Suck it Up and Keep it Moving OR Why We Cry At Tyler Perry Movies

March 9, 2011

 

We have covered reasons why Black people tell me they don’t want to go to therapy in:  Top 3 Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy,

And we covered the historical perspectives related to why we as a group avoid therapy in: More Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy.

Now, I am going to give you an opinion based on 20 years of Clinical Experience about this avoidance:

TRAUMA AND DENIAL OF TRAUMA

We underestimate the effects trauma has had for us as a group.  I think the initial trauma of leaving behind our homes, families, names, cultures in the Middle Passage was too much.  Then you had Black families chronically separated from one another during slavery.  How could anyone cope with these losses?  It would surely have been detrimental for a person (a matter of life and death to be exact) to not get up and work as a slave because you were feeling depressed because your child was torn from you the day before.   

I believe those issues went unprocessed for generations.  This pain continues to affect people in subsequent generations if you believe in the collective unconscious (Asante, 2003).  American Indians call it historical trauma and intergenerational grief (See:  http://www.whitebison.org/magazine/2005/volume6/wellbriety!vol6no6.pdf).  I see too many cases of people emotionally detached from their children and I wonder if this is related to our history in this country. 

We have recurrent traumas.  In some of our neighborhoods there is too much violence.  And there are a host of too many other everyday pressures of work and negotiating life.

The style of coping:  “Keep it moving and deny there is a problem,” was probably passed down through the generations as well.

Sucking it up may have gotten us through some very rough times,  but we are surely not living at our best in too many cases today.  Sucking it up and ignoring the issues just means that we have to put energy into that denial.   Sometimes we find unhealthy ways to  due to what I see as unprocessed grief.  I have talked about them before: violence toward our own people (which too often looks like hopelessness and or misplaced anger), along with alcohol and substance abuse to name a few.  At lot of us seem to walk around on edge because we are not handling our stress adequately.  This can sometimes lead to physical illnesses and early death.

And the reality is we do not have to rely on sucking it up as a way of coping anymore if we do not choose to. 

What was the thing about Tyler Perry?

People, I find, love his movies because they tend to scratch at the surface of our trauma enough to produce cathartic responses.  I have witnessed grown men breaking down at some Tyler Perry movies, those movies with heftier emotional content.  The Madea character often takes the edge off some of the painful parts when she is present.  Tyler was pretty brilliant for including her most of the time because nobody just wants to cry for two hours, right?

In a way it becomes safe to cry at his movies because you know you may be laughing again in a few minutes.  Honestly, I think this is why “For Colored Girls…”  may have not been the commercial success that was anticipated, no Madea (not that she would have at all been appropriate for this film).

But the cathartic responses are not really grieving.  They provide an opportunity to let go of some tension, but there is little to no acknowledgment of what the tension is about.  Without that acknowledgement, you are not healing anything.

My point is we apparently need to grieve more.  I know that doesn’t sound like very much fun.  But not doing so may in fact be preventing you from having fun.  If you are carrying a burden, how can you possibly have fun? 

Sucking it up is not grieving and it is not moving on.  Grieving is about letting go.  Grieving for us may be on different levels.  It may be very personal as in the losses of people we know.   However,  it may also be broader, and include deeper feelings about a lack of freedom, and feeling unseen or unimportant, and inadequacies.   These deeper feelings probably come from generations of ancestors not being seen as full human beings.  That is a painful frustrating existence.  The healing comes with the greatest acceptance of oneself in all his or her fullness now.

How can we accomplish this?  Well, I think the healthier ways to do it are by trying to talk about any painful or overwhelming feelings when they come up with somebody you feel safe with, or if you do not have a person you feel safe with try to write the feelings down. I think about Celie in the Color Purple and how her letters to God were ultimately healing and strengthening, but she had to a tremendous amount of grieving. 

Your feelings deserve to have validation.  They will be less overwhelming and less likely to produce unhealthy responses if you acknowledge them.  Of course, if they are too much and you are having difficulty with day-to-day functioning, it may also be helpful to find a mental health practitioner. I think part of a good therapist’s role is to help the client grieve the past.   See: How to find a Therapist:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Grieving provides the opportunity to transcend the trauma.

____________________________________________________________________

Asante, M. K. (2003).  The Afrocentric Idea. Temple University Press.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Suck it Up and Keep it Moving OR Why We Cry At Tyler Perry Movies”

  1. Eric said

    Eye opening and insightful.

  2. Brickhouse said

    I wholeheartedly agree. Black men and women think that it shows weakness or failure if they admit to needing help. This is a huge problem and results in our traumatic experiences being passed down from generation to generation. The pain our ancestors bore and the everyday pain that comes from being Black in America is suppressed, however it is evident in our children and our communities. What is the first step to taking the stigma away from the Black community and mental health?

    • Hey There: Thanks for your feedback. This is a complex issue and I believe it is going to take a variety of approaches to address it.

      I think individuals can do a lot by sharing their own experiences with therapy with their friends and families.

      But I also think that professional organizations such as Association of Black Psychologists and The National Association of Black Social Workers could do much more in terms of finding ways to educate and engage our communities in mental health issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: