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What I Learned From A Black Teletherapist On How To Be More Vulnerable

It's about to get real vulnerable up in here.

Wellness

By now we know it takes vulnerability to establish long-lasting and healthy relationships of all kinds. For someone like me, who is aware of this but a hot mess when it comes to execution, this is easier said than done. So, I spoke to a professional on tangible tips to explore my vulnerable side. India Douglas, LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) works at a school in Brooklyn, New York teaching underserved kids the fundamentals when it comes to understanding feelings. She also became a teletherapist at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy to all ages and genders during the pandemic at a time when vulnerability issues became a hot topic of discussion. Her background with the building blocks of emotions, I felt was perfect to break down the root of my vulnerability issues and how to move forward.

While she has never treated me, for the purposes of this story, I did share with her a few intimate details about my struggles with opening up wholeheartedly with those I care about. "Your diagnosis would probably be somewhere within the anxiety wheelhouse. It sounds as if you have issues opening up because you fear the response of what would happen if you did and the what-ifs," she explained. "If you get treated at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy, you might get an unspecified anxiety disorder diagnosis (found in the DSM-5). Later, they might put a specifier in there, based on whatever past experiences you share with your therapist."

Below find her tips for myself and others like me to navigate the ins and outs of being vulnerable.

How You Should Work On Being More Vulnerable

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"Before you get vulnerable with someone else, that vulnerability needs to start with yourself. You have to start by asking yourself the questions that you've been dodging in the back of your head. Begin journaling and really thinking about any traumas that you've had. Also, if something that you struggle with is anxiety—which is just the fear of the unknown—write down a list of what you're afraid of, and then the possible outcomes. Ask yourself, 'What if that did happen? Is it the worst thing? Is it the end of the world? What are you fearing from being that vulnerable? What reaction am I afraid of getting?' Write it down, look at it, stare at it and then figure out, 'OK, if this happened how would I respond to it?' It takes away that fear of the unknown.

"Vulnerability lies a lot with understanding your triggers. A lot of people are triggered by things that are attached to trauma or situations that happened in their childhood. When another person doesn't know these triggers, their reaction can come off negative. But when they do, then you open up a conversation and better communication between each other. So, if you're not open to understanding what your triggers are, how can you possibly be open to being vulnerable with somebody else? That's why people need to take time before they get into romantic relationships to get to know themselves—which can sometimes take years. That doesn't mean you can't date in the meantime, but it does mean that the more you know about yourself, the more you can share with your partner."

How To Be More Vulnerable In Your Relationships

"When it comes to a romantic partner, I suggest taking each other out on dates. One takes the other out on a date and on that date, that's the date planners' day to be vulnerable and talk their about things. Don't approach the date like 'I got a bone to pick with you.' It shouldn't feel like a meeting or something you're dreading. It should be more like, 'This is my date day so I get to pick the spot and choose the topic of discussion this time.' And then next week is your date day to go where you want to go and discuss what you want to discuss. You can do this with family members too, if you're trying to build or repair that relationship. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a period of time that gets you both to a better place.

"The number one thing I recommend is couples counseling. The best relationships are where you're in therapy, your partner is in therapy, and you are jointly in therapy. That is the best way to move forward. [Also,] there are card games like We're Not Really Strangers. That's a fun way to kind of get to know someone that you're interested in a bit deeper, and literally laying your cards on the table."

How To Be Open & Expressive If You're Afraid Of Being Vulnerable

"For someone who is not good at being vulnerable, it might feel like, 'I want to be vulnerable with you but I'm scared of being vulnerable with you, and by me having even this conversation with you, is me being vulnerable.' Lean into your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses.

"If your strength is drawing, draw a picture that expresses how you feel; if your strength is music, play a song that expresses how you feel; if writing is your strength, write a letter or a card—everybody has certain strengths. You want to play off those strengths, they will empower you."

Being Vulnerable With Someone Who Is Not Receptive

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"If you do step out of your comfort zone and are vulnerable with someone, and they're not receptive, then that is a sign that this person is not ready to be vulnerable back with you. It takes two. Instead, focus on why you're seeking validation from this person who's incapable of giving you what you're giving of yourself. If you feel like this is a person that you want to work on things with, speak to them about it. Have them own up to it. And if they're unable to do that, then move on to somebody else who's willing and ready to be just as vulnerable as you, because it doesn't work if one person is putting in all the work."

How To Receive Someone’s Vulnerability When Being Outwardly Emotional Doesn’t Come Natural

"By saying to them that you hear them and you are appreciative of them being vulnerable with you. Then add that you need some time to digest what was just said to you so that you can give them the proper reaction to that vulnerability. Sometimes when people have a hard time being vulnerable and then other people being vulnerable back, they go into a shell. That's something that needs to be shared with the other person so that they don't feel like, 'Wow, I just laid it all on the line and this person just blinked at me.'"

Patterns, Behaviors and Language That Should Be Established To Create A Space For Vulnerability

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"Setting boundaries is a good place to start because once you establish your boundaries, you can figure out who you can trust. Once that trust is established, then the vulnerability just spills out. I feel statements which go something like, 'I feel like this and because of that, I would like this from you moving forward.' I feel statements are good because you're starting from the feelings and it's not an attack on that person. It's just you talking about how you feel."

For more of India, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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