Why we can't say we do not know about Black Face

This month another major clothing and handbag designer company experienced backlash from a controversial clothing item it released that closely resembled black face.  This is following multiple media reports of various government officials, teachers, high school students and other individuals also being confronted regarding their use of black face.

 Minstrelsy originated from poor and working class whites as a reflection of their experience of discrimination outside of the dominant white and upper class culture.  Minstrelsy began in the 1830’s with performances that depicted stereotypical caricatures of an idea of blackness by white individuals in black face.  The performances involved wearing worn out clothing and was supposed to replicate enslaved African people on southern slave plantations.  These performances portrayed blacks as being cowardly, lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual and thievery.  The practice of minstrelsy grew and expanded from stage performances to radio and television and eventually movies.1 

 Despite denial of an intent to offend or harm, the continued adaptation of minstrel acts (black face) is deplorable and extremely damaging to American society, especially to the history and heritage of Africans and black individuals.  To make light of or engage in outright ridicule of a practice evolving from slavery and the historical racism within this country is severely unfortunate.  The only way our country can begin to heal from centuries of racist rule is to acknowledge the mistakes of our past and present and to own up to inappropriate and insensitive actions. 

 As February and Black History Month comes to an end, let us be reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.   “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 1Adapted from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Take a Stand in Ending Abuse

Usually January reminds us of a new year filled with the opportunity to commit to new goals.  However, this particular January of 2019 challenges us to commit to more significant concerns and to the rights, welfare and well-being of women.  

This month a six episode documentary series portrayed the alleged sexual, emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by R Kelly on young and impressionable girls and women.  The series implied that support of R Kelly’s musical career, power and fame allowed his sexual abuse to continue for this long. Although rumors have surfaced over the years, this documentary serves as the first opportunity for the women who have experienced abuse to come forward and share their stories of abuse and survival.  R Kelley shares his own experience of abuse as a young child as well.  However, his own abuse does not serve as justification of the abuse that he has perpetrated on others.  

Issues of culture emerge as the role of race and ethnicity play in the importance of society’s treatment of the abuse of black women.  A theory was offered throughout the documentary that reflected the belief that the abuse in part continued so long because of a societal tradition of a lack of care when it relates to black women and girls.  

 The importance of this series and the women who endured extensive abuse forces us to acknowledge the abuse that exists in this society and the steps that our society needs to take in order to stop the abuse of women (and all people).  Sexual abuse has devastating effects on all individuals.  Developmentally, sexual abuse experienced as a young female has long-term consequences and influences mental health, physical health and interpersonal relating.  It is our responsibility as a society to protect all individuals from abuse, especially our young people.  

Later this week, the third annual Women’s March will occur in DC as well as sister marches all over the country as well as internationally.  The women’s marches serve to highlight the rights and welfare of women.  See link for more information regarding the Women’s March and details of sister marches. https://www.womensmarch.com/**

Rainn.org has an extensive resource list of resources for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors and their loved ones.  https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

View the Lifetime series, Surviving R Kelly.  https://www.mylifetime.com/shows/surviving-r-kelly

 **Immediately after publishing this blog post, controversy arose regarding allegations of antisemitism.  Media reports made statements of division within the March’s original founders and it is unclear what the actual views of the founders are and what actually occurred regarding racial/ethnic discussions.  It is unfortunate that a March that was created to unify all groups and communities of women could not in the end find a healthy way to collaborate in such a significant endeavor.

What's your Bucket List?

At a holiday party today my friend and colleague asked the party guests what was on their bucket lists. Exactly two weeks left before the new year of 2019 begins, her question challenges us to take a closer look at ourselves and how we are spending our lives. Although we hope that this occurs year around, the holiday season as well as New Year’s Day offer an opportunity for introspection.  As we navigate the business of these two weeks we must slow down and take a minute to reflect on who we are as people. We should celebrate the joys of family, friends, gift giving or even just rest and consider its significance in our lives.  We need to question whether we need to make any changes within ourselves or any changes within our relationships.  Let the holidays be a barometer of what we present to the world and let us make any necessary changes to get us closer to ultimately who we want to be. 

