Broken Silence: Opening Your Heart and Mind to Therapy--A Black Woman's Recovery Guide

Broken Silence: Opening Your Heart and Mind to Therapy--A Black Woman's Recovery Guide




For too many years, African American women have suffered in silence under the dual oppressions of racism and sexism. Expected to care for others before they care for themselves, forced to deal alone with emotional and physical abuse, black women have turned stress and rage inward—with devastating consequences. But life doesn’t have to be this way. In Broken Silence, renowned psychologist Dr. D. Kim Singleton, herself a black woman, shares the inspiring stories of eight African-American women who have healed themselves by opening their hearts and minds in therapy.

Dr. Singleton traces the psychology of today’s black women back to the days of slavery, when female slaves suffered abuse in silence—or died. Over the centuries, black women have learned to survive by adopting strategies like “keep your business to yourself” or “take your problems to the Lord,” with the result that giving voice to their pain is often the hardest part of the process. For Amy, breaking the silence meant facing up to the sexual abuse she suffered from her father for years. For Ava, it meant admitting that she depended, emotionally and financially, on a husband who tried to kill her. For Kate, it meant acknowledging a pattern of surrendering her identity and self-esteem to the men whose love she wanted. For all of these women, and hundreds of others Dr. Singleton has helped over the years, entering therapy took courage they didn’t know they had. But it has literally saved their lives.

The stories gathered here read like novels about remarkable women struggling to overcome a legacy of suffering, loneliness, and deep humiliation. ButBroken Silence also provides clear advice and guidance that will help all women deal with their most difficult life issues. Whether it’s keeping a journal, turning to the Bible for solace and insight, or adopting new strategies for coping with the pressures of the work place, there are many practical ways to confront stress and build hope.

Women, especially black women, need to know that they are not alone in their experience of abuse, failed relationships, and career disappointment. They need to see that personal change is possible, and that lasting change can come from breaking the silence in therapy. Broken Silence is the book that will start the healing process and give women the power and clarity to live happy, effective lives.

Author Biography: D. Kim Singleton, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, trainer, and motivational speaker. She maintains a large private practice where she focuses on mood and anxiety disorders and Black women’s issues. The recipient of a doctoral degree from George Washington University, Dr. Singleton has made more than eight hundred public appearances as a seminar leader, trainer and speaker. Dr. Singleton is married and the mother of a daughter and two sons. She and her husband live in Maryland.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345446442
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2003
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.76(w) x 8.68(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

D. Kim Singleton, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, trainer, and motivational speaker. She maintains a large private practice where she focuses on mood and anxiety disorders and Black women’s issues. The recipient of a doctoral degree from George Washington University, Dr. Singleton has made more than eight hundred public appearances as a seminar leader, trainer and speaker. Dr. Singleton is married and the mother of a daughter and two sons. She and her husband live in Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

