“You Can Never Love Anybody if You are Unable to Love Yourself”

smiling-black-woman“One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn’t it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim ‘You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself’ made clear sense. And I add, ‘Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.’ – bell hooks (All About Love: New Visions)

For as long as I can remember up until a couple of years ago I was searching, searching for a partner to fill the empty spaces within me. I had this worry that I was not good enough, that I was not lovable. I wash harsh and judgmental with myself when I made mistakes. During this time, I wished for someone else to love me unconditionally. I longed for a partner to provide me with the comfort and encouragement that I rarely offered myself. When I was in relationships I could barely tolerate any indication that my boyfriends might not think I was wonderful. I was overly sensitive to any sign of rejection, sometimes experiencing intense anxiety and starting conflict in response to feeling rejected. While I still struggle with being sensitive to rejection, I look back on my teens and twenties and can see that my challenges in romantic relationships were in part due to the problems in my relationship with myself. As my relationship with myself has healed, my relationships with others have also improved.

In the quote at the beginning of this post, bell hooks encourages us to offer ourselves the love that we dream of. To be our own lover. This is essential, not only for the health of any romantic relationship we might engage in but to feel fulfilled when we are single and to have healthy relationships with family members and friends. When we stop outsourcing what can give ourselves our life and relationships become so much better. In this post I will share my suggestions for ways to begin to improve your relationship with yourself. Continue reading

Where will you stand at times of Challenge & Controversy?

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We are in the midst of trying times. There are so many things and people that are under attack right now: Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women’s rights, the environment, etc. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. Unsure of what to do to continue to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and communities that we care about. Now is a time when it is essential that we know what our values are; when we know what matters and we do what matters. When I talk about values in this context I’m referring to things that serve as guides for ongoing action. Values are like a compass that help you to know in which direction you would like to move forward and enable you to determine if you have gotten off track. Our values can help us achieve our goals but are separate from them. Engaging in our values may feel uncomfortable at times and is certainly not always easy but when our behavior is consistently aligned with what matters to us, our lives are enriched.  Continue reading

Hidden Figures: Being Your Own Hero

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Hidden Figures depicts the powerful, true story of three Black women who worked at Nasa and were instrumental in helping the first Americans get to space in the early 1960s. The  intellects and leadership abilities of these three women shines through the movie and it is refreshing to see Black women depicted as their own heroes. Some of the most poignant aspects of the film were the many indignities that the protagonists had to navigate while trying to do their jobs. It made me think of my grandmother who I know faced similar racism and sexism and my mother who integrated her high school and was the in the first class that included female students at Princeton. It highlighted the strength it takes for Black women to continue to hold their heads high and push the needle forward in the face of indignities. It reminded me that progress never comes without pushing from the oppressed. It reminded me of how exhausting it can be to be a Black woman in this country.

The racism and sexism in Hidden Figures was heavy and nuanced. No one use the N word or said straight out that Black people or women weren’t capable of working at Nasa but both of these -isms were highlighted throughout the movie. Black women still face racism and sexism, it may have gotten more subtle than barring women from being engineers or having to use segregated bathrooms but they persist. The racism and sexism we experience today most often manifests in systemic forms and as microaggressions. Systemic manifestations include lower pay for women, making it hard for women to work and have families, and normalizing fathers not taking an active parenting role. Microaggressions can include the questioning of our competency and expressions of surprise when we do a job well. I’m sure you have many examples of experiencing racism and sexism in your life. Continue reading

New Year New You: How to make Lasting Change

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As the new year begins most of us feel hopeful that this year will be different, that we will finally meet the goals we set for ourselves, that we will fulfill our new years resolutions instead of forgetting about them halfway through February. However, fantasizing about what we hope will happen over the course of the year is only a first step. If we stop with the fantasy it is likely that we will find ourselves disappointed when we don’t meet our goals. In this post, I highlight the steps that are necessary to make real change so that you can ensure your new years resolutions come to fruition this year.

Move beyond the fantasy 

Fantasies about the future are alluring, they pull us into a feeling of euphoria as we imagine how wonderful the future will be. These fantasies can be inspiring and motivating and if we stay in them too long  it is easy to get stuck and not see progress. After you spend time thinking about what you want to see for yourself over the next year, it is important to move beyond the fantasy and begin the work of achieving the goals you have set for yourself. I encourage you to try to enjoy the process of achieving your goals in order to sustain the changes you are making so you aren’t just waiting to get to the finish line.  Continue reading

Fences: On Losing Yourself in Relationships

fullsizerender“That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave some room for me…I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine. I did that. I took on his life as mine and mixed up the pieces so that you couldn’t hardly tell which was which anymore.” – Rose from Fences by August Wilson

While watching Fences, a play written by August Wilson adapted for film and directed by Denzel Washington, I was struck by Rose (played by Viola Davis); her commitment to doing the right thing and the stability that she provided for her family. Rose’s sacrifices on behalf of her family are characteristic of the sacrifices that so many Black women make. Putting aside our desires and ourselves to such an extent that it’s hard to find either after a while. Hiding our wants so well that even our loved ones can’t tell that we’ve lost touch with the things that used to excite and energize us. In the quote above, Rose reflects on the fact that she married a man who took up all of the room in their house, all of the room in their lives, and that she lost herself in their relationship. She failed to make room for herself.

