiving love, support, and affection. If you’re in a toxic relationship, one that doesn’t make you feel worthy, you deserve so much better. Don’t settle for being treated poorly. Don’t settle for a relationship where you don’t get your needs met. You may not feel ready to walk away just yet, which is okay, but let’s work together to start setting some healthy boundaries!

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Self-Compassion as a Doorway to Self-Worth

Self-Compassion as a Doorway to Self-Worth

For years, I was harsh and critical with myself when I made mistakes. I felt that mistakes made me unworthy.

I couldn’t tolerate failure. I thought I had high standards and was pushing myself to be better, but in reality, the harsh criticism was not a necessary part of my growth. In fact, it held me back in so many ways!

When we criticize ourselves, we create negative, unhealthy relationships with ourselves while creating negative and unsafe mental and emotional space within us. Even though we might think harsh self-criticism will make us perform better in life, it’s not sustainable… it’s really just holding us back. We end up doubting and not trusting ourselves, keeping us from the life we want.

If you tend to engage with self-criticism, has it really helped you?

If you’re going to allow yourself to dream big and to pursue those dreams, you’re going to have to let go of the self-criticism.

Self-criticism makes us feel unworthy of achieving our wildest dreams. It keeps us stuck!

What do you replace self-criticism with? I recommend being firm, yet compassionate with yourself. Wouldn’t you rather learn from a supportive, encouraging teacher that holds you accountable than a teacher who never accepts or acknowledges your hard work and your potential? 

Self-compassion is an important doorway to unconditional self-worth because it helps us release the self-criticism that holds us back and keeps us from feeling good about ourselves. Connecting with our unconditional self-worth is about healing and transforming our relationship with ourselves and self-compassion helps us do just that. 

Cultivating a supportive and encouraging relationship with ourselves gives us the foundation to move boldly into the world and confidently share our gifts and strengths (not to prove we’re good enough).

Three core components of self-compassion:

  1. Mindfulness – Sitting with your thoughts and being in the present moment without judgement or evaluation.
  2. Common Humanity – You’re not the only one feeling the way you do. You’re not alone. Your thoughts and feelings are normal responses to what you are feeling.
  3. Self-Kindness – Treating yourself the way you treat others… with kindness, support, encouragement, and responsibility. 

Think about how you can incorporate these core components of self-compassion in your own life. Perhaps you can start with one and add in the rest as you progress in this practice. See if this can help you connect to your unconditional self-worth and let me know how your experience goes!

Remember, you are worthy even when you make mistakes or don’t reach your goals. 

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Why Self-Worth is Essential for Healthy Boundaries

Why Self-Worth is Essential for Healthy Boundaries

There are many ways we can set boundaries in our lives.

We can create boundaries around our physical body, emotional experiences, possessions, time, you name it! 

My biggest struggles with boundaries have related to time. Before I connected to my unconditional self-worth, I didn’t protect my time. I gave it out left and right to anyone and everyone who asked for it, even strangers! Being a perfect, selfless friend was my strategy to prove my worthiness. This caused me to feel like I always had to be available to show up for everyone. The idea of setting boundaries around my time felt scary because I was afraid my friends wouldn’t want to be my friends anymore if I didn’t give my time to them, leaving me in an exhausting loop of always saying yes. Do you resonate?

Perhaps you struggle with emotional boundaries, always taking on other people’s feelings and taking responsibility for how other people feel. 

Maybe you struggle with physical boundaries, having trouble telling people the type of physical or sexual touch you are or are not comfortable with.

I encourage you to take a moment to think about where you struggle with boundaries. 

What types of boundaries have been difficult for you to establish and enforce?

What happens when you don’t set these boundaries?

How has that impacted your quality of life and your relationships?

Reasons why boundaries are important:

  • Boundaries keep us physically safe.
  • They keep us emotionally healthy and grounded.
  • They give us the freedom of choice.
  • When we don’t set boundaries, we end up being reactive to the world around us.
  • When we don’t set healthy boundaries, our physical, emotional, and mental energy ends up being spread out all over the place, reserving very little energy for ourselves, leaving us feeling overextended, exhausted, and resentful.

The connection between self-worth and boundaries

When we don’t feel worthy, it’s challenging to set boundaries because we don’t feel like we are worthy of saying no or protecting our time and energy or prioritizing our wants and needs. When we’re stuck in a place of low self-worth, we often feel like we should take what we can get. 

When we know we’re worthy unconditionally and that our worth doesn’t depend on what others think of us, it’s so much easier to set boundaries! We can then prioritize spending time with our friends when it works for us, saying no to talking or to attending gatherings when we need time for ourselves without fear of our friends being salty about it. When we know we’re unconditionally worthy, it’s easier to say no to a romantic or sexual interaction without fearing that rejection may mean we are unworthy or unlovable.

