6/29/2017 0 Comments
Intentionally choosing to thrive in your current life is revolutionary. I say this because we (and our ancestors before us) live in a time and a society that often seems to be full of hate, fear, and distress. Living in this type of environment causes us to unintentionally get into “survival mode”- which puts limits and constraints on the potential and quality for our lives. When we live in a racist or otherwise oppressive society, it often means that we also live in constant fear and anxiety for our livelihood. We are encouraged to become smaller, different, or told to be less threatening. We then begin to internalize these messages from society, and even encourage our children and loved ones to live in fear, with anxiety, and with limitations.
This sick and limiting cycle is often the result of intergenerational experiences of racial trauma. If you have not read Dr. Joy DeGruy’s “Posttraumatic Slave Syndrome” or even just watched some of her YouTube clips on this phenomena, you should! Dr. DeGruy has done an excellent job at explaining and characterizing the exact effects that extreme racism and oppressive conditions have had on Black Americans. The unfortunate part is that these conditions persist, and so do the effects. Fortunately, many psychologists and other mental health professionals are finally catching on to the fact that racial trauma is real and needs further research and study.
Racial trauma can be understood as a subset of trauma, as it specifically addresses traumatic experiences that are related to race, racism, and race-related stressors. Therefore, racial trauma can be defined as racial experiences of real or perceived threat or danger. These experiences can be directly experienced or the witnessing of someone else’s experience. This can also be triggered by hearing about the racial experiences of others. These racial experiences often cause feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, fear of safety, and perceived shortening of life expectancy (i.e. “I may not make it to 25 years old.”). Racial trauma rarely involve a single event, and is more likely to be a culmination of racial experiences, resulting in insidious and chronic stress. These racial events include individual racist events, consequences of institutional racism, effects of cultural racism, daily microaggressions, and perceived racism.
It would be difficult to find any person of color who lives in America and has not experienced some sort of racism, or race-related stressor. Therefore, it is likely that many of us experience and are impacted by varying levels of racial trauma. Likewise, it is common to encounter individuals who have experienced other traumatic events at some point in their lives. More frightening is the idea that there are many people of color who experience racial trauma, in addition to other non-racial traumas. This means that there are even more disturbing consequences for their lives.
Knowing this information about trauma, racial traumas, and knowing the conditions of the society in which we live, I want to us turn our attention to thriving. “The art of thriving” explains the manner in which one chooses to push toward a life of optimal health, wellness, and one that exceeds beyond merely surviving. While we may not always have control over the systemic or external conditions that surround us, we do have control over the following:
"The Art of Thriving"
Live in “what is…” not “what if.”
It’s important for us to learn to build our lives around what is, rather than what if. Many of us are notorious for living a life of what if- “What if this happens,” “What if that happens,” “What if this doesn’t work,” “What if this goes wrong.” The problem with what if is that it leads to infinite possibilities, most of which never happen. Entertaining multiple what ifs leave us feeling anxious, emotionally distressed, and can lead to depression, as we begin to feel hopeless about the future and out of control. Today, start to put more energy into what is happening right now. What is happening right here, right now, in this very moment? Practice living in the present moment, because every moment of life truly should be enjoyed in the present.
Celebrate the wins.
When we live in a world and society full of oppression, chaos or toxic energy, it’s very easy to notice the negative things happening. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to find the negative than the positive. So, where are the wins? Today, start to be intentional about finding the wins. Moments of peace, joy, laughter, etc. are not distractions. They are necessary to find and incorporate balance in our lives. We all need some wins and we need to get really good at finding them. Find your balance between happiness, joy, humor, and a healthy dose of awareness in what is happening in the world.
Feed and nourish yourself.
We must get into the habit of feeding and nourishing ourselves with holistic wellness and care, i.e. self-care. Our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual selves need to be fed and well nourished. When we are well fed and nourished, we are then better able to sustain the stressors that come into our lives. It’s like a protective bubble or protective shield. When we are physically fit, emotionally healthy, have positive relationships, have good role models, when we feel good about our jobs, etc., negative things don’t impact us as much. Today, figure out in what ways you can begin (or continue) to feed and nourish yourself (this may help!).
Strengthen your sense of agency.