Failing to make room for ourselves in relationships is something that happens to many women. We are socialized to prioritize relationships, to prioritize the well being of our romantic partners. This is particularly true for heterosexual relationships that adhere to patriarchal values. As Black women we are often asked to put aside our strengths and defer our dreams in order to support our romantic partners. It is communicated to us through family members, friends, and church communities that we should prioritize our relationship, that we should support our man, that him and his needs should be put first. That achieving the goal of marriage should be enough to sustain and fulfill us.  We are shown models of “good women” who don’t have needs of their own, who spend all of their time and energy catering to the men and children in their lives. We hear the harsh critiques of women who dare to put themselves first. Continue reading

Year of the Black Woman: Taking Stock & Moving Forward

love-selfcare-createherstock-12016 has been a rough year for many of us. There have been deaths, losses, grief, disappointments, heartbreak, and more. It is easy to dismiss 2016 as a horrible year that we would like to forget. However, when we don’t reflect on what we’ve been through, we miss the opportunity to learn from what we’ve experienced and move forward in healthy and constructive ways. It can be alluring to externalize all of the hard things we went through, feeling as though we had no role to play, no power or agency in difficult situations. While this is any easy stance to take, it puts us in a passive position and keeps us from learning from our experiences. Additionally, when we fail to take stock of what has happened we may overlook things that feel proud of or positively about.

Despite the challenges most of us have faced this year, the beauty, creativity and strength of Black women has shone through 2016. Black women have continued to lead as activists, in the arts and entertainment industries, in business, politics, sports, literature, and health care fields. We have continued to push the needle forward, speaking truth to power, advocating for our communities, and encouraging each other along the way. It has been a tough year and like a tea bag put into hot water our bold, sweet, strong flavors have been highlighted as we were immersed in 2016.
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Dealing with Family Drama During the Holidays

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You’re heading home for the holidays and cautiously looking forward to spending time with your family. Hoping that maybe this year will be different. Maybe things will go smoothly and you and your family will be able to keep things light and get along. Then while you’re home have a simple conversation with your mom, and before you know it she’s said something that makes you feel like a helpless 5 year old and you want to crawl under your chair. Family drama can involve anything from tense interactions and arguments to navigating a family member’s ongoing drinking problem and hurtful outbursts, to facing the daunting experience of going to spend time with family members who were abusive.

For some people the holidays are a wonderful, uncomplicated time spent with family. However, for many of us, spending extended time with family during the holidays can be complicated; there are some aspects that we enjoy and others that we dread. Much of the conflict and and drama we experience when we return home arises from unresolved issues that began long ago. Our visits home are made more difficult when we haven’t sorted through these complicated dynamics. Continue reading

The Fall of Issa & Lawrence: Preventing Infidelity in Relationships

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The fall of Issa’s and Lawrence’s relationship on Insecure depicts a common and cautionary tale of what can happen when generally healthy relationships are not protected and nurtured. Most relationships go through rough patches at some point. People feel frustrated or annoyed by each other and aren’t sure how to communicate clearly  or resolve their problems. These patches often arise after the infatuation and overwhelmingly positive feelings of new love have worn away. When daily life in a relationship feels mundane and partners take each other for granted. The things that used to come easily – sincere compliments, passionate sex, general admiration – seemed to fade without warning and you’re left wondering what was lost in the relationship and if it’s possible to get it back

Cheating is a common response to feeling unhappy in a relationships. When relationships go through rough patches, many people do not know how to address the issues that arise. Instead of turning towards each other, partners often turn away from each other; avoiding engagement and the hard work of having difficult conversations. Additionally, many people have trouble asking for what they need in relationships and feeling hurt, disappointed, and angry can cause people to disregard their partner’s feelings. These issues can make partners vulnerable to developing inappropriate connections with people outside of their relationship. On this season of Insecure, we saw both Issa and Lawrence cultivate relationships with people who they were attracted to and provided them with the affirmation and encouragement that they were not receiving in their relationship with each other. Continue reading

3 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

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It is so easy to lose sight of what things we have to be thankful for. The hot water to warm our cold bodies when we shower. The clothes to choose from when we’re getting dressed. Food to eat when we’re hungry. Roofs over our heads. Friends to laugh and cry with. Music to move to. I could go on and on. It is often stated that there is so much to be thankful for, that we are “blessed beyond measure” and yet, many times, in our daily lives we miss so many wonderful opportunities to cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is something that helps to bring joy to our lives. Gratitude helps life to feel wonderful.

Unfortunately, in America we are not socialized to cultivate gratitude, to be thankful for what we have. We are constantly shown images of things that corporations and advertisers claim will make our lives better, easier, happier. Even our day of national thanks, Thanksgiving, has turned into a display of greed that keeps people from their families and sometimes results in people being seriously harmed. In America, we must work to cultivate gratitude. Without being grateful we will take the things that we have for granted.  Continue reading

We The People: Persevering Post Election

the_long_road_aheadThe physical shock began to set in for me while watching the election results come in last Tuesday night. The next morning I awoke to adrenaline coursing through my body. It was as if my body knew that the world was not okay, that it needed to be prepared to fight or flee a potentially dangerous situation. As Wednesday wore on, I began to feel physically sick: a deep queasiness and skin-crawling uneasiness set in. By Thursday, my emotions ranged from sadness and anger to denial. Friday, I experienced full-blown anger. What helped me to manage through this range of emotions was reminding myself that whatever I was feeling was okay. Accepting the emotions as they washed over me and allowing them to pass on their own. Even with this mindful approach to my emotions, I could see myself being more irritable with other people for small things. I could feel my heart hardening in ways that I’m not proud of. I could feel hate starting to seep in. Continue reading