People won’t think you’re mean for taking time for yourself. They may get upset or not understand at first, heck, they may even throw a little tantrum, but that’s normal in the boundary-setting process. It’s important not to take this personally because taking time for oneself is a human necessity. Don’t give in and give yourself to them.

3 Strategies for setting healthy boundaries:

  • Identify and remember why you’re setting the boundary in the first place.
  • Remember that boundaries are healthy.
  • Enlist reliable support and accountability.

Remember, your self-worth does not come from you being the perfect, ever-available friend, family member, or lover. Boundaries are the foundation for healthy, loving relationships and enforcing them will help you improve your quality of life and your inner glow.

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The Key to Healthy Romantic Relationships: Believe You are Worthy

The Key to Healthy Romantic Relationships: Believe You are Worthy

In 2018, I was exploring on Bumble and came across a man who said he was interested in a woman who loves and cares about people…

I thought, how sweet for that to be his priority! So, I swiped right and sent him a message. He eventually asked if we could go on a date and at that point, I wanted to have a phone conversation before going on a date, as to not waste anyone’s time. A week later, we talked and it went well enough to where we went on a date shortly after. Jason remembered what kind of restaurants I liked so he made a reservation at one that neither of us have tried before. I thought that was really thoughtful. 

He was cute and the date was great! We talked about meaningful topics, I felt present and connected, and I wasn’t worried about whether Jason would like me or not. After the date, I didn’t hear from him for three days… not even a “hope you got home safely” text! Mind you, if this happened a few years prior, this silence would have left me incredibly anxious and worried about whether something went wrong.

Because I was grounded in unconditional self-worthiness, I was disappointed I didn’t hear from him, but I was able to accept that and let it go without internalizing it and criticizing myself. Though, that’s not where the story ends. Jason ended up calling me a few days later, and asked me on a second date! If I had been caught up about him not calling or texting me sooner, I may not have been as open to going on a second date, but I had done the work and was confident in our connection.

Reflecting on the early stages of our relationship, Jason showed up for me and our relationship progressed more and more over time. Our relationship was free of stress, desperation, and anxiety, which was what often characterized my prior relationships. Even though I was good at playing it cool, my past relationships were riddled with worry, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Who wants that?!

In past relationships, the question was, “Does he like me?” when it should have been, “Do I like him?”

With Jason, I was curious about whether I liked spending time with him and the answer was always yes! That’s what helped our relationships progress with ease, on top of him being thoughtful, consistent, and available. 

Today, our relationship continues to be easy and joyful. We have a great balance of interdependence because neither of us are struggling with low self-worth, neither of us are depending on the other person to fill an eternal void, we are our own complete humans, and we come together because we love each other. Despite any disagreements we may have, our relationship is stable. Cue the sigh of relief!

Knowing that I am unconditionally worthy helped me make two major shifts in my approach to relationships.

The first shift that happened was that I was attracted to Jason, who was stable and emotionally available. When you feel like you’re unlovable, you’re more likely to be attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable or who confirm the belief that you are unlovable. This can lead to a somewhat false sense of accomplishment as you try to earn the love and affirmation of the person you’re interested in. Jason clearly said he wanted to go on a date, planned the date, then followed through on the date. Stable and emotionally available. 

I had to adjust to this stability and availability because I wasn’t used to it. I was surprised that Jason is the way he is. I shifted away from trying to achieve, fix, or prove that I was worthy and began to relax and enjoy the process. Sometimes, we have to adjust to the thing that we’ve wanted for so long because we’re used to experiencing something totally different.

The second shift that happened was being free from relationship anxiety, which allowed me to be present and engaged with Jason without putting pressure on him and the relationship. This freed up so much time and energy to put toward figuring out if Jason was the one for me. I could finally let things progress naturally and enjoy him and the process. 

Have you ever tried to achieve love with a partner? 

Have you felt anxious and like your worth depends on someone loving you?

Do you question your partner’s actions or words?

Problems arise when one or both partners believe they are unworthy. Unconditional self-worth is the foundation of healthy relationships, with both yourself and with your partner. 

Having a loving relationship with yourself provides a foundation for healthy relationships, but you don’t need to be perfectly healed and understanding of your worthiness before exploring a loving relationship. 

Healthy relationships can help us to see ourselves in a more positive light and you shouldn’t outsource this work to your partner. Do the inner work to build a loving and accepting relationship with yourself because that is what’s going to allow you to show up fully in your romantic relationships.