Let the New Year serve as yet another opportunity to take inventory of our lives. Not necessarily resolutions that we do not intend to keep but commitments of how we want to live our lives.  We need to create a bucket list of memories and experiences that will give us the lives we have always wanted. We must breathe energy and life into our lists to create the motivation essential to actually meeting our goals.  If we have a bucket list and haven’t completed items on it we need to ask ourselves why and consider only maintaining items on the list that we have every intention of completing.  Otherwise it only lives as a checklist of unmet desires and accomplishments.  

 Wishes to you for creating a bucket list that gives you the best life you could’ve ever dreamed of! 

Cultivating a Sense of Gratitude

As Thanksgiving approaches us, it reminds me of the concept of gratitude. So much of our experience is focused on the stressors of our lives and how it impacts our daily functioning. A holiday of thanksgiving allows the opportunity to embrace what we are grateful for and shifts our thinking to the blessings that we have received.

Whether your Thanksgiving involves family or friends, or whether your gathering is large or small give yourself some space to reflect on the various things that you appreciate and practice being grateful. Over the last few years you have probably heard a lot about practicing gratitude through the use of gratitude lists and journals, which reflects our progress in focusing on things that are positive in our lives.

If you haven’t already adopted a practice of engaging in an activity of being grateful (I.e., gratitude list or gratitude journal) consider it now, especially in this season’s theme of thanksgiving. Acknowledging what you are thankful for doesn’t ignore or minimize the stressors and problems you are experiencing. Acknowledgement of both blessings and stressors creates the authentic story of our lives. It symbolizes our true existence which includes both positive and negative components. To focus only on one component of your life results in a delusional sense of living.

Challenge yourself to practice the activity of being grateful after Thanksgiving passes. Commit now to engaging in acknowledging in what you are grateful for all throughout the year. Once you create the habit of being grateful you will also notice the improvement in your mood and approach to life. You will be left with the gift of recognizing the many blessings that you have in your life.

Change your Attitude by Changing your Self-Talk

October is Positive Attitude Month and I am reminded of the benefits of practicing positivity in improving well-being.  I believe one of the key factors in maintaining a positive attitude is the quality of the internal dialogue you have.  If your self-talk is negative your attitude and mood are also most likely going to be negative.  However, many people are not aware of the amount or impact that their negative self-talk has on their attitude and mood.  If you are constantly telling yourself that “you are no good,” you can’t do it,” or “you are a failure” how can you expect to have a positive result?  And even if you succeed at something using that type of behavior, how does it affect your self-esteem and spirit to refer to yourself in a pejorative way.  Often people tell me that they worry that they will be lazy if they were nicer to themselves and are often very resistant to trying out a practice of being kinder to themselves.

Why do we live in a society or culture that reinforces that being hard on oneself is the only way to succeed?  How can we change our culture to embrace a practice of self-kindness when accomplishing our goals, living out our daily lives and most importantly, referring to ourselves?  Positive self-talk, if practiced, can be a way to enhance how we view ourselves and lead to a greater love and respect for ourselves.  Being intentional to the messages we say to ourselves and changing them to positive statements can be a gift that we give ourselves and reflect the gift that our existence represents. 

The practice of being kinder to ourselves is reflected in the concept of self-compassion.  Dr. Kristin Neff describes the idea of self-compassion as a practice of being kind to oneself.  Her website has audio, video and resources to help you in your practice of self-compassion.  In addition, she offers exercises that you can use to further accept the practice of self-compassion into your life.  See https://self-compassion.org/

As you consider ways of how to improve your attitude or make it more positive consider committing to working on improving your self-talk.  My hope it that it will allow you to see the benefits of self-compassion and begin to incorporate it into your life. 

