Black Marriage Success

July 25, 2011

In Together We Are Strong: A Qualitative Study of Happy Enduring African American Marriages, research was conducted with 30 married Black couples to assess challenges and resilient features in this group with an average of 26 married years.  The authors of the current study note that many African Americans experience well-functioning marriages, yet little research exists on positive mental adjustment, happiness and satisfaction.  They are addressing that void.  This is strength-based research, as opposed to most of the deficit-based reasearch pumped through the media that focuses on problems and pathology.

The findings of this study revealed Three Areas of strengths or resources for this group.

A:  INDIVIDUAL-LEVEL RESOURCES

The researchers found that often two happy people made for a happy marriage.

There was a willingness to work on individual-level strengths; so you may develop strengths along the way (such as better listening skills) that you did not have at the outset of the relationship.

B. INTERPERSONAL RESOURCES

Knowing that you can rely on your partner.

Trust.

C.  SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RESOURCES

Having witnessed “strong” marriages in the immediate or extended family.

In most of these enduring relationships, both spouses were gainfully employed.

Sharing similar attitudes about religion or being “equally yoked”.

The article notes many of the challenges faced by these couples, but the above-stated strengths were often essential in persevering through the challenges.

The entire article is found here:

Together We Are Strong

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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.

There was an entire body of work at the early part of the last century devoted to the fact that people of color, including Blacks, were of low intelligence because they scored lower on Euro-American tests of intelligence.  Lewis Terman, who was an enormous figure in IQ (Intelligence Quotient) testing in an influential book The Measurement of Intelligence, states:  a low level of intelligence was “very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families in the Southwest and also among Negroes.  Their dullness seems to be racial…” (Terman, 1916).  The tests themselves were developed with European values about how to measure intelligence at their core.  Creativity was100%  absent from the formulation.  The data were often collected on middle class whites which contrasted them with impoverished people of color. 

Another popular book related to this subject, The Study of American Intelligence (1923) by Carl Brigham when reviewing data on IQ tests administered to Army personnel concluded that they proved the superiority of the “Nordic” type over the “Alpine, mediterranean and Negro groups”.  Brigham later recanted these claims in the Psychological Review (1930) journal, but many people remained unaware of his recantation.

The perspective that people of color were of lower intelligence so infiltrated American thinking that we are still contending with ths today, as it has been argued again and again that programs such as Head Start are a waste of tax money because they do not improve performance. The argument is basically many people of color will never learn at the same rate as Caucasians so stop trying to help them. We continue to use tests derived from Terman’s original battery as a measure of intelligence even though it is biased.

So, what is intelligence?  Within the field of psychology there is no consensus about this. (Yet we continue to label these tests as tests of IQ.)  I often describe intelligence as the capacity to A) think and to B) use that capacity to function the best way you are able in your life.  Current IQ measures do address the first part (A) but are very limited even with that.  They do not address the second part (B) at all. 

During an intelligence test, you may be asked to complete puzzle-like tasks and demonstrate that your memory is good and that you can concentrate.  However, IQ tests continue to fall short now in terms of a heavy focus on material that you have already learned.   That is a biased approach to intelligence in and of itself as some children simply do not have the same resources or value the same things as some counterparts.  I will argue that the child with the different resources may still have a very rich experience, just not one in line with mainstrean values.  This does not in any way make them less intelligent than those counterparts.

I have noticed that these tests (there are several kinds)  are evolving into more neuropsychological instruments, which tap into brain function, but they have not evolved enough if  are “fund of information” and “vocabulary” which are no doubt influenced by environment, as part of the quotient, which they continue to be.

What IQ Tests Do and Don’t Do

IQ tests are useful in that they provide some prediction about how a child will perform in a mainstream Euro-American environment, because the values of the test are consistent with mainstream values.

They give some information about memory and concentration, as I mentioned above which may be useful for understanding how a child thinks or what areas are strengths and which are weaknesses in the context of Euro-American functioning. 

They by no means reflect “Intelligence” for all people in all contexts. 

