Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dr. Christina Edmondson: My Cape’s in the Cleaners: Even Superwoman Needs Self-care

by Dr. Christina Edmondson, Your Black World 

There’s a small space between resiliency and self-neglect.

It’s a place where many Black and other shades of superwomen dwell. This “strong and independent” persona isn’t developed out of pride or ego, but rather a sense of timely necessity. Passed from generation to generation, this ethos is an unstated gift and “sho-nuff” burden.

At her best, superwoman overcomes great odds to strengthen not only a family, but a community. Attacks on her fortitude and character, invaluable assets in a profoundly misogynistic and racist world, are often ill-informed, insensitive, and misplaced. However, lovingly lifting the banner for self-care among Black women is long overdue. Can you join me in lifting it?

Look, a hard exterior and maybe interior has utility in a cold world but undoubtedly it complicates relationships, and both our physical, spiritual, and mental wellness. What is the real cost of being a superwoman all the time? What happens when superwoman needs help, even mental health help?

Here are some questions to consider. Think about them, pray about them, and see if something as radical as seeking and accepting help are required.

#1-Are you self-harming?

On paper, you look great but you date men who are ridiculous at best. If that same man was dating your girlfriend or sister you would be on a campaign to pull your friend to safety. What about this one? You treat your body like a dumpster, eating anything at anytime. You have no boundaries and are on every committee, organization, and task force you can find. Space doesn’t allow me to name all the ways superwomen harm themselves, Whether through relationships or habits, if this is your pattern, it’s worth resolving and at least understanding. Self-harm ends in self-destruction.

#2-Do you medicate your problems?

A bowl of ice cream can go a long way toward cheering up a taxing day. More seriously, prayer and worship can help us to connect with God and disconnect from an increasingly demanding world. However, if you find that when the going gets tough, you get going …to alcohol, illegal substances, overuse of prescribed substances, and/or toxic relationships, it’s time to re think your “self-care” method. It’s also time to bravely face the underlining issue/s you are avoiding and pacifying.

#3-Can you manage your temper?

Mood disturbance is a clear indication that something is off. There is very little difference between the angry Black woman and the depressed Black woman. If you take someone who has no permission to express emotional vulnerability, you get one testy sistah. Are you tired of being mad, all the time? Better yet, are your loved ones tired of you being mad, all the time? You can do better and regain control of your mood and behavior. Though “going hard” helps during some moments in our lives, it’s definitely not for the long haul.

#4-Are you numb?

Is your response to everything “whatever?” Are your responses to stressful or painful situations atypical-- stone-faced while everyone else is crying? Precious one, at some point, longstanding pain can become a way of life. We can hurt so deeply and in such a prolonged way that we grow numb. “It is what it is” as a coping style only has temporary benefit (if that). While numbness helps us cope with pain it puts up a wall to the joy that can be so near.

#5- Are you in denial?

Now, this one is tricky. If every honest person in your life (that is not scared of you), is concerned about your well-being and you still say “i’m good” you, my friend, are likely swimming in denial. Ask your friends, loved ones, or spouse to point out what they see that you cannot see (or will not see) and consider trusting the insight of those who love you.

#6-Are you ashamed?

Here are some one-liners I have collected over the years. “Only crazy people go to therapy!” “Only weak people have a mental illness.” “Real Christians cannot be depressed” “I don’t want people all-up in my business.” Let’s be honest , its more acceptable to hear somebody talk about Diabetes than Depression.

Look, when you go the medical doctor, you get asked some pretty personal questions. You tell them all about what’s itching and twitching. Why? You want to get better. It’s the same deal with counselors. The quicker and truer your report of “symptoms”, the faster we can help.

Many groups avoid mental health care however African Americans and Christians are at the top of the list. Considering that Black women have the highest rate of religiosity, it’s likely they represent some of the most avoidant and resistant people to mental health care. While there is a legitimate anxiety associated with the over-pathologizing or misdiagnosing of African Americans, efforts to promote cultural competence and the availability of skilled Black therapists has been beneficial. It goes without saying, Psychology is not perfect but the field cannot best understand and treat those who don’t interface with it.

#7-Are you worth it?

One of the byproducts of racism is the internalization of ideas that devalue the marginalized person. Frankly speaking, some of us don’t take care of ourselves because we don’t think we deserve it. Have you heard it said “Being happy is for White people?”

From one superwoman to another, isn’t it time we put our capes in the cleaners? Admitting that you need support is a demonstration of strength not weakness. One of my favorite proverbs is “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)This sobering reminder is piercingly true. The fall could be the collapse of one’s marriage, or the loss of your very mind.

Let’s be realistic, even the most skilled therapist, psychologist, or counselor is no instant cure. We need realistic expectations. An overweight person better not bank on one can of SlimFast to get into that 20 year reunion dress. Counseling can be painful, just like when an out-of-shape person first hits the gym. Such hard work requires bravery and commitment, but after all, I would expect nothing less from Superwoman.

Below are some links to check out in the event that you or someone you care for is considering counseling.

Christina H. Edmondson, PhD, LLP is a psychologist, college instructor and speaker. Although, much of her time and love are spent being a full-time wife and a mother of two. Please send family and relationship topics that you would like to hear about to or visit


Anonymous said...

This article is so timely. Anybody recognize themselves? I sure do and I vow right now to start doing things differently - take care of me first holistically. I want to thank the great Doctor for taking care of business.

Aleasa M. Word, CPC said...

What a phenomenal article! This speaks so much truth and I wish we could get this message across better to our sisters. I will certainly share this article as much as I can because it speaks volumes and people need to hear this! Thank you for the blessing.

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