As a culture, the conversation surrounding African-Americans openly discussing therapy, mental health, and mental illness is fairly new. According to a study on Mental Health America, the stigma and judgment prevents Black/African-Americans from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. It also indicates that Black/African-Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered "crazy" in their social circles. In tandem with that, many African-Americans find that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate among our family members and that they'd fall on deaf ears.
Our parents are the generation of what goes on in our house stays in our house; meanwhile, their millennial children are openly tweeting about their therapy sessions. While there's freedom in owning your experiences, our families aren't always welcoming to how we heal out loud. If you find yourself struggling with setting boundaries with your family members, keep these self-care reminders with you.
Don’t argue with relatives that don’t see the value in therapy.
To understand the nonchalant attitude towards therapy, you have to hold space for the fear and distrust of doctors for African-Americans that dates back to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and current health disparities that we face. Many people don't trust their primary doctors, let alone a psychologist. Being of a different generation, we have the privilege of seeing doctors in a light that our parents and grandparents don't, so you have to be mindful of the reality that while they might reject therapy because they don't understand, it could also very well be their trauma talking. You need to be mindful that you're not just talking to your relatives, you're talking to the generations that came before them that all but drilled in their heads how strong they had to be.
Remind them that therapy is not just for times of crisis, many people use it as a maintenance.
Contrary to what we as a culture can often assume, therapy isn't just something that we should explore when we're in crisis, you can (and should) 100% go just for self-care. My therapist is someone that I enjoy talking to; we discuss ways to strengthen my relationships, healthy coping mechanisms, and she shares tools with me to overall help me navigate life. I like to look at it from this perspective, if you're ill, you see your doctor more, but once you're in recovery, your check-ups aren't as often; that's how I view my relationship with my therapist.
Note to self: You don’t have to go home and tell your family what your therapist thinks about your childhood.
One of my favorite episodes of Girlfriends was when Toni brought her mom to therapy and had her white therapist explain to her mother all of the issues she had with her. Her therapist suggested that she write a letter to her mother as a mental exercise, and she took it a step further and invited her mother to her next session to tell her how she felt in the flesh. While it made for comic relief, seeing Jennifer Lewis give that white lady and her daughter the business, the reality is that the work you do in therapy is for you. Conversations with your parents at some point where you share how your childhood trauma has impacted you can be helpful, but that shouldn't be the goal going into therapy, your healing should be.
Remember that your perspective is valid.
You'll often find that beyond healing from trauma, you'll leave therapy unlearning and seeing the world differently than your parents and ready to educate them on your newfound ideas of the world, all to be shut down at the dinner table. Despite how they may report back to you, remember that your perspective, emotions, and experiences are valid. Embrace the newness that comes with your growth, and allow yourself to feel every emotion attached to your healing process - even if they don't understand it, or you.
Take judgment off the table as you unlearn.
Our families didn't have the privilege to explore mental health awareness the way we do, so it's imperative to practice mindfulness and realize that the very people that you're judging, see the world differently because of their lack of resources. As you explore inner child healing, you'll soon realize that your parents/family members are just people who like you are trying to understand and unlearn as they grow.
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