Chances Are You're Not "Damaged", Just Broken


Damaged goods. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a man use this phrase to describe a woman in their life.

In fact, there's a couple I know who've been married for well over 20 years now but, according to the husband, only the first five years have been good (to him). He's even told me in a session (one which his wife was not present for) that if he could do life all over again, one thing he would do differently is not choose her to walk it out with. Hey, it might be harsh, but you'd be amazed how many married people—male and female alike—have said the same thing to me. Anyway, when I asked him why he felt that way, he said it was because she was "damaged goods".

When I asked him to explain to me what that meant, his response was, "Deep down, she's a good woman. But there is so much dysfunction on top of it all that it takes too much energy to get to it. It's draining. She's draining."

When I asked him to give me some examples of where he was coming from, he had plenty. She has serious trust issues. She's extremely insecure. She's got a mean jealous streak. She's addicted to being unhappy. Her overall view of men and sex are toxic. She's got unrealistic expectations. She's a game player (meaning, she's a manipulator). She always wants to be forgiven but rarely forgives. She's controlling. In her mind, she's never wrong. She's got a pretty serious Jezebel spirit going on (two informative articles on the topic are "Married to Jezebel: It's All About Control" and "25 Traits of a Jezebel Spirit"). Like I said, his list was long.

Although I know some of you are probably already seething and tempted to click out of this piece because you can't understand why a husband would "bash" his wife in this way, let me make two points first. One, do you think it would've been better if I shared how some wives talk about their husbands? I don't. Whenever anyone feels this way about their spouse, it's sad. There's no gender-specificity to it. And second, I'm a woman and what he said didn't offend me in the least. For one thing, I used to have some of those issues myself (insecure, unrealistic expectations and not the best forgiver). Secondly, I have done enough self-work and also worked with other individuals to know that we don't come out of the womb with these types of issues. Life happens and sometimes it leaves wounds (or even really deep scars) behind. And third, although the husband sees his wife as "damaged", I don't.

The word that I actually prefer is "broken".

I already know. Some of y'all are like, "That's basically splitting hairs, Shellie", but I don't think so. When someone is damaged, it literally means that so much injury or harm has come to them that they don't have the same amount of value or usefulness anymore. And honestly, that might be a part of the reason why some of you read what that husband said and you felt some type of way about it. Maybe it wasn't his wife's issues that bothered you so much as the label he put on her as a result of them. That because she has so much internal conflict and drama going on, while she still may have some "good" to her, what she is more than anything is damaged. Although he might have seen a lot of value in her in the beginning, so much has happened that it appears that she has lost a lot of her usefulness; at least in his eyes.

Meanwhile, me over here? I view things a bit differently. It took a while to get to the point and place that I'm about to share with you, but words cannot explain how freeing it is to not rely on another flawed human's perspective when it comes to establishing my own personal validation. What I mean by that is, when it comes to knowing my worth, one of my favorite verses in Scripture is, "For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well." (Psalm 139:13-14—NKJV)

I'm not saying that humans can't provide insight into what some of our character weaknesses and flaws are (of course, they can). However, what I am saying is the difference between fellow flawed folks and how God and I see me is while humans may chalk my "stuff" up to being what makes me damaged, I know that's not nearly close to being the case.

God made me and what he made was good. Very good. So no, no matter what is going on within, no matter what life threw my way that resulted in me having areas that need to mature and/or heal, my value remains the same.

I am not damaged. For a season, what I may be is broken. How are those things different? When something (or one) is broken, that means they are "not functioning properly". I can definitely attest to the fact that I've had moments—seasons even—of being that kind of individual. The last heartbreak I had, it had me so broken that it was a wonder how I was able to work on a daily basis (I'm not kidding). Some days, all I could do was cry—no, sob. I can't tell you how many times I looked up at the ceiling and begged God to let me get at least three hours of sleep where I didn't see "him" in my dreams.

To this day, on certain levels, I'm still trying to see "the moral to the story"—which is really more like the method to the madness—of that part of my journey. However, my pain hasn't reduced my value. Just because I had days and sometimes even weeks when I wasn't my best self, that didn't mean that I wasn't useful.


A pearl earring that has come out of its setting may not be working properly (it may be broken), but that doesn't mean it's still not a pearl (it retains its value). Same goes for a broken woman. Or man.

It might not be the most popular opinion on the planet, but I personally believe that a lot of us have a hard time hearing about ourselves and/or doing the work that's required to heal ourselves and/or our relationships either because we believe that we are nothing more than damaged or we think others only see us as that way. Yet the first step to accepting where we are so that we can make some positive changes is to remove the word "damaged" and embrace the word "broken".

All of what I just said, that's just what I told the husband who vented to me about his wife. Words have power and so long as he was declaring how much his spouse had lost her value, the more he was going to actually believe it. Instead, by incorporating the word "broken"—to her and the marriage—it's a reminder that things may not be functioning at 100 percent right now, but this is just a season. And, since it once did function well, surely there are things that can be done to restore it.

Now do you see why I think "damaged" and "broken" are worlds apart?

The first word, don't let anyone make you feel like you are that. You will always hold immense value. And, as far as brokenness goes, the Persian poet Rumi once said, "The wound is the place where the Light enters you" and, as author Munia Khan once said, "Sometimes a broken heart can mend something else's brokenness". I don't know about you but both of those sound pretty valuable to me.

Featured image by Getty Images

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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.


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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Featured image by Shutterstock

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