When you are marginalized or oppressed, you become accustomed to feeling like external factors have a very unfair, unjust and controlling influence on your life. Yes, there are many things that are out of our control and have the power to influence our life in negative ways. This compromises our ability to develop our own sense of agency- the belief in the choice and control we have in our lives. So, thriving comes with strengthening this sense of agency. We tend to have a stronger sense of well-being when we feel that we have control over our own lives. Today, find a way to take back your agency by noticing what you do have control over in this moment of your life. Tap into the choices you have or the moments where you can take control over your life. Steer the direction of your life in your favor. Don’t give away your agency to the ills of the world.
Live in accord with your values.
Whenever I have a client who is having trouble redirecting their life, I always encourage them to tap into their values. What do you value? What matters to you? What is important to you? What principles do you live by? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be? Our values are important because they guide our actions, influence our behaviors, drive our perceptions of the world, and have a lot of impact on the decisions we make. Today, figure out what it is that truly matters to you by getting to the core of what you value in this life.
Do what makes you come alive.
As Howard Thurman once said, “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs most is people who have come alive.” Instead of figuring out what you can do for the world, do what makes you come alive. Do the things that you are extremely passionate about, the things that bring you happiness and joy- because this is the very gift that you need to give to the world, society, and your community. This is what the world and those around you need to see so that they, too, will feel encouraged to come alive.
Read more about healing from trauma here…
If you enjoyed reading this, also listen to Ep. 3 “The Art of Thriving” and Ep. 17 “Should we watch videos of police brutality and Black death?” of ‘A Different Perspective’ Podcast.
Earlier this week, I was blessed to receive an email titled "Open Letter." To my surprise, it was (in fact) an open letter written by one of my favorite psychologists, Derald Wing Sue. Much of my psychological and theoretical approach has been influenced by the great works of Dr. Sue. Surprisingly, this open letter is one that I had not read until recently. Today I wish to share this, in hopes that it will encourage and inspire someone else to persevere in spite of injustice, cultivate passion, strive for greatness, and achieve excellence.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of Color:
I write to you and to those white folks who have marched with us against racism and shown that their hearts are in the right place. Throughout our people’s histories, we have had to contend with invalidation, oppression, injustice, terrorism and genocide. Racism is a constant reality in our lives. It is a toxic force that has sought to
Attempts to express these thoughts have generally been met with disbelief and/or incredulity by many of our well-intentioned White brothers and sisters. We have been asked, “Aren’t you distorting the truth? Where is your proof? Where is your evidence?”
When we attempt to provide it, we are interrogated about its legitimacy, told that we are biased or paranoid, and accused of being dishonest in how we present the facts. After all, they say, “Our nation is built upon life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was founded upon the principles of freedom, democracy, and equality.” Yet, these guiding principles seem intended for Whites only. In the classic book, Animal Farm, when the issue of inequality arose, the character in a position of power justified the treatment by stating, “Some are more equal than others.”
Rather than offer enlightenment and freedom, education and healing, and rather than allowing for equal access and opportunity, historical and current practices in our nation have restricted, stereotyped, damaged and oppressed persons of color.
For too long people of color have not had the opportunity or power to express their points of view. For too long, our voices have not been heard. For too long our worldviews have been diminished, negated, or considered invalid. For too long we have been told that our perceptions are incorrect, that most things are well with our society, and that our concerns and complaints are not supported. For too long we have had to justify our existence, and to fight for our dignity and humanity. No wonder that we are so tired, impatient, and angry. Yet, as people of color, we cannot let fatigue turn into hopelessness, nor anger into bitterness. Hopelessness is the forerunner to surrender, and bitterness leads to blind hatred. Either could spell our downfall!
It is important for us to realize that despite these indignities, we have persevered and become stronger. We have survived through our collective strength. We have survived through our heightened perceptual wisdom. We have survived through our ability to read the contextualized meanings of our oppressors. We have survived through our bicultural flexibility. We have survived through our families and communities. We have survived through our spirituality and our religion. We have survived through our racial/ethnic identity and pride. We have survived through our belief in the interconnectedness of the human condition.
Unlike many of our White brothers and sisters who are untested, we have demonstrated superhuman resiliency in the face of adversity. Our perseverance in battling the forces of racism comes (a) from understanding the strengths and assets developed by our ancestors as they fought oppression and (b) from our cultural values, mores and traditions.
As persons of color, we have been subjected to inhuman stressors in our lives: (a) poverty, high unemployment rates and lower standards of living; (b) conflicting value systems imposed by a White EuroAmerican society; (c) a history of broad governmental actions that have led to the enslavement of Black Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the colonization of Native Americans; and (d) constant microinvalidations and microaggressions that strike at the core of our group identities.
