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Sharpe-Jefferson: Strong Black Women and Redefining Mental Health

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson

She is a powerful force.

She is emotionally strong.

She appears to bear it all.

The traditional image of the strong Black woman – is it to be revered or recreated?

The image needs to be challenged, at least to a degree. I realize I may ruffle some feathers, but at least hear me out on this.

When we think of the strong Black woman, she’s typically the one who’s had to “carry” others’ burdens, including the ramifications of their bad decisions, financial missteps and personal inadequacies, all while attending to her own personal and household needs.

Whether single or married, she carries the weight of trying to help “bail others out” whether through prayer or real means. In fact, others come to expect it of her. And most often, she steps into the role successfully on the surface.

But, having witnessed strong Black women in my family “bear it all” under pressure, I also witnessed the weight of it all come crashing down on them. In other words, there’s always a cost to carrying more than you were intended to bear.

Support others through their trials? Yes. But wholeheartedly take the weight of others’ lives and decisions onto yourselves? In my opinion, no. 

If we don’t start addressing this in our community, we will continue to pay a hefty cost.

I’ve seen far too many women crumble under the pressure (boulders) and false idea (bricks) of carrying one another’s burdens. We know that we can carry boulders and bricks for only a short amount of time. Most often very short.

We lend out excessive money or pay the debts of others; have the rescue syndrome and step in to help each time there is a problem with another; carry the mental toll (anxiety, depression and/or stress and nervousness) of others’ bad decisions and the consequences they suffer.

This mental toll is the most grievous of all repercussions women suffer. Stress, depression and anxiety were already at an all-time high in our community. Add in COVID, and these numbers, I believe, will continue to deal an even more devastating blow in the near future if we do not act now.

So, strong Black woman (and I include myself in this category), what can you do to relieve the pressure and redefine your role in helping others? Remember small tweaks can make a major difference in your response.

  • First, understand and study healthy boundaries. Know how you can support others in more helpful and healthful ways. Then do it.
  • Relieve the mental pressure. Talk to a counselor. Have an outlet to help you cope with your own life and those you feel responsible for.
  • Talk to friends and family about additional resources. Don’t automatically assume you’re the only one who can help others in need.
  • Develop an additional support system. Allow others to hold you accountable for changed behavior.

Repeat steps 1 – 4.

Am I saying we shouldn’t help those in need? Absolutely not. Am I saying in some cases we need to redefine our help to make sure it doesn’t come at a grave cost to us personally? Yes, I am boldly saying that.

Remember, you matter too. And this is no knock on anyone, just a reminder to us all to take care of our most precious asset – our mental health.

Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson is a life coach, author and speaker. Her columns appear the first and third Thursdays of each month. You can contact Keisa at keisa@keisasharpe.com and visit http://www.allsheanaturals.com for natural hair and body products.