Summer - A Time to Re-center

New Year’s Eve is associated with a time of revelations where one considers new healthy lifestyle goals.  I often wondered whether the summer is another time where one can reevaluate one’s life and establish new ways of living.  With the change of warm weather and the perception of longer days (due to additional sunlight) I think that it creates the perfect time to begin to implement self-care and self-enhancement.  With better weather, opportunities for activities that are centered outside become more realistic and attainable.  But with the improved mood that is associated with more daylight, any activity geared toward emotional and physical wellness is enhanced.  The summer also provides the opportunity to begin to put in place a routine that will be necessary once future, more stressful times (fall, winter) arrive.  Perfect a practice now that will sustain you through the busier months ahead.  Trying to implement new goals during a stressful period is more difficult so it makes sense to utilize the period of sunshine and warmth in making decisions that will improve your health for years to come.   

Six ways for America to deal with the environmental destruction of hurricane season

Recent weeks have been overwhelmed with news of the death and destruction caused by the hurricanes and flooding through the Atlantic and earthquakes in Mexico.  Americans have watched and listened to hours of media coverage of the resulting impact of these environmental events.  We await in fear and anxiety to hear from loved ones regarding their safety.  Those who are native to these areas feel grief witnessing the devastation of their homelands.  Other Americans sit and are emotionally empathic to the despair in these places.  With so many conflicting emotions and experiences, it can be difficult to figure out how to handle the affective consequences of these weather-related calamities.  Below are several interventions one can utilize to help manage the emotional aftermath of the current environmental storms.

1.       Lovingkindness.  Mindfulness is a meditative practice of relaxation that focuses on the present moment.  It is an exercise that elicits a state of awareness and has a non-judgmental approach.  Jon Kabat-Zinn created a stress reduction mindfulness program and it is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  One mindfulness related exercise is called lovingkindness where one is guided in conjuring up feelings of love and kindness for others and the world.  This practice can be utilized now in eliciting compassion for others around the world.

2.       Balance your media intake.  Unless you are using the news to obtain information related to the safety of your family members and loved ones, consider limiting your media and social media coverage of these events.  It can become addictive watching and listening to news coverage and with the preponderance of technology it is easy to obtain coverage at any time of the day, multiple times of day.  Continuing to watch the coverage can potentially lead to secondary traumatization and can result in post-traumatic like symptoms.  Consider journaling as a stress reduction strategy with the added time you gain from limiting your engagement in watching and listening to news media coverage.

3.       Reach out to others.  Much of the devastation reported in the news coverage triggers a sense of a loss of connection.  Consider reaching out to your social support network.  Seeking support from available family and friends can be helpful during this time.  Leaning on each other can help you manage more effectively.  If you are finding it increasingly hard to manage your symptoms consider seeing a mental health professional to obtain additional resources and coping interventions.

4.       Regain a sense of Safety and Security.  Acknowledging that your feelings related to current events are causing a perception of a threat to safety and security can be helpful.  Maslow’s five stage theory identifies the second stage as involving all humans needing to have a sense of safety and security.  In addition, attachment theory refers to the connective behaviors we have with our loved ones and friends, but can also extend to places such as places of origin.  When we experience a disruption to these connections we can also feel a sense of loss, as well as feelings of being unsafe and insecure.  Consider utilizing prayer or mindfulness to help restore your balance and sense of safety and security. 

5.       Do something.  Often times, when we experience events that feel out of our control we become even more focused on obtaining some element of control back into our lives.  If you are financially able to consider sending resources to those in need or organizing large scale donations of needed supplies and priority items.  Also, as discussed before, practicing lovingkindness is believed to be powerful in creating an energy that results in an increased sense of compassion and has a positive effect on the universe.  Whether your gifts are financial or emotional in nature, both are needed in helping meet the needs of those affected.

6.       Regain faith through acts of heroism.  Many acts of heroism are also being seen in the midst of the destruction and chaos of these recent weather events.  Powerful images and stories of those who put their own concerns, fears and safety to the side to help their fellow humankind is inspiring.  It serves as a reminder that even in the throes of despair, compassion, kindness and courage prevail.   

