Author Archives: Janice Fuller-Roberts

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Wanna Know Why I Never Told You He Was Beating Me?

When I fled my abusive relationship for the last time (yes, I left and went back), one of the first things my well-meaning friends and family asked was why I never told them what was happening to me.

“Why didn’t you say something,” they’d ask, looking concerned and confused.  “I could have helped you. I could have done something!”

And I believe them. Had they known how horrible my life had become, I have no doubt that they would have done their best to help me. But all this happened more than twenty-five years ago. Today, I’m healed, emotionally healthy, and over it—and have the clarity of hindsight to see that my friends and family would have helped me.

But back then, not so much. Because when you’re in the thick of things, in the middle of a Hell that you’re convinced is of your own making, you can’t see anything clearly. Fear and shame consume you—they’re your constant companions. And when you look at your family and friends, you often can only see judgment and derision. You know their opinions about women who stay in abusive relationships.

Here’s the thing, though: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4! And Black women experience domestic/intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than white women. In other words, it’s is happening more often that you realize because we don’t talk about it enough!

Consider this scenario: You have a childhood friend with whom you’ve always been close. Lately, she’s not around as much as she used to be. You assume it’s because she’s all wrapped up in her new relationship. And at first she was. When things were new, she couldn’t get enough of him. They spent nearly every waking moment together.

But back then, you still heard from her—she called you. And even though she mostly just bragged about her new love, it didn’t matter. She was happy.

Then the calls became less frequent. And when you called her, she’d rush off the phone, sounding hurried and distracted. Mutual friends casually mentioned that they hadn’t seen her in a while. “It’s her new guy,” you’d tell each other. “They’re never apart these days.”

Soon you get used to her absence, to not talking to her as often. You miss her, but you don’t want to be that friend who seems like she’s trying to sabotage her new love.

One day you bump into her at the grocery store, and you’re shocked by her appearance. She’d always been so meticulous about how she dressed, especially in public. And now she’s wearing sweat pants—she’d never be caught dead wearing those outside of the house or gym! Yet here she is, not only in sweats, but they’re stained, and she’s wearing a baggy T-shirt, her hair, usually perfectly coiffed, now pulled into a sloppy ponytail. Her fingernails are ragged and unpolished.

She looks tired.

But you’re so happy to see her you pull her into a tight hug. She stiffens in your arms, as though she’s in pain. You let go—surprised. And then you take a really good look at her face.

She won’t meet your eyes.  Her mouth trembles a little, and her lips are chapped. Is that a fading bruise on her cheek? You’re thinking. No, it must be the lighting.

You exchange pleasantries, but you can tell she’s not really engaged in the conversation. You get the feeling that she wants to leave … that she’s not really happy to see you.  You feel uncomfortable, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why.

“How are you?” You ask again, only this time you mean it.

“Fine,” she answers briskly. “Really, I’m fine. Just in a hurry. I need to get home.”

“I won’t keep you, then.”

Something tells you she isn’t fine at all. You have an inexplicable urge to pull her into your arms again, but you don’t. Against your better judgment, you ignore your instincts and send her on her way. And in your gut you know that something is terribly wrong with your once outgoing, vivacious, beautiful friend.

Here’s what you don’t know: Your friend would love nothing more than to fall into your arms and ask for help. But she won’t. She can’t. She’s too ashamed. As awful as you think she looks, she believes she looks even worse. In a relatively short period of time, her boyfriend has gotten into her head and convinced her that she’s ugly, stupid, and worthless.

Your friend no longer puts any effort into her looks because he’ll either accuse her of dressing up for some “other man,” or he’ll just tell her she looks like crap anyway—so there’s no point in trying anymore.

Sweatpants are her new best friend.

She doesn’t call anymore because she’s embarrassed by her life. That wonderful guy she bragged about in the beginning has turned into a monster. And she knows that if her friends knew how bad things were, they’d think she was just as stupid as he says she is—and maybe she is. After all, she still loves him. So maybe she’s getting exactly what she deserves. At least that’s what she thinks.

You don’t see her as much because that’s what abusers do: They isolate their victims from friends and family. They do it subtly, though. He’d never go so far as to say that she isn’t allowed to see you—that’s too direct and he’s much smarter than that. Instead he manipulates her into staying away by doing things like picking a fight with her when she comes home.  That way, the next time you invite her out, she’ll decline in order to avoid another fight. Or he’ll accuse her of loving her friends more than him. So that she’ll stay home instead of upsetting him. He uses her love for him like a weapon.