In light of the historical and continuing experiences of oppression, even I marvel at our ability to continue our lives in such a normative fashion. It seems that White America exhibits minimal appreciation for the incredible strength and resiliency that we have shown in surviving and sometimes flourishing in the face of racism. Our experiences of oppression have required us to sharpen and hone our survival skills to such a degree that they now represent assets. We have learned this through the courageous and undefeatable actions of our ancestors who showed us the way. It is ironic that overcoming adversity has led us to develop an ability to understand the minds of our oppressors with astounding clarity.
So, when we begin to become tired and discouraged, when hopelessness seems just around the corner, and when we wonder what good our actions are doing, we need to remind ourselves of the strengths and assets we possess; many of them taught to us by our ancestors. We need to take pride in the fact that our heightened perceptual wisdom, ability to rely on nonverbal and contextual meanings, and bicultural flexibility has proven keys to our survival. We need to listen to the words and wisdom of Maya Angelou from her poem, Still I Rise:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt,
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
-Adapted from: Sue, D. W. (2015). Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
The recent unfortunate events regarding the Orlando 'Pulse' nightclub shooting has me thinking a lot about the very intricate complexities that can be found in various aspects of our cultures. While I often talk about perspectives that involve my own cultural variables (millennial, Black, woman, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, American, etc.), I am always intrigued by situations and conversations for which I am an outsider. This event is one in which I am an outsider.
Many communities have been impacted, both directly and indirectly, by this heartbreaking situation. Particularly, LGBTQ+ communities, Latinx communities (in addition to other communities of color), and Muslim communities. From an outsider’s perspective, I found myself amazed at how these identities and cultural groups have seemed to collide in this one very tragic incident.
There are so many aspects to consider…
These are only a few of the aspects one must consider when thinking about the complexities of this event; aspects that require you to step outside of your own worldview to consider the perspective of another. A different perspective.
In American society, -isms are constantly present, and we tend to hear them more during the aftermath of events such as these. –isms, such as homophobia and/or heterosexism, islamophobia, racism, cissexism, etc., are often anger inducing, and full of hate and rage. These -isms can also be scary, particularly to individuals who find themselves to be targets of such hate, anger, and gross misunderstanding. I have noticed the tendency for many to attempt to place blame on one or more of the communities impacted by this tragedy. I have noticed the desire to have these communities fight amongst one another, in the attempt to reconcile what has happened. I have even noticed many who are hesitant to accept the fact that all communities involved in this event are victims and are hurting tremendously.
So what can we do?
If you’re an outsider like me, consider being an ally.
Social Justice Ally: A person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group; typically a member of a dominant group standing beside member(s) of a group being discriminated against or treated unjustly.
Oppressed groups desperately need allies.
Allies are invaluable in the fight to dismantle dominance, privilege, supremacy, and reducing the amount of oppression that these less powerful groups routinely experience.
Allies are willing to educate themselves about different identities and experiences based on cultural variations.
Allies are able to challenge their own discomfort surrounding differences in culture.
Allies understand the need to explore their biases and privileges.
Allies actively learn and practice the skill of being an ally.
Allies are committed to action that will result in interpersonal, societal, institutional, and structural change.
Will you be an ally?
Learn more about being an ally here, here, and here.
Read more about how to cope with social injustice here, here, and here.
Imagine all that we could do if we are first just comfortable in our own skin.
- Amandla Stenberg
Recently, I watched a video of Amandla Stenberg explain that “My Authenticity is My Activism.” As soon as I finished listening to her message, I was amazed at the wisdom and beauty of this 17-year-old young woman. I immediately started to wish that I had a friend like Amandla when I was 17-years-old; a friend who would encourage and reassure me to be my true self. I can only imagine how different my life would have been at that time, and the years to follow. Simply put, Amandla described how she has become a social activist, and that it primarily involves pushing herself to be none other than her true self. At first, this may not sound like a radical idea, or something that should be considered “activism,” however I would argue otherwise.
The Miserable Pressure of Social Norms.
Believe it or not, there is a pressure must of us feel daily that comes from social norms. These norms tell us what to do, how to dress, what to say, and attempt to define who we should be. Social norms are everywhere, and can be drastically different based on social and cultural context. Sometimes, social norms become rich traditions that are reverenced and celebrated. Other times, social norms become inflexible and limiting. Depending on who you are, different social norms may have a different impact on you and your life.