What is wellness and how can it benefit me?

Wellness is being intentionally aware of and making active decisions to live a healthy and meaningful life.  Engaging in wellness involves an effort to increase balance in the many areas of your life (i.e., emotional, physical, spiritual, social).  Your thoughts, feelings and daily experiences influence your well-being.  The impact of stress if not addressed or managed can have a detrimental impact on your life.  With the amount of stress that is experienced every day it can be difficult to manage without having maladaptive consequences in certain areas of your life.  But there are multiple ways you can begin to address the stress in your life and work to achieve enhanced well-being.  You are unable to completely get rid of stress, but there are many ways you can manage it. 

One way to start is to begin to prioritize yourself.  In our society, you are often tasked with meeting the needs of others and you can lose the opportunity to meet your own needs.  It would be beneficial for you to commit to taking time to consider what your needs are and how you might meet them.  One exercise you can implement is to take a moment to sit and identify your needs.  Jot them down and refer to them routinely to make sure you are making steps to find ways to meet those needs.

Another way to prioritize yourself is to take time for yourself.  You might find this hard to do.  You might in fact have an extremely busy schedule and you have to juggle many familial and work obligations.  But part of making the commitment to having better emotional and physical health is putting in the time and effort to enhance your well-being.  Begin to think of ways that would allow you some time to yourself, even if you start with just ten minutes a day.  Have a list handy of what you would do if you get a few minutes to focus on yourself.  Set reminders of the importance to take time for yourself. 

The key in obtaining wellness is to find activities that are beneficial to you.  That means that you might have to try out a few to see if they work.  You also might need to create a range of activities and utilize specific ones based on how you feel.  For example, categorize your activities by strength of effectiveness and how much time you have.  For example, if you are stressed, engaging in mindfulness might be more effective for you as opposed to drinking a cup of tea.  Rank order your activities so you know which ones to use and when.  In addition, identifying activities by time will allow you to prioritize which activity would be helpful and effective based off of how much time you have available.  Finally, one additional thing you should consider is placing self-care activities in your schedule.  By actively placing it into your schedule makes it a priority.  Begin to shift your thinking regarding self-care and remind yourself that you deserve it and that by engaging in it will allow you to be healthier in order to continue tackling the stresses of life.  Try and value the time you set aside by not moving your self-care activities unless it is an emergency.  Work up to valuing it as importantly as you would any other activities, (work, doctor appointments, etc.).

The following interventions are other ways to increase your overall wellness.

  • Deep Breathing is an easy intervention in the sense that all you need is your ability to breathe and you can do this quite easily in any setting.  Pay attention the next time you are stressed and see if your breathing is faster.  By intentionally slowing your breathing down, you automatically begin to slow all of your other physiological symptoms. 
  • Mindfulness is a guided meditative practice that encourages you to stay in the present moment and allows you to take a non-judgmental approach.  Mindfulness has shown to be effective in the reduction of stress as well as many emotional and medical conditions.  There are many apps available to help you in your practice of mindfulness.
  • Yoga has become very popular in recent years and there are many forms of yoga practice available.  Consider whether yoga would be right for you.  Yoga has many benefits including strength building and increasing flexibility.  Include a yoga practice that has a meditative practice and you can also receive the benefits of relaxation, stress relief and heightened awareness.  Remember to check in with your primary care physician before starting new forms of exercise.
  • Energy Psychology or Energy work is based on the premise that the human body is an energy system.  If dysfunction is found in any part of the energy system, disruption will be experienced in the emotional or physical realm and can lead to emotional and physical manifestations.  An energy healer can assess where the disruption is in the system and treat it.  See a credentialed energy provider to see how energy work can be beneficial to you.
  • Biofeedback is an intervention that measures your physiological symptoms in order to give you a sense of how relaxed you are or not.  Providing you with a graphical representation of your physiological symptoms gives you a real time look into your levels of relaxation.  Once you obtain this information you can utilize other stress management exercises to help you increase your experience of relaxation and reduce your stress.
  • Journaling is an intervention that can be used in psychotherapy to help increase introspection, gain clarity and help with regulating your emotions.  Targeted journaling (journaling focused on an exploration of your thoughts and feelings) can be helpful if done intentionally and on a regular basis.  Journaling, especially along with monitoring by a mental health professional can be very insightful. 
  • Art allows one to be expressive and it is often used as a healing exercise or a stress reduction or creative intervention.  You don’t have to be an artist to engage in art activities.  Try using an adult coloring book or collaging or even doodling – the benefits are still present with these other modalities.  Also, consider incorporating art into your journaling.  Often times our emotions are not at the verbal level and art can be helpful in aiding you in managing your emotions when you are having trouble finding the words.