Much of the historical data can be found in:  Thomas, M. D. Sillen, S. (1991).  Racism and Psychiatry.  Carol Publishing Group Edition.

Brigham, C. C. (1923).  A study of American intelligence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

***Coming Soon:  What to do if the School Tells you your kid needs to be tested for IQ.

Black Suicides on the Rise

August 28, 2010

The news about Fantasia’s suicide attempt was shocking and the circumstances were certainly fodder for the news and entertainment tabloids.  Wherever you fall on your judgment of Fantasia’s behavior at this time,  there is a serious issue going on here that we are not talking about.  Black suicide rates are going up.  There is an assumption among many that Black people do not commit suicide, but that is starting to change.  However, because of the lingering misconceptions about Black people and suicide, we tend to have less information about symptoms leading to suicide and much less support available when it happens in a family.

Please take a listen to the attached NPR program featuring Alvin Poussaint, an African American psychiatrist who has long been a gift to African American families with his books about Black child development and his consultations with Bill Cosby on the Cosby Show.

He speaks clearly and directly about the statistics which suggest that this is actually becoming more of a problem for Black men, and the statistics for Black women have remained stable (not that it doesn’t happen in Black women, it has just not gotten any worse for this group). 

Poussaint has some theories about why this happens, which include prolonged episodes of stress and undiagnosed or untreated psychiatric problems.  He also postulates that homicide in our communities may sometimes be a suicidal gesture.  I agree that the excessive risk taking behavior in gangs who engage in the behavior knowing that there will more than likely be a retaliation, is essentially suicidal.  I don’t believe it is a conscious gesture (or that the risk taking is so well-thought out or even in the person’s awareness) but that there is probably a feeling of hopelessness behind it, and hopelessness is a major reason in depression and suicidal thinking.  

In the NPR piece there is also information on support, which has historically been sorely lacking in Black communities for this type of loss.  Please find other facts and information about suicide in the Black community in the links below.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89151091

http://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20100104/americans-with-depression-are-undertreated

http://www.healthyplace.com/depression/minorities/suicide-among-blacks/menu-id-68/

http://www.healthyplace.com/depression/minorities/examining-depression-among-african-american-women-from-a-psychiatric-mental-health-nursing-perspective/menu-id-68/

http://www.theroot.com/views/when-depression-strikes-black-superwoman

Paul Mooney

August 9, 2010

I must say that I was quite shocked when I mentioned to a friend that I was going to see Paul Mooney at Caroline’s in NYC last night and they said: “Who is Paul Mooney?”

Paul Mooney has been around for eons, but he does not lose his edge or his relevance. He is a living legend in my opinion.   He has always done stand-up, but was also a writer for and featured performer on The Richard Pryor Show back in the day.  He has written for many comedy shows since that time including In Living Color, but I think he may have gotten a whole new fan base with his performances on Chappelle’s Show, and particularly the “Ask a Black Dude” skits.

He has the best job because he is a comedian and can get away with saying stuff that many people don’t or won’t say.  He is in your face and everybody else’s face about racism, and self-hatred.  Last night he was talking about how many Caucasians deny their African ancestry and he encouraged them to do DNA tests.  He amplifies issues that we deal with everyday but most of the time don’t talk about.   In this case, in so many ways race is meaningless, and outward appearance is powerful. He also talked last night about what it would really be like in America if Black people were never here.  He uses a great deal of foul language, and has some bouts of darkness but I am not about to throw the Mooney out with the bath water. 

The Huffington Post interviewed him several months ago http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/17/paul-mooney-talks-kagans_n_578145.html and this interview is worth checking out, BUT I will say if he is coming anywhere near your town anytime soon, go see this brother.  You will laugh like crazy, but you will also think, A LOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He also has a new book out: “Black is the New White”  which I cannot wait to get my hands on.

BP and My Anxiety

July 5, 2010

I have so many topics I want to cover on this site, but lately I am keep coming back to thoughts such as:  “How important is this topic?” and “Does this really matter in light of the condition of the world?” 

