HealthOpinionRadical Self Care

Insights From A Therapized Black Woman

September 27, 2023

As a proud therapy patient and advocate, I’ve been vocal about its benefits and it always leads to people asking me what my biggest takeaways are. When I reflect on being ‘therapized’ , there’s always more to say than I can write or explain in one go, but there are paradigms and practices that have been central to my journey and have shifted my worldview. 

It’s easy to tell people to get therapy but it’s not easy to access and that is only the beginning. The therapy process can present real challenges; from finding the right practitioner fit, having enough money to invest in it or mitigating the cost through medical insurance which comes with its own hoops to jump through. Once you’re in therapy though, there is no guarantee it all goes well, because we can still experience harm if our racial, cultural, spiritual, ethnic, sexual, gender, national or other nuances and intersections to our being are not fully integrated. 

I was lucky (because it does take a bit of luck) to find the right practitioners when I needed it and this last go around (about 3 years) the process of healing trauma felt like I was working from the ground up. It was not easy and often included false starts, self doubt and resistance to surrendering to the process or being vulnerable. As time went on and as it became easier to show up for myself I noticed what practices, themes or thoughts moved the needle of my internal compass. 

Noticing The Shifts 

The point of therapy was working through the trauma that had contributed to my mental illness’ and to make the unconscious conscious, which provides an opportunity to heal it. It brought me the ability to develop language for my experiences, gain much needed perspective and compassion for my journey whilst being vulnerable, processing and integrating certain praxis daily, with patience and through trial and error. 




Insidious Shame and Guilt 

Shame is something all marginalized people know intimately, we were raised on its corrosive and powerful influence. It felt like therapy turned down the volume long enough for me to distinguish whose shame I was carrying and why, what was actually mine and what was handed to me as projection and insecurity of others. I had listened to these others and I had collected their projections over many years. Shame said that because of my identities and intersections, I should find myself, always subconsciously ashamed. So my task became to become aware but also to find ways to start reducing the shame’s outsized meaning in my life, with the knowledge that it’s likely a lifelong journey.

Feeling My Feelings

When I first heard this I scoffed at how ridiculous it sounded, of course I feel my feelings, I’m the most feeling-ist person I know (pisces moon). But what I quickly understood was that because of trauma, life’s daily grind and the realities of being a fat, racialized queer woman: there were a myriad of ways I’ve learned not to feel my feelings because of how scary really big they were. 

It’s much easier to shut feelings down than we think, we’re conditioned to deny our true selves and emotions or are invalidated and dismissed too many times. In order to cope and after decades of survival mode, I became very good at shelving my feelings, to a point where I wasn’t even conscious I was doing it. We’re talking shame, heartache, depression, disappointment, sometimes even happiness and joy which can be a double edged sword for many trauma survivors. It was a rude awakening to learn that just merely thinking of my feelings wasn’t actually *feeling* them, nor was everything Solange mentioned in ‘cranes in the sky’. And it was an even ruder awakening when I realized the long term impact suppressing my emotions had on my body i.e my sleep patterns,  hormones, cortisol levels, muscles and brain to name a few. My entire body stored everything I didn’t want to deal with and found a way to FORCE me to deal with them often at a later more inconvenient time., 

Befuddled yet determined, I used therapy, books, talking with loved ones (practicing vulnerability), and free resources from licensed therapists on Instagram and Youtube. The central and vetted (by me) truth was that the best way for me to work through my emotional pain was to allow myself to actually feel it. Said even simpler: it was to stop in my tracks, to drop my awareness into my body and to bravely let the emotions embody me– to cry the hot ears, scream the anger, to be fully in despair knowing I can handle it. Practicing this taught me that feelings are not facts, feelings change, and that pain is temporary too– all of which were positive signs of how my capacity to FEEl was growing.

Dear reader, I went from regularly bottling my emotions to regularly processing them as soon as they come up. I’m not perfect at it and that’s not the point. I’m still learning to manage it all, there are still HUGE emotions I get scared to deal with , but those are less these days and the time between feeling discomfort and processing it decreases with each brave attempt. 


Being Present

Being present relates to feeling your feelings but still deserves its own shine. This is something I’m sure everyone has heard of and might have tried to integrate in their lives to some degree. We’re distracted, tired, overworked, and wired by technology and capitalism. It’s natural to struggle being present in today’s world, but it’s more important than ever and of course I initially thought it just meant that I should stop and smell the roses once in a while but it’s a little more than that. 

The practice of becoming present was useful during a crisis when I felt panicky or as a daily practice of mindfulness. When I found myself anxious about the future or the past, grounding techniques became crucial to help me slow down and get back to equilibrium. On a day to day basis, mindfulness techniques helped me stop the high speed multi-railway in my body or when I found myself drifting off, dissociating or fixating. 

Another thing I learned was that not being present can be a double edged sword, it’s not just a way to escape discomfort or downright awful things but the continued practice of tuning out of our life moments however big or small can also be a real thief of joy. In our world today this joy is critical and that thievery makes it hard to embody what’s good and what works in our lives, because it makes us wonder when the other shoe will drop.


Kindness & Self Compassion

Deep self compassion and empathy were a rarity, if you’ve grown up in survival mode it’s almost natural to push yourself harder than anyone around you, which includes taking on the voices of the critics in our lives and making them ours. 

From a nitpicking parent, a bully at school, an overly critical friend whatever it is there are many ways we’ve learned to beat other people to the punch by using unkind tactics and fear/anxiety as a motivator. It’s why so many of us can relate to feeling that no one is as hard on us as we are on ourselves. 

Self flagellation and deprecation has become so culturally normal. The concept of being kind to myself at first felt like a platitude, something of the “live, laugh, love” kind. But learning just how outsized the voice of my inner critic was, how the way I would speak to myself or motivate myself sounded cruel, unforgiving, impatient and just plain nasty. It was scary because I genuinely would never speak to a friend that way , so why was it OK to speak to myself like that?? Being this hard on myself wasn’t just making me tired, it made me hyper vigilant and constantly seeking all the ways I was not only wrong– but it zoomed in on mistakes or threats both real and perceived in a way that often felt insurmountable. 

If there is one thing I continue to learn about daily, it is that there are more and more ways I can be kind to myself, like noticing negative self-talk and building a kinder voice for myself. It also meant constantly affirming my inherent worthiness, being extra kind to my body and just becoming my own number 1 fan. It was slow and awkward but over time and with some accountability from my support systems it became easier to be kinder to myself in all types of moments.


How Could This Connect to The Collective?

When I think about how helpful these themes and practices were for me on a personal level, I often feel that on face value they are helpful frameworks for building community too, especially where our whole being is important, protected and nurtured. 

  • Can we create space for people to feel their feelings? Can we allow them nuance and grace? 
  • Can we teach how to be present? To enjoy the moment more with both uncomfortable and joyful things? 
  • Can we be kinder to each other? Can we actively pursue a rhetoric that holds our individual and collective humanity dear, that finds ways to comfort, motivate, drive and care for each other in love and kindness?

To end on a personal note, going to therapy meant more than just making it to my appointment and even though it’s not a perfect treatment I’m grateful for the impact it’s had on me.