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Why Calling Me a ‘Strong Black Woman’ Is Compromising My Mental Health

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No, I am not resilient. No, I am not strong. I do not want to be, anyway. When someone hears my stories of abuse from my parents and others, and the loss of my daughter, they comment on how strong I am. How resilient I am.

As a Black woman, I am expected to match up to the image of the “strong Black woman.” As noted on Springer Link via Wikipedia, “the Strong Black Woman Schema, as defined by scholars, is an archetype of how the ideal Black woman should act. This has been characterized by three components: emotional restraint, independence, and caretaking.”

I need you to stop calling me strong and resilient. The comment is not a compliment but instead a denial of my reality. You are saying I can take on a burden without support and that is somehow commendable. I am here to tell you that no one should be made to take life’s challenges alone.

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. I can do that but if that is always the expectation, I will always be alone trying to solve my own problems.

I am vulnerable, soft, weak, pliable, needy, scared, scarred, alone and shattered, and the expectation that I stay strong and resilient through adversity is unfair. I should not have to take on the weight of the world on my shoulders and smile through it. Others want me to be strong and resilient so they do not have to feel weak knowing I will not need them for anything since I am always put-together. I am always saving someone else. Always caretaking and never needing care.

I am here to tell you I need care. 

Once, when there was a lot of unrest in the country about racial trauma and Black Lives Matter activity, I was very triggered and struggling. I told my white therapist that I was struggling, and I shared an article with her that addressed racial trauma and how that was related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I told her I needed her to learn more about this and to help me. She said she would try but had limited experience. I was just glad she was willing to try.

I eventually told her I really wanted there to be a group of like-minded Black women who would convene to discuss these issues of racial trauma and how it impacted us in our daily lives. I looked for one and could not locate a group. They first thing my therapist thought to say was I would be a great leader and should just start and facilitate the group myself. I know she meant well, but here once again I was being asked to be resilient. To take the lead and caretake.

I just wanted somewhere to just show up and be. I wanted to be able to just ask for help and it be given. My therapist did not see that she was playing into the “strong Black woman” trap and leading me to deny my needs. I did not even notice her misstep at first; I just know I felt dejected and resigned to the fact that I would never get what I needed from her or others.

Years later, I went on to supplement my treatment team with a Black therapist. We talked about racial trauma, PTSD, the expectations on Black women, and how to cope. This experience has made all the difference. I recommend this addition to your treatment if possible.

To all of you have been labeled as strong and resilient, I say:

1. Cry when you need to, even in front of others.

2. You deserve to be held, too.

3. No one can define your feelings for you.

4. If you want to give up, that is fine too.

5. You can do anything you set your mind to, and you can decide to also do nothing.

6. Others’ expectations of you do not have to be your destiny.

7. You do not have to sacrifice yourself to save others.

8. You do not have to take on the racist stereotypes to be a valued member of the community.

9. It is not your job to caretake everyone else without first filling your own cup.

10. You do not have to do this alone.

11. You do not have to be the leader.

I do not want to be celebrated for how well I cope. I do not want to be held up as an example of how to deal with adversity. I do not want others to follow my lead. Instead, I want to lean on those who love me and shed tears and moan in sadness. I can be strong but not at the expense of my mental well-being. If I need to be lifted, I want others there just as I am there for them.

You do not have to be Mighty Strong all the time. Sometimes, it is OK to just lean into the pain and on others. I have your back.

Photo by Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals) on Unsplash

Originally published: August 24, 2021
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