In the mind of an anxious person, these are the thoughts that may consume the person.  The worst oil spill in history?  Those pictures of the gushing oil bother me, and I wonder when and how we are gonna get out of this.  Should I be worried?  Should I let go of it and just hope it will work out for the best?

Anxiety runs in my family.  We are worriers, sometimes prone to catastrophizing (worrying so much that your mind goes to the worst case scenario).  The anxiety tends not to be so overwhelming that it interferes with functioning but it is present.  I have had  a few crazy dreams and nightmares lately about disastrous situations.  I am sure this is due to the anxiety I am feeling about the BP oil spill.

Same thing happened to me with 9/11.  I was in NYC on that day. I was not close enough to have witnessed the attacks or see the towers collapse,but close enough to see enormous plumes of smoke at a distance, and see carless New York streets where droves of people were walking covered with dust.  I think I am more susceptible to anxiety over man-made disasters, maybe because the anxiety distracts me from some of my anger.

There are different kinds of anxiety and differing degrees of severity.  In my opinion, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the worst types because it is difficult to treat.  This involves combined anxiety and depression symptoms one could experience after a trauma.  A related problem, though less severe is Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (Depression and conduct Problems may also be present), that a person may experience after an event such as divorce, or losing a job.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder is probably the mildest type, but the symptoms tend to pervade the person’s life.  Other Anxiety disorders include:  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Social Phobia/Social Anxiety.  Go to this link for more information:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.

What kind do I have?  Well, it would probably be Anxiety Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, which means I don’t fall easily into any of the categories, but have prominent symptoms.  My symptoms include:  excessive worry, nightmares, and restlessness.  Most of the time I do not have symptoms but the sense of not having control may trigger them.  Yes, therapists have issues too.  We are human after all.  See:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/ 

Under these extraordinary circumstances many people may have anxiety related symptoms.  There is more focus lately in the media about Americans in the Gulf region who are suffering in terms of mental health (probably a great deal of Adjustment Disorder and PTSD).  I do empathize deeply with what it may be like for them now.  However, we are really all in this together in many ways.  The health and well-being of the people in the Gulf region along with the environmental fallout created by the spill, affects us all. 

I am able to control symptoms with deep breathing and yoga practice.  What helps me more than anything else though is getting on with my life; trying to care for the people I love, and trying to do the best work I can do.  So, all of this blogging is important to me.  Part of my work as I see it is to share information.

More severe cases that interfere with functioning may need therapy.  Some people prefer medication or some combination of therapy and medication.  If you believe you may be suffering with severe anxiety, talk it over with your physician, shaman, pastor or other helper in your life, and make a plan to address it.

Living Consciously

June 21, 2010

“As an expression of positive self-esteem we have to promote the value of living consciously in a society where everyone is encouraged to be  unconscious.”               bell hooks

So it is not easy to live consciously in the here and now with a clear awareness of our challenges and our strengths.  It seems that Americans have a particular difficulty with wanting to live in reality.  For starters, we consume more illegal drugs than any other country.  In addition, food is rapidly becoming our drug of choice.  For the first time in history, the current generation stands a chance to die at an age younger than the previous generations due to the level of obesity in our society.

The barriers to living consciously include:  Our own brains. Our brains work hard to shield us from stress by helping us find ways to deny reality, maintain a fantasy or simply just forget our problems.  Then, there is American society at large that promotes fantasy because it sells stuff, a byproduct of capitalism.  You may distract yourself from other painful thoughts if you can believe that owning a particular brand of whatever makes you a better this or that. 

Media has also lately become pretty useless in terms of us knowing what is really going on in other parts of the world.  My mom worked for CBS News for years, she is retired now, but over her last 10 yearsof working she would say:  “News is dead.”  I seriously did not understand what she was talking about until recently.  It dawned on me when I was watching a morning “news” program that had no news except for what was going on with celebrities.  What?

