Loneliness is painful. It often involves feeling disconnected, feeling outside of the circle, feeling forgotten. Loneliness has been a frequent companion throughout my life. I grew up as an only child and while my parents are wonderful, they established clear boundaries between their relationship and me, which I think was great for their marriage (they’ve been married for over 38 years!) but did not feel great for me as an only child. Starting at an early age, I felt somewhat on the outside in my family. This feeling continued for me at school and church. While I think I was generally well liked, I always felt like I was different and didn’t quite fit in. There were times when I actually was left out or teased (never badly) and then there were times when I was hypersensitive to the experience of being left out and looked for evidence to confirm my assumption that I was being excluded. There were also probably times when I held back in friendships and relationships fearing that I would be rejected and ended up feeling disconnected. One of the ways that I adapted to my experience of loneliness was to make myself useful. To be the friend that people call when they are going through a hard time, to be the one who bakes cookies from scratch and brings them to the gathering. I unconsciously believed that if I did enough people would include me regardless of whether or not they really wanted me to be there. While I will probably always enjoy doing things for people it’s been interesting for me to push myself to unlearn this tendency especially in the context of doing therapy where just being present can be powerful and healing.
I wish I could say that I was over this loneliness, this fear of being left out but I’m not. While I have come a long way and I’m much less sensitive than I used to be, I continue to struggle at points. Even as an adult I have struggled with being left out by my friends questioning what I have done wrong, how I could be better/different so that I could be included.
Your loneliness may look different than mine Loneliness can involve being in a crowd of people and feeling all alone or it could be spending a night at home alone scrolling through social media wishing you were out with friends. Loneliness can feel like wanting to call a friend but feeling like they won’t answer or want to talk to you. Loneliness often accompanies feelings of self-criticism and even shame as we assume that we are lonely because something is wrong with us.
Despite our increasingly connected world and ability to access other people at any time, many of us are feeling lonelier than ever before. This growing prevalence of loneliness is not something to be laughed off as a silly problem affecting millennials; it is a serious issue. Loneliness can negatively impact our health with some research studies connecting loneliness to dying earlier. We are social creatures and when we do not get the social connection we were designed for, our immune system can break down and we are more likely get sick. If you struggle with loneliness, consider the following strategies for overcoming loneliness, which I have found helpful in my own life.
Resentment is like a dark cloud hanging over us. It can sap the joy from things we once found pleasurable and can leave us feeling frustrated and angry much of the time. Resentment is the feeling that we experience when we say yes to something that we really don’t want to do. When we feel like the people in our lives are not taking us into consideration or acknowledging our needs. Resentment typically arises when we are overworked and over-committed. When we’re busy taking care of responsibilities, handling things, making stuff happen, and we remember that we agreed to that choir rehearsal, to make a dish for a potluck, to host a gathering because we felt guilty about saying no. When we spend most of our time thinking about the needs and wants of people in our lives and don’t feel anyone is considering us. Knowing that we are sacrificing our peace and free time for the sake of someone else and feeling taken advantage of.
I believe resentment is something many Black women struggle with. Feeling like we have to pick up the slack for the people around us, feeling like our lives are filled with obligations, and struggling to say no to commitments can leave us resentful. As Black women we are often in the position of doing the work to make things happen. Whether at church, schools, or our workplaces, Black women are the people working late, picking people up, dropping people off, cooking, cleaning, setting up, organizing, coordinating, etc. Often, the expectation is that we do this thankless work with limited recognition or appreciation. We are taken for granted in our families, our places of worship, and our jobs. All of this leads to resentment. Getting annoyed when someone asks us to do something because we feel we can’t say no is a sign of resentment. Feeling frustrated and judgmental of people who establish boundaries and say no to things is another sign that we are struggling with resentment. Continue reading “A Remedy for Resentment”→
Women. Women have always been a driving force in this world. Embodying the qualities of strength and gentleness simultaneously. Women have served as protectors and providers since the beginning of time. Figuring out ways to make something out of nothing, to move the needle forward in the midst of oppression. Women have kept faith and hope going. Have sung songs and made balms to heal souls and bodies. Women have fed and clothed us. Pushed us to be be better. Women have been at the core all along.
In honor of International Women’s Day, let us remember all that women have done. Let go of the patriarchal narratives that women are weak, not smart enough, not good enough. As we continue to push the world forward and fight for the equality of all women (cis and trans) let us also remember how much we have already done. Let’s celebrate ourselves and our legacies. Let’s celebrate our known and unknown heroines. Let us bask in the glory of womanhood.
As we work to bring about change in this world let us remember the guidance of bell hooks: that we don’t just want to move up in existing patriarchal systems that oppress people of color and those who are not cis and straight. Let us not be constrained by the limited imaginations of men who created structures that were meant to exclude us. Let us work to change the system itself. Imagining something new. Imagining systems that allow us to be our full selves. Systems that support our well being and mental health and embrace all that we bring. Systems that enable us to fully embody our womanhood.
“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 ““You Can Never Love Anybody if You are Unable to Love Yourself””→
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 “Hidden Figures: Being Your Own Hero”→
“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 “Fences: On Losing Yourself in Relationships”→
2016 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. Continue reading “Year of the Black Woman: Taking Stock & Moving Forward”→