Whichever intervention you choose, the point is to be intentional about your self-care.  Start small and set a goal of incorporating one new self-care activity into your schedule.  Once you become successful with that activity you can move on to see what other activities you would like to incorporate.  Good luck on your journey of obtaining better self-care!   

The Value of Psychotherapy

Unfortunately stigma still plays a major role in preventing individuals to seek treatment.  In addition, cultural and religious beliefs influence one's willingness to participate in psychotherapy.  Despite these concerns psychotherapy can be a useful resource for everyone.  

Often it is assumed that psychotherapy is related to severe emotional experiences.  Psychotherapy is in fact useful for a wide range of concerns, issues and disorders.  Psychotherapy aids in the treatment of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression but it also provides insight and value for personality disorders, which are types of disorders that involve a rigid and maladaptive pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving.

Psychotherapy can also be beneficial for short or long term issues related to grief, loss, relationship conflict, work issues and better self-understanding.  In fact, it can provide benefits in the following areas:

  • Life Adjustments, such as divorce, moves, and other life events
  • Trauma, Interpersonal Trauma, Grief and Loss (abuse, family conflict, friendship/romantic relationship breakups, divorce, separations, death)
  • Diversity (Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexuality, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, age)
  • Interpersonal Conflicts (familial, friendship, romantic, peer and work relationships)
  • Self-Esteem
  • Academic Issues (college, graduate school, professional school)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Mind/Body Balance (illness, physical and emotional health)

One of the most significant benefits of psychotherapy is the confidentiality it affords.  Psychotherapy allows one to have a confidential space with a trained provider who has only your well-being in mind.  In outside relationships (i.e., relationships outside of therapy) others often project their own expectations and desires for our lives.  In psychotherapy, you can explore and seek insight into the best course of life for you.  You also don't have to worry about a common concern with outside relationships, such as the perception of burdening someone else with personal issues. 

The therapeutic relationship (i.e., the relationship between you and your therapist) is important.  One goal of psychotherapy is to build trust within the therapeutic relationship.  This is extremely helpful in providing the safety necessary to be able to open yourself up to disclosing your personal thoughts and feelings.  Just like with any treatment provider, it is important to find the right fit.  It is important to find a mental health professional that has expertise in the particular area that you are experiencing issues.

Because the therapeutic relationship also involves the relationship between you and your provider, it is important for you to challenge yourself to work on the building of the relationship.  If uncomfortable feelings come up in the relationship it is important to work on them within the therapeutic relationship.  In ideal situations, the therapeutic relationship does not involve particular problems of outside relationships.  The therapeutic relationship, unlike other relationships, is able to hold the uncomfortable feelings that make outside relationships difficult.  It will be helpful for you to confront the therapeutic relationship with any uncomfortable feelings you might be having.  This is your treatment and in the end it will get you closer to your therapeutic goals.  However, if you become unhappy with your therapeutic relationship do not give up with the potential of psychotherapy altogether.  Consider whether you and your therapist can work it out or whether another therapist might be a better fit. 

Psychotherapy can benefit anyone wanting to obtain better understanding, treatment for emotional disorders or coping strategies to aid in particular areas.  Psychotherapy can be utilized with a wide range of problems and issues.  Consider today how psychotherapy can be beneficial to you and your needs.