But on the side of denial, some of the stuff we don’t know can be painful and overwhelming. I know watching the very real underwater plumes of oil makes me feel helpless and worried.   However, if we know what’s going on around us, we can do something about it, even if it is in a small way, like vote for and support people who will put in proper regulations to prevent this crap.  If we know what’s going on around us we can put into perspective what is important, like our health and our loved ones.

On the side of reality, I want to share with you a blog radio show of which I have become a fan.  I say to my self: ” Ok, I will only listen to part of it”, then I find myself completely absorbed, listening in for what they are saying even after the show has apparently ended.  It’s called:   The World In Black and White and you can find it at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/theworldinblackandwhite .  It is really laying down some very hefty discussions about politics and race.  You may not agree with everything they are saying, but you will definitely be provoked to think deeply about things.  This is not for children, the language can be quite raw.

(August 7th 2010:  Note on “The World in Black and White”  on blogtalkradio.  Just over one month ago the co-anchors went their separate ways.  The discussions were such that they could not see eye to eye on some issues of race.   Frankly, I was siding with the woman anchor on most of the issues as the male anchor was pushing the idea that whites experience as much “racism as Blacks”.  Umm, I know we have come a long way, but I don’t think so…  The woman anchor will be starting her own show so I will keep you posted.)

I am frequently complaining about how some of the movies available for us are horrendous in terms of healthy images and healthy messages… and they are usually horrendous in terms of these things. 

However, I must share with you a documentary airing on Public Television about Black people in the military throughout American history called:  For Love of Liberty:  The Story of America’s Black Patriots.   It was outstanding.  It weaves our contributions to the US Military to our overall history in this country, brilliantly.  What stood out to me about it were two things: 

1) that they use a great deal of the real words of military men from letters they had written to family, and

2)  how much was missing from my education.  And I am somebody who seeks out African and African American education. There is so much rich information here.

 This is potent stuff.  Well done and clear.  Apparently, this was a ten-year undertaking for Louis Gossett Jr and his collaborators.  It was well worth the wait.

Run,  Don’t Walk to your computer and find the schedule at:  forloveofliberty.org

I think they are selling the video at that website for $20.00.  If you missed the viewing in your area, I would recommend you buy it if you are able.  Watch it with your children.  I would say it is appropriate for ages as young as 12.

If you’ve already seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

I just finished watching Good Hair for about the third time. This Chris Rock film is the first and only documentary of which I am aware of that deals exclusively with issues related to African American women.  However, I was struck by the lack of alternatives to weaves presented in the film.  How about a nice big Jill Scott fro’ or some Lauren Hill dreadlocks? 

My favorite part is Paul Mooney in an Afro wig.  He says:  “Relaxers make everybody relaxed, and nappy makes white people unhappy”.

It’s one of the few statements in the movie that addresses WHY we may feel the need to conceal our natural hair.  Most of the other parts of the movie focus on the business aspects of Black hair care and the process of getting a weave.  There is a scene where he tries to sell Black hair but is unable to. However, he doesn’t explore why he is unable to sell it.  He never articulates a belief about why it’s a problem, as the shopkeepers tell him “nobody wants that!”, in reference to the Black hair. 

The answer he gives his children at the end about “What is Good Hair?” never really gets answered, but the excessive time he spends on hair relaxers and weaves leads one to believe that  straight hair is good, and other options not so good.   He said he will tell his girls that it is not as important what’s on your head than what is in it.  Well of course this is true.  However, our beliefs about a very fundamental aspect of who we are, our hair, is part of what is in our heads. 

Bottom line:  It is great to have options with our hair.  I respect all the creative minds that have gotten me personally through the past years with braids, dreadlocks, relaxers, and “augmentations”.  At times those were very personal relationships. I respect and applaud all the businesses that have developed to provide us with options. 

However, if you had to deal with your hair in its natural state would this be a problem for you?  And if so, why? What if your job were not an issue? Let’s get to the root of the problem.  Let’s find out what is really “good hair” and why.  If it turns out that most of us have “bad hair’ then what’s so bad about it?  I’m sure Chris Rock’s kids would appreciate a real answer.

Black women, take this poll and send it to your friends!