When we know we are worthy of love, we open ourselves to receiving love and we walk away from those who aren’t loving to us. We don’t put pressure on our partner or our relationships to fill the void of low self-worth.

If you’re struggling with your self-worth, no matter your relationship status, I invite you to join me in a practice that will connect you with your self-worth. 

It’s a practice of self-appreciation. You don’t need to be different than you are to be lovable. Society bombards us with messages that tell us we need to change or be different in order to fit in or be lovable, but I invite you to let go of these thoughts. Instead, focus on the things you like and appreciate about yourself. When you can tune into this appreciation, your confidence increases, you feel assured, and you know you are worthy just as you are. 

Take a moment to think about and connect with at least one thing that you like about yourself. If you’re struggling, ask a trusted friend and see what they appreciate about you. Take in that answer without denial. 

When growth happens without acknowledging and appreciating who and where we are in life, we’re left feeling insecure. Remember, being in touch with what we appreciate about ourselves helps us to connect to our unconditional self-worth and allows us to show up authentically and confidently in our relationships, which is SO attractive!


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How Self-Forgiveness Freed me from Shame and it Can Free You Too

How Self-Forgiveness Freed me from Shame and it Can Free You Too

When we share our honest stories of dealing with shame and embarrassment, we feel less alone and we realize that these experiences don’t make us less worthy.

At the age of 24, I fell in love… and I fell hard. Looking back, it was merely a summer fling of infatuation but I really thought it was forever love. He lived in D.C. and I lived in Chicago, but we made it work… until the moment I felt that something was off with him. 

There was a shift from a feeling of warmth and connection between us to a cold and disconnected feeling that really confused me. I began to feel sick, but ignored it. I ignored the fact that something wasn’t right in the relationship and I ignored the feeling that something was wrong in my body. 

After I flew home from visiting him one weekend, I didn’t hear from him for about a week. I already had the worry that I was unlovable, but that really sent my anxiety over the edge. Eventually, I got into contact with him and he had nothing to say! He couldn’t give me an explanation, so I said, “I can’t be in a relationship with you like this. If I can’t talk to you, if we can’t be in contact for over a week, that’s not going to work for me. Either we’re going to talk about this, figure it out, and fix it… or this is not going to work.” Way to go, Adia! He decided he didn’t want to talk about it or fix it, so, that was it. It was over and I was heartbroken. 

When I finally went to the doctor to get checked out, I learned that I had herpes. This guy, who had just decided to end our relationship for no reason, had given me herpes… genital herpes! I fell apart right then and there. I thought my life was over, that I’d never have a relationship again, that I’d never have children, and that I had to give up on the life that I had hoped for.

This news and the heartbreak triggered a depressive episode for me. I lost weight, withdrew from friendships, and turned my anger on myself, spending the next several months trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Why hadn’t I protected myself from this? Why was this happening to me? I had the evidence to prove my belief that no one would love me. Except, that’s not the truth. 

I wish I could go back and comfort my younger self and let her know that she is still worthy, despite having an STD. I’d let her know that she’s still capable of living the life that she dreamed of. 

We withhold forgiveness from ourselves because we are hoping that the past could be different and that if we hadn’t made those mistakes, we wouldn’t be experiencing the pain that we’re experiencing in the present. The irony is that when we don’t forgive ourselves, we’re holding onto that pain! It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to carry pain and shame with us, right?

Once I was able to forgive myself, leaving the shame and embarrassment in the past, I was able to move on unburdened. 

What exactly is self-forgiveness? How can I forgive myself?

Self-forgiveness involves four components:

  1. Accepting what happened in the past – In order to forgive myself, I had to accept that I did get herpes, that I did make mistakes, and that I didn’t protect my boundaries.
  2. Acknowledging the hurt you felt because of what happened – I needed to let go of self-criticism and tune into the part of me that felt hurt, violated, and unworthy. I had to become compassionate with myself for what I went through so that I could heal.
  3. Identifying the wisdom you can draw (what you learned) from the experience – I learned that I needed to be more protective of my body and my safety. I learned to trust my intuition about when something was wrong in a relationship or with my body and address that instead of ignoring it.
  4. Telling yourself you forgive yourself and allowing yourself to move forward – For me, this looks like telling my 24-year-old self that I forgive her for not trusting herself. I tell her that I forgive her for not fully knowing how to protect herself. I forgive her for trying to prove her worthiness.

These are practices that can be returned to as often as needed. Self-forgiveness is a process that can sometimes be difficult and painful. I encourage you to take it slowly and be gentle and compassionate with yourself. 

Through self-forgiveness, I learned that even though I had contracted an STD and felt overwhelming shame, I was still worthy of love, forgiveness, and care. 

Sometimes, it is when we experience the worst that we connect with our unshakeable humanity. 

Let’s practice!

When you have some free time, sit down and reflect on where you may be holding onto things from your past that are keeping you from feeling worthy. Oftentimes, these feelings come from major mistakes, failures, or traumas that we’ve experienced, and they cause us to feel less than human. Once you’ve identified that scenario, walk through the four steps to self-forgiveness and return to them as often as you need to. Remember, be gentle with yourself.

You can be freed from whatever has happened in your past! If forgiveness allowed me to move on from herpes, it can help you move on from whatever is holding you back from your unconditional worthiness.

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Preparing for the Relationship You Want

Preparing for the Relationship You Want

I spent years having conversations with friends and my therapist and my parents about how to find a partner who was a good match. My friends and I discussed the pros and cons of online dating, dating apps, meeting someone through friends or out and about. We discussed what we wanted in our partners; the degrees we wanted them to have, the careers they were pursuing, their political and religious beliefs, and personal characteristics. We vented our frustrations about the emotional ups and downs of dating; matching with someone on a dating app, chatting for a week, getting excited about a date, only to be disappointed when meeting in person. We cried together about relationship disappointments and how we might be able to choose better next time. What strikes me now, is that through all of these conversations, rarely did we discuss how we wanted to be as partners; the question of whether or not we were ready for the type of relationships we longed for was rarely asked or addressed. When I got into my relationship with my current partner I realized that I had spent far too little time preparing for the kind of relationship I wanted and reflecting on what it would look like for me to be a good partner.

When I started dating my current partner, I was caught off guard by how honest and straightforward he was. I was pleasantly surprised that he proactively planned dates, communicated that he liked me, expressed his desire for a committed relationship, and generally did what he said he was going to do. I was so used to not getting what I wanted in relationships that I struggled to be present and just enjoy our budding relationship without looking for things that were wrong. Upon reflection, I began to understand that I had become so accustomed to working to get past partners to commit that I was not used to just relaxing into a relationship. What I have concluded after growing in this relationship for over a year is that I had not spent enough time preparing myself for the kind of relationship I really wanted. I had been overly focused on trying to find the right partner and had not spent enough time thinking about how to be the kind of partner that would enable me to have the healthy, deeply committed, and intimate relationship I was longing for.

Is my story similar to yours? Have you spent a lot of time thinking about how you can find the right partner and what you want that person to be like, while neglecting to think about how you want to be as a partner? Have you failed to consider whether you are ready for the kind of commitment and relationship you are looking for? If this feels familiar to you I hope you will find my suggestions below, about how to prepare for the relationship you want, to be helpful. One thing that I have learned over the last year and a half of my relationship is that being the kind of partner you want to be is an ongoing process. I am continuing to grow and learn about myself as a partner and to identify ways that I can be a better partner to my fiancé. The suggestions below are intended to be ongoing practices that you revisit throughout your time dating and in a relationship. Continue reading “Preparing for the Relationship You Want”

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

I recently said goodbye to a job I had for more than 4 years, a place where I did some of my initial training as a therapist and developed as a professional. As I said goodbye to colleagues who have become friends and work that I loved doing sadness, welled up in my chest. I felt the gravity of what I had experienced and done at that job along with the almost overwhelming gratitude for the love, joy, laughter, and growth that I experienced while working there. As I was saying “farewell” to my colleagues I understood why my clients so often avoid their emotions; our feelings can seem like too much to sit and be present with. I think this is part of why goodbyes can be so challenging for many of us. I am grateful that I was able to be present to these waves of emotion and to feel my feelings all the way through as a way of honoring the experience I had and the work  I did. Saying goodbyes in healthy ways allows us to appreciate the experiences and relationships we’ve had, reflect and learn from what we have gone through, and move forward unencumbered by the past.

All of us say numerous “goodbye’s” throughout our life; when we end relationships, when we move, when we change jobs, and when people we love die, we are forced to let go and acknowledge that something is over. In Stillness Speaks Ekhart Tolle says that “every ending is like a little death.” I think this is another reason that people do not like to say goodbye because it can feel like a part of you is dying; goodbyes force us to acknowledge that despite our best efforts to hold on to things, nothing lasts forever. As Black people, some of us may have a difficult relationship with saying goodbye because of the trauma we have experienced. Whether it is a loved one dying unexpectedly, someone being locked up in prison unfairly, or the legacy of separation of families during slavery, it can be difficult for Black people to say healthy goodbyes while processing the trauma we experience. Continue reading “Saying Goodbye”