Because social norms (which often align with the voice of the majority) are so powerful, you’re less likely to experience backlash or resistance from society when you “fit in” or follow along with the decided norms. However, that does not take away the pain and despair that comes with attempting to be someone you’re not.
Using Yourself as a Form of Resistance.
One portion of Amandla’s message that I found myself identifying strongly with was her relationship with her hair.
I’ve realized that loving myself has been a gradual process. Coming into myself as a Black person and as a woman has been a gradual process. When we grow up as Black girls, we are told we should be ashamed of our hair, we are told we should be ashamed of our bodies, and that we should be ashamed of our voices….We’re fed these advertisements that tell us to straighten our hair, as if, if we straighten it, we’ll be more civil, which is just another way of saying more White.
While this part of Amandla’s message may appeal specifically to Black Women, the overall idea is that oppressive social norms and standards often limit the expression, potential, and happiness for millions of people from various cultures, every single day. This is because these oppressive social norms often say, “your true self will not be accepted here, and so you must change.”
However, choosing to resist those social norms, and resist the pressure to fit in or conform is courageous, inspiring, and healing. These are all adjectives I would use to describe activism. Choosing to be yourself in a world that often tells you otherwise is at the core of what it truly means to be an activist. Let your true identity be your resistance. Be who you want to be and be proud of it. Then, your activism will become authentic and will speak for itself.
It’s okay to exist as yourself. Be the very best version of your true self.
How can I be an activism in a society that disparages me? ...Just by choosing to love myself, choosing to honor myself and being comfortable with my identity in a society that tells me I shouldn’t, I am starting a revolution.
Thank you, Amandla!
I've recently been exploring and researching more into the idea of Black Woman Identity Development. One theme I've always been bothered by and continues to come up is the tradition of Black women being asked to "protect" the integrity of Black men, for the greater good of the Black race. This is unique because while women in general are often told their issues are less significant, within the Black community there is pressure placed on women to diminish themselves in order to protect an entire race of people. So in a sense, asking Black women to forget that they are women, to uphold the Black community. As I personally begin to understand the significance of my womanhood and its impact on my identity, this becomes more and more problematic for me.
Black women acknowledging issues of gender-related oppression is not "Black man bashing." Bringing attention to Black women and girls should never been seen as a personal attack on Black men. It does not take away from or diminish the love and power apparent within relationship between Black men and women. It is in no way meant to demonize or diminish the character and integrity of Black men. It's simply Black women asking for recognition and protection that should innately be present, because we are human. Neglecting to understand that within the Black community still exists oppressive acts and ideologies based on gender, sexual orientation, ability status, age, SES, religion, nationality, etc. is absurd and something that I hope we can continue to illuminate.
The Black community is not a monolith, and it is possible for us to be unified while at the same time address issues that impact our lives in different ways.
What do you think? Share your thoughts!
When I was a teenager, I would fantasize about growing up during the 1950s-60s. For me, there was something very glorious, epic, and striking about being a part of the Black Civil Rights Movement. I romanticized that time period more than any other because from it I have gathered strength, determination, courage, empowerment, and inspiration. From this time period, I have learned that activism is revolutionary, appealing, effective, and extraordinarily powerful. Still today, I believe that being an activist, especially one who is willing to give your very life for a cause that is much larger than yourself, is the noblest idea I have ever known.
I have grown since then, and so has my romanticized perspective of the Civil Rights Movement. As my life evolved, so did my ideas and my understanding of activism. Now I’m able to see all the other pieces of activism that I was unable to notice before. Now, I can’t help but to notice the heaviness of rage, or how isolated one can feel within such an immense movement. The hopelessness one may feel as they attempt to fill others with hope and encouragement and the sheer hurt that comes with realizing that one’s own worth and value is conditional, are both unsettling. As said by the great James Baldwin, to be Black and relatively aware in America is to be in a constant state of rage. With that, activism isn’t so glamorous.
I was asked to write this piece as my psychologist self, to address the mental health needs of Black millennials who are dedicating their lives to the “good fight” that is so reminiscent of sixty years ago. Yet, as I write and think about this group of individuals, #blacklivesmatter, and the recent death of MarShawn McCarrel, I can’t help but to see myself as a member of this prestigious yet demanding group. So in a way, I am not only offering up advice as a psychologist to a vulnerable group, but more so attempting to see that my brothers and sisters are taken care of, as we journey down this necessary, noble, yet daunting road called activism.
