When I was a teenager, 16 to be exact, I was bullied. This particular person, who initially was my friend, bullied me in hindsight because she was jealous of me. She was jealous that I did better in school than she did. The funny thing she was better at art than me, but that’s neither here nor there. As time went on I became super frustrated and lashed out to her. It did not go well. She and her friends made a huge deal about it, and I was ostracized from my form and accused of being too sensitive. The being “too sensitive” is literally the most dismissive thing someone can say but as a 16 year old it stuck with me. From that day on, I vowed to myself to never to cry in public or show emotion in public.
My mother is a very loving person but growing up she insisted on being strong and she was always ready to stand up for herself. I am the complete opposite of that and it took until my mid-20s to learn to stand up for myself. I felt that to be a strong Black woman showing emotion was a sign of weakness. I also grew up in a family where emotion was shown but not the way I would have I liked. When I became older, the emotions became more overt and that generational gap that I had with my mother and father fell. In retrospect, if I felt scared, sad or needed to cry I would always wait to find a bathroom or go home and do it there. I could not let the mask fall. I had to be okay and strong. I had to be in control. I kept hearing those words that I heard when I was 16 that I was too sensitive and to me it signified weakness.
In all honesty, that was the biggest load of trash I told myself that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Firstly, showing emotion is not just crying or being sad. It can be positive like being happy, passionate or angry. The saying “being emotional” in society has a negative connotation because I think humans don’t know how to deal with their emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional maturity is something that’s needed in society.
Last year, when I was working at my previous job, I came across a girl who at 21 was very emotionally in tune. It was very refreshing that she would cry at the drop of a hat when it was appropriate. In some moments she would happy and passionate and was very open that she was a sensitive person. I was in awe of her self-awareness. For years, I had prided myself that I do not cry in public and my emotions are private. I believed that this was strength. I was in control but was I really strong and in control?! Why would I deny myself my vulnerability? Why would I deny myself such a human experience? I mean I am human, even though for years I wished I could be a robot. Yes, I really did. The irony, I was never really in control because the thing about emotions they will come back to catch when you at least expect it. I found myself crying at work twice. I found myself breaking down and crying over the demise of a situationship in spectacular fashion, in the middle of the street drunk. One of the worst instances is that when I graduated from University the first time. The day of my graduation, I found myself in tears while sitting pretty. The emotions poured through me and this is when it dawned on me that I may be suffering from depression.
All the years of trying to be strong and in control came crashing down because my mental health was in jeopardy and I could not cope. Therapy was a life saver because it allowed me to learn to express my emotions in a healthy way. It taught me that there is strength in fragility and feeling pain or happiness is human and I should not deny myself this. This realization led me to be more open with my friends, ask for support and learn to support them. It brought intimacy into my relationships with my friends, mother and particularly myself. My father recently passed away and if I had not gone through this journey of finding my strength through emotions and vulnerability, I would not have survived this painful part of life. I would not have known how to ask for help and confide to my mother and friends.
So the biggest lie that I have ever been told about my Black womanhood is that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. My truth is that I found so much strength in my emotions and vulnerability. Sometimes, as Black women we need to take that mask off. Superwoman needs a break here and there to heal, regroup and practice self-care. I hope society will encourage us more to take our masks off.