Earlier this week, Vegan Sista posted a short video on YouTube about a typical experience of micro-aggression in the workplace and ended by asking how other black women find balance in such situations.

As I’ve said before and I’m sure I’ll say again, the whole Strong Black Woman archetype is a myth.  It’s true that we’re often brought up to take pride in our strength and resilience in the face of adversity, but without balance, this can lead to the manifestation of complex forms of depression in black women.

This is an except from Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams “African American leaders in particular face tremendous obstacles rising to the top and even greater challenges staying there….And being a Black woman, you have to fight four times harder to succeed…We are the face of the struggle and are expected to always show strength, grit, determination and confidence. Depression looks like the corporate executive who wears and airtight game face all day and collapses at home every night, so tired of acting the part that [s]he can’t enjoy h[er] own life”.

Terrie M.Williams interviewed hundreds of women of colour on their experience of dealing with race and gender bias in workplaces that are largely dominated by white, male culture. In the course of these interviews, she identified several survival strategies that many of these women were using and which I can identify with:

  • “Shifting” speech, appearance and/or behaviour according to the situation, in order to navigate racial and gender bigotry, at the expense of their authenticity.
  • Diassociation from emotions and lack of self-nurturing, which she dubbed the “Sisterella Complex”.  Women who were working very hard, but seem quite disconnected from their own needs.
  • Remaining silent about their problems and not letting stress show, which is a legacy of how black families evolved to cope with slavery.  In Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace, Dr Brenda Wade writes “Generations ago ….the luxury of being depressed or taking a day off didn’t exist. So we’ve incorporated it into our own mentality today that no matter how tired I am, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working”.

The problem with all of these coping strategies is, if practiced long-term, they all lead to various forms of depression.

So how to find balance?  For me, I’ve found the following helpful.

1. Getting back in touch with my body through yoga, meditation and menstruality.

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2. Listening to and responding to my own emotions & intuition.

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3. Recognising the primacy of selfcare

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4. Living by The Four Agreements, which is such a valuable gift from Don Miguel Ruiz.

In this context of seeking balance in the face of adversity, Agreement 2 “Do not take anything personally” was particularly transformational for me and Agreement 3 “Don’t make assumptions”.

When I practice them faithfully, all Four Agreements help me achieve a deeper level of self-mastery in any situation, whilst remembering Agreement 4, there is no such thing as perfection so all you can do is your best.

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Sources:

Featured image by Rikard Elofsson via Flickr under Creative Commons license
The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris (2015)
Black Pain: It Just looks Like we’re not hurting by Terrie M. Williams (2008).
Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden (2004)
Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton and Marilyn Ferguson (1994)
Power Choices: Seven signposts on your journey to wholeness, love, joy and peace by Dr Brenda Wade (2005)
The Four Agreements: Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec Wisdom) by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997)

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