What is Mental Illness?
I typically do not like to talk about “mental illness” without first addressing mental health. Mental illness is a term that many find intimidating because it implies that something is wrong, unnatural, or “crazy.” Instead, it’s much easier to talk about mental health. Why? Because mental health is natural, something everyone has, and something everyone should prioritize. I like the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of mental health, as it states:
“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
In contrast, mental illness can occur whenever one’s mental health is assaulted or compromised in any way. Based on WHO’s definition of mental health, it seems relatively easy for one to experience some sort of mental illness (ranging from relatively mild to severe) at some point in their life.
Unfortunately, mental illness is something anyone can experience, yet something that most are afraid to discuss.
What are the mental health consequences of being an activist?
Remember what I said about activism not being so pretty? Part of that includes the threats to one’s mental health that can result from involved activism. It is difficult and uncommon for one to dedicate a considerable amount of their thoughts, actions, and resources to fighting incredible injustice, yet that is exactly what several of us who are fighting the “good fight” do, constantly. Many people choose to remain unaware or oblivious, because it’s much easier to remain “asleep.”
It’s undeniable that activists are strong and incredible people. However, in regards to mental health, we are vulnerable and are more likely to have our mental health compromised due to the tremendous commitment that activism requires. Likewise, the presence of certain risk factors will put us at even greater risk. These include (but are not limited to):
So what does this look like?
Most of us are familiar with terms such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or even post traumatic stress syndrome. However, it’s very common for mental illness to manifest in ways that are not always easily identifiable. This is particularly true for children, men, and ethnic minorities. So how will you know when you or a loved one may be burnt out? Look out for the following red flags:
How to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle.
This does not mean to no longer fight for what you believe in, but to consider how you may modify your life purpose to protect yourself and preserve your mental health. This can be difficult and take some thought, but I was able to do so in this way: One of my greatest passions is the advancement of Black American, which is a large feat. However, to make it less cumbersome, but my ultimate purpose is to inspire others to feel empowered to live their best lives. I do this simply by living my best life and letting that be an example. This is only one of many ways to refine your purpose so take your time and consider what fits best for you.
In the words of the great Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” Remember this very important part of your activism. Take care of yourselves.
“How do I deal with all the horrible things going on?”
This is a question I am asked a lot.
What exactly does that mean? Well, stop for a minute and consider what comes through your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds. New engagements, new baby pictures, someone has a new job, someone is relocating, in addition to tons of articles and videos about #blacklivesmatter, #oscarssowhite, lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, Syrian refugee crisis, tampon taxes, no indictment in murder of Tamar Rice, more #islamaphobia, another death cause by excessive police force, and outrage over Making A Murderer.
The list could go on and on but the point is: This country and our world is a very troubling place and it has become more apparent than ever before.
Social Media is BOOMING!
Did you know that approximately 70 out of 100 people who live in North America access the internet? There are more than three billion internet users worldwide, which is almost three times more than there was in 2005. The internet has undoubtedly become the pinnacle of communication for millions of people. Let’s be honest: the internet is amazing! Because of the internet, we are able to communicate with friends and family from all over the world. We can learn about new trends in places we’ve never even seen. We are able to access more information than our brains could ever handle. The world is literally in the palms of our hands every single day.
However, with the increased access to information, and more visibility of the world around us, we are also realizing that maybe the world is not as comfortable as we once assumed. More so than ever before, it is easy to access videos of violent deaths, and horrible traumas. Because of the wealth of knowledge that surrounds us, there are thousands of articles, blogs, and podcasts that thoroughly articulate concepts such as cultural appropriation, White privilege, institutional oppression, economic disparity, gentrification, colorism, and microaggressions. These pieces of information are stimulating and fascinating, especially for those of us who identify as allies, and social activists who hope to make a change in the world. At the same time, this information is intrusive, overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, agitating, and downright depressing.
Remember how I mentioned that the internet is literally everywhere? Well, because of that, everyone is vulnerable to some of the negative impacts of continuous internet access. I imagine that this is something that no one anticipated before the internet existed, or even prior to the internet reaching its peak. Now, fatigue and distress surrounding the visibility of social injustices in the media is becoming more common. If you are suffering, you are not alone.