Society’s stereotypical view of our foremothers as strong, subservient, emotionless breeders placed tremendous weights on them and succeeding female generations.
Slave women took care of White women and their households, husbands, and children while taking care of their own children, often fathered by White slave masters. Often, the demands of attending to White women kept them from their loved ones entirely. When the enslaved children and adults were split up and moved to other plantations, slave women cared for the extended families that remained.
The primary role of taking care of other people was one that our foremothers could not change or escape. To do so invited punishment or even death. The inability to protect their own children and keep their families together added to the emotional and physical pain they already bore in silence. Moreover, slave women did not have the luxury of “time out” to grieve their losses and heal from the offenses doled out. They had to keep moving in hostile environments, fulfilling the responsibilities thrust upon them.
Being oppressed and trapped in a society that heralded women as the fairer sex, yet denied Black women the perks of being female, was one of the many contradictions that flooded our foremothers’ lives. The image of marriage as a haven where women stayed at home to be cared for financially and emotionally was not an option that slave status permitted. Black women performed the same tasks as slave men, in addition to their other duties.
Society characterized women as soft, weak, and cultured but treated slave women as tough, strong, and coarse. All that was touted as physically beautifuland desirable was the opposite of the average Black woman’s characteristics. Slave women worked as asexual beings but were sexually assaulted at the same time.
As society abused them, slave women developed defenses to help them survive and cushion the abuse. The illusion of being needed and valued by owners linked self-worth with service to others: If I’m needed to take care of others and keep things going, I must be of some value. Doing for others also taught slave women to fix things. Without resources, they were usually left to make something out of nothing. Fixing gave them a sense of control and power over at least some external influences.
Slavery left the indelible legacies of taking-care-of-others, silence, and tolerance-for-pain that Black women experience to this day. They have affected how we think, act, and feel about ourselves.
We take care of others before considering our own needs. In doing so, we are forever trying to fix. If we can fix it, we can deal with it. We appear able to handle situations because we have always had to and feel locked into doing so. Others in our world know they only have to wait before we become impatient at something not getting done. It’s our if-I-don’t-do-it, it-won’t-get-done mentality. Assuming responsibility to make something better adds another item to our ever-expanding list of things to do, even when we are already overwhelmed.
Silence and masked feelings were survival tactics that helped our foremothers to stay alive. The slave status that forced them into hard labor and into taking care of their owners’ sexual needs also forced them into silence about their abuse because they had no rights or protectors.
Family relationships help us to further understand the legacy of silence. Family systems are our sources of support, advice, help, and protection unavailable anywhere else. When something goes wrong within the family, then, there are few places to turn. Silence becomes a mantle of protection hiding fear, guilt, and shame. It helps us to manage conflicting emotions, particularly in cases of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse where the same person is both violator and protector. Revealing abuse is threatening because it makes everyone vulnerable, but when no one tells, the impact of the abusive acts remains hidden.
And silence extends even deeper into our psyche to issues of self-disclosure, trust, and vulnerability. Making ourselves known by revealing our deepest feelings and attitudes involves risk. It exposes our weaknesses and defenses. Defenses protect our ego. We can be hurt. Self-disclosure is likely to be made only to those whom we see as trustworthy. Family and friends traditionally fulfill these roles and have likely shown their concern and care. We are reluctant to trust and show ourselves to persons with whom our experiences have been clouded by their negative behavior, discriminatory practices, or both. The history of race in America clouds the relationship every White therapist has with their Black clients.
African American women continue this tradition of silence. So like our foremothers, we hold in our pain. We keep our secrets. We take care of other people, even when they are kicking our backsides. We develop fix-it mentalities that cause us to overwork. We feel guilty about taking care of ourselves.
Tolerance for pain evolved from issues of safety and trust. It was futile for our foremothers to talk about their pain to anyone who could do something about it. There were no protectors, thus they were open to danger, harm, and inhumane treatment. The friendships formed among themselves provided nurturing and enabled them to pass on survival skills without interference from slave masters. Grin and bear it, an unspoken mandate modeled by slave mothers, has been passed down through generations. Consequently, Black women have borne emotional and physical pain for so long that living with it is a normal state.
To change this behavior requires us to take care of ourselves first. (It’s harder to pull someone else up when we’re on our knees.) Talking about the concerns that we feel are unspeakable is a crucial step because the energy that holds the information inside can then be released for creative use. This also holds true when we tell the people in our lives what we need from them instead of assuming that they should already know. The comfort level we achieve with new behavior strengthens our emotional safety and security. We can then trust and allow into our lives those reliable people who not only care what happens to us but are also available, without penalties, when we need them.
Perhaps one reason for the wide appeal of Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale is that it taps into our vulnerability, safety, and trust issues and tolerance for pain. It reveals some of our weaknesses and strengths; our need to be loved, protected, and valued; and our will to survive.
Sexual Predators and Our Bodies
Those who enslaved our foremothers fostered images of Black women as sexually uninhibited and available to give others pleasure anytime they wanted it. Apparently, owners excused themselves from any moral code in committing the vile acts since slaves were legally property. Furthermore, such legal sanction may have allowed “Christian” men to overlook the religious taboos against sex between master and slave. At any rate, the forced sexual encounters bred feelings of unworthiness in the victims.
The negative images and women’s silence about sexual, physical, and emotional abuse have lasted till this day, and we endure them. With few exceptions, our portrayals in movies and television remain stereotypes: wanton hussies, mammies, head-shaking smart-mouthed mamas, and gangster girls.
The bashing continues through music that calls us disrespectful, degrading names, ridicules us as insensitive battle-axes, and blames us for the problems of Black men. Unfortunately, there are Black men (and even women) who sing and promote these songs. When we consider the negative associations assigned to our bodies, race, and gender, it is amazing that we have any self-esteem at all. Nevertheless, our will to survive is strong. It propels us forward in different ways at different speeds and levels—often with pain.
Self-esteem—the evaluations we make and express about our personal worth—varies. Degrees of high and low self-esteem are influenced greatly by the type of support network surrounding us and the self-reflections we receive from them. Primary family groups that offer consistently positive, supportive environments and appropriate boundaries provide the nourishment that fosters higher self-esteem. The reverse is also true. Negative, unsupportive environments foster lower self-esteem. Internalized messages of unworthiness and the need for love are reasons why some women allow their bodies to be used.
Hardships have fine-tuned Black women’s survival instincts. These instincts are strong because they have been developed and tested throughout the centuries. Black women have to work harder. It takes energy to counteract the negative forces directed toward us and to manage the multiple roles in which we are cast. The struggle sometimes produces depression from the pressures of our realities. Fine-tuned survival instincts, however, help to counter feelings of low self-esteem.
The greater tragedy is to society itself. When Black women are forced to operate in survival modes, our potential contributions to society are diminished. Energy is lost that could otherwise be directed in constructive, creative ways. We have only to look at the lives of Black women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and Whoopi Goldberg, to name a few, and the contributions they made despite adversity. Imagine the many other Black women whose potential contributions to society were lost because their creative energy was consumed simply in the act of surviving.

Copyright© 2003 by D. Kim Singleton, Ed.D.

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