When I say that you are not alone, trust me, you are not alone. I have to be honest and say, part of me enjoys (don’t judge me) when I have people ask me about this very topic, because it also reminds me that I am not alone. The distress of social injustices began to have a significant impact on me at the time Trayvon Martin was murdered. For whatever reason, his death took a huge toll on me and I started to become angry. By the time that George Zimmerman was acquitted of charges associated with Trayvon’s death in 2013, I was living in Oakland, California and worked on the same block of the BART station that Oscar Grant had been killed just four years prior. In my eyes, racial injustice was everywhere and I had become hypervigilant of my surroundings, the people around me, and how people treated me. I was reading and Facebook sharing every article I could get my hands on about racism, oppression, police brutality, etc. I felt it was my responsibility to be aware of every single event, killing, and act of injustice that occurred.
I began to learn so much, and even had become known as the one who was the most informed of culture and social injustice amongst my friends and colleagues. I enjoyed learning new information, and really enjoyed sharing it with others. It was very important for me to know that I was informed and able to inform other people of what was happening in the world around us. However, at the same time, I was silently falling apart. Over the next year or so, it became difficult for me to focus at work, I had trouble building new relationships with other people outside of my culture, and I did not feel safe in my world. I felt incredibly isolated, overwhelmed, restless, and I constantly asked myself, “How can I make a difference?” I never felt as if I was doing enough, and started to feel guilty about even considering the idea of taking a “break” from the injustices of the world.
Steps Toward Self-Care.
While the intake of information regarding social injustice was intellectually stimulating and activated my passions for social justice, I quickly became depleted and exhausted. I had not set boundaries for myself, I had little awareness of what triggered me, I had not yet learned how to fuel my passions in more adaptive ways, I made little time for joyous moments in my life, and I neglected my spiritual well-being. It was as awful as it sounds, but luckily, I have learned a lot since 2012 and have begun to make some changes.
The most valuable lesson I have learned is that self-care is essential. You know the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” or when flight attendants urge us to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others? It all sounds cliché, but it’s all very true. How much are you able to give to others when you are absolutely depleted? How can you possibly make a change in the world if you are not energized and nurtured? What impact will you have on the world if you are angry, anxious, depressed, and full of resentment?
Gradually, I understood that I was not making the impact I had hoped for, but instead may have inadvertently spread anger, fear, and resentment. A turning point in my life came when I began to internalize the ideas of Howard Thurman, as he said, “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” With that, my focus shifted from what I felt was lacking in the world around me, to what I felt was lacking within myself. It wasn’t long before I changed my eating habits, began practicing yoga, started a meditation practice, and read tons of inspirational books, with the purpose of improving my own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I was beginning to replenish my cup and it felt good.
"What should I do?" Using Identity Salience.
First I want to make sure everyone knows that I am not advocating for you all to start juicing, going to yoga, and meditating every day. That is what my process involved, but your process could (and maybe should) be a lot different. Second, there is a formula to understanding the tips I am about to suggest, and I hope it is not too complicated. The formula involves identity salience, and how to use the salience of our identities to find the best approach to our self-care. Here’s an example:
I identify as many things: I am Black. I am a woman. I am a young adult. I am extremely spiritual, but I do not identify with any one religion. I am heterosexual. I am upper-middle class. I am able-bodied. I am American. However, most days, if I were asked to quickly sum up my identity in a few words, I am a Black woman. That is not all that I am, but it encompasses my most salient identities. As we know, being a Black person in American is often synonymous with experiences of oppression and of being part of a minority group. The same can be said for being a woman. Therefore, much of my identity is linked to my experiences and perception of oppression, lack of privilege, and feeling like a minority.
On the other hand, I cannot deny that I am a part of many privileged groups. I identify as being heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-middle class, and I am American. Therefore, those parts of my identity are mostly linked to experiences of privilege, dominance, and lack of awareness of individuals who do not belong in my group.
What I have learned is that different parts of me are triggered by different stimuli within my social and digital world. This also means that different parts of me need different approaches to self-care. However, no matter the salience of your identity, there are steps you can take to reduce or alleviate your social media fatigue.
Self-care for Oppressed Groups.
1. Take a break from social media!
What it took me awhile to realize was that my force feeding news and articles about the injustices of our society did not really enhance my knowledge of what was happening. It just reinforced my own experiences of oppression that I had felt and been well aware of for most of my life. So no wonder it causes immense anxiety, anger, and agitation. It’s somewhat like continually opening a wound that wants to heal. It slows the healing process and can be painful.
But beware, guilt well follow and come in the form of thoughts such as “…but I need to know what is going on,” or “I need to help others know what is happening.” Trust me. You know what is going on, and so do we. Allow yourself to take a break.
2. Take care of yourself.
Allow the healing process to begin. Oppression and its negative effects can gradually take its tool. It’s normal to want to fight these experiences but it’s also very necessary to make sure that your mind and body are healing from these various assaults and daily microaggressions.
So take the time to figure out what makes you feel good! Is it a good book? Maybe spending time with friends. Maybe it could be enjoying really good food or finding time for more naps. Whatever it is, do it and commit to doing it every single day.
3. Internalize one important belief.
As I mentioned previously, shifting one’s perspective from what one can give to the world to what one can give to oneself, is life altering. While there is no problem with wanting to give of yourself to make a better world for others, there is something insanely reassuring about knowing that I can also do that simply from taking the best care of myself and doing what makes me happy. It is rare to know individuals who are truly living, rather than existing. It is a gift and one of the utmost pleasures to be able to come alive in a world full of troubles.
So remember, “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman.
4. Live your best life!
Once you make self-care a priority, and begin to live a life that makes you feel whole and complete, life will begin to feel pretty good. The goal is to stay in this moment, and to continue to live the best life you possibly can, despite the circumstances of your environment. This may not feel possible every day, but it should always be the ultimate goal. You may be surprised at how much simply taking care of yourself and living your life fully will encourage and inspire others to do the exact same thing, which is exactly what the world needs most.
Self-care for Privileged Groups.
1. Take a break from social media!
Ironically, this is also the first step toward self-care for members of oppressed groups, but this is important for you as well. You may believe that you need to take in this information to understand what is going on in this world, but it actually may just be causing more anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, and shame. It’s likely time for you to step back, to ensure you are truly ready to take in such demanding information.
2. Cope with feelings of guilt and shame.
Something that is not so often talked about but that is extremely common is the experience guilt and shame when you are a member of a privileged group. The guilt and shame that comes from knowing that you are benefiting from having certain things or characteristics is unsettling. It’s even more unsettling to understand that people who do not have these things and characteristics seem to be suffering because of it, while you are able to live and not even think about them.
Yes, it is tempting to avoid talking about these benefits (also known as privileges), and to ignore these horrible feelings, but it is not a healthy way to cope. Pushing this away will only exaggerate your feelings and could cause reactionary actions that you do not anticipate, such as finding reasons for why you “deserve” such privileges, or reasons for why “those people” don’t have them. These reasons (mainly excuses) make us feel more comfortable, but are false and will continue to perpetuate negative beliefs and stereotypes about both privileged and oppressed groups.
Coping with guilt, shame, and other uncomfortable feelings associated with being a part of a privileged group is one of the very first steps to becoming a whole person. It is absolutely possible to make a positive change toward reducing social injustice while being part of a privileged group, but it is not possible without completing this step first.
3. Set limits and boundaries around your education.
For some people, learning about social injustice from social media is a great way to expand their knowledge about what is happening in their world. For others, it can feel aggressive, overbearing, intrusive, and anxiety-provoking. This can also lead to resentment and horrible denial. If this is the case for you, it is a good idea to set limits and boundaries around the education you choose. Yes, it is very important to provide yourself with education about the realities of the world and lives of other people, but there are very many ways to do this. Make your education process fit your own curiosities and lifestyle. Choose a topic you want to learn more about, then determine the speed at which you will consume this information. Once you feel comfortable, begin to challenge yourself with other topics that may be slightly out of your comfort zone, but remember to pace yourself.
4. Ask questions.
With learning new things, there will always be a time when we do not completely understand the material. When that time comes, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you have friends, family, or loved ones who are members of oppressed groups, I encourage you to share your process with them and ask if they are comfortable with your questions. Be open, honest, and transparent about your process and you will be surprised at the positive response may will receive.
5. Share your process with family and friends.
Similar to the previous step, I encourage you to continue to share you process with the people you care about, especially those who are members of privileged groups. This will help you continue to grow and because a more whole individual. You will begin to build stronger connections and relationships with people you may have felt isolated and disconnected from previously. You will also be able to lead by example, encouraging and inspiring others to challenge themselves as you have done through your process. You will soon begin to notice your growth and see that continued growth is possible and worthwhile.
Good luck on your journey! More questions? Let me know!
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.
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