And those fights she’s so eager to avoid? “Fight” isn’t exactly the right word, not when she always ends up sprawled on the floor. At first, it was more yelling than anything. She could hold her own back then. She always did have an acid tongue. But then he became cruel, saying things that cut her to her core. And he twisted her words and used them against her.  And all the while, he was playing the wounded one who couldn’t understand how she could treat him so badly when he loved her so much. There were the accusations and recriminations, wild scenarios forged in the deep valleys of his twisted mind. Her smart mouth never stood a chance against his emotional brutality.

By the time the first punch landed on her jaw, her psyche had been beaten to a pulp. And don’t be fooled by the shell of a woman you just saw at the grocery store. She used to fight back. She even got a few good punches in, especially that first time. But he’s stronger than her. Bigger than her. He’s been throwing punches all his life and she never even got a spanking as a child, so she never stood a chance against him physically, either.

You ask yourself, If it’s so bad for her, why didn’t she say something to me? I was right there! We’ve been friends since childhood. Surely she knows that I would help her!

Does she know that, though? Does she really? Or does she look at you, her childhood friend, and remember the time you said, “I don’t understand why women stay with men who hit them”?

Remember when the Ray Rice abuse story first broke a few years ago, and you all were having drinks? Remember what you said? You said, “If a man beats me once, shame on him; if he beats me twice, shame on me. That woman was an idiot for marrying him after what he did to her in that elevator!”

Your friend remembers those words. And even though she knows you love and support her, she can’t help but wonder how she’d change in your eyes if you knew what was really happening. Understand that she wants desperately to leave her current situation, but doesn’t know how. She may also be convinced her abuser will hurt whoever does try to help her. Remember, he’s in her head, even when he’s not beating her.

Trust your instincts, though. You know your friend. And from that encounter in the store, you know that something is definitely wrong. So please, don’t be afraid to follow up with her.

Start with a phone call. But ease into it: Don’t immediately launch into how you think she’s being abused, or anything like that. If her abuser’s at home when you call, she won’t say anything of substance, anyway. You simply want to convey the message that you’re concerned and want to help. Keep your words loving and gentle—and pressure-free.

Say something like, “I know you’re busy now. But when you have a few minutes to yourself, give me a call. I’m worried about you and want to help. I love you.”  Keep the call brief, but be clear: You’re worried, you want to help, and you love her.

If she doesn’t call back right away, call her again. Keep reaching out to her, but try to reach her when you know she’s away from him. Remember, your goal is to help, not endanger her any further.

Be prepared for her denials. Shame, guilt, fear, and even worry for your safety will keep her from opening up to you. Just gently remind her that if she’s in the kind of trouble you suspect, she has no reason to be ashamed. You love and respect her, and just want to help.

The reality is that professional intervention, possibly involving law enforcement will likely be required. If that’s the case, don’t attempt to handle this on your own. The deadliest time for a woman trying to leave an abusive relationship is from the moment she thinks about leaving, up to a year after she leaves. So you must seek professional guidance from the experts. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-7233. Let the experts help you help her.

You need to know that an abuse victim leaves her abuser on average seven times before she leaves for good. So, even if your friend leaves this time, she may go back. This is where your friendship will really be tested. You’ll be disappointed and even angry that, after all the work you did to help her escape, she willingly goes back. And your anger is understandable.

But an abuser’s most lethal weapon is his ability to manipulate his victim’s mind. Breaking his hold on your friend will take time, patience, professional help, and a whole lot of hard work on her part. You just have to keep loving and supporting her, even when she disappoints you. 
Try to resist judging her: It will only make things worse.

It’s painful to watch someone you love suffer domestic abuse. It’s also hard to understand why women stay with or return to the men that hurt them. But leaving is far more difficult than people think. Fear, lack of financial resources, and shame are just a few of the reasons women stay (or return). If children are involved, it’s even more complicated. Many women truly have nowhere to go. Shelters fill up fast and are few and far between. And sadly, as far as we’ve come in this country with regards to strengthening laws to protect women, it’s still way too easy for abusers to track down their victims and murder them. So some women just stay, hoping to survive another day.

As friends and supporters of abuse victims, we need to be more educated about the dynamics and mechanics of domestic violence. And most of all, we need to shed our own preconceived notions about the victims. They need our support and empathy. I learned that the hard way. I used to sit in judgment of women who stayed with their abusers, too. And I stayed on that high horse until the man I loved knocked me off with a punch.

Photo Credits: Black Doctor dot com, Elixher dot com, Jet Mag dot com.

(Janice first published this article in Dame Magazine on October 29, 2014. She updated it for this publication.)

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Will You Celebrate World Mental Health Day?

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day for all of us to raise awareness of mental health issues and advocate against social stigma. The primary focus for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families and entire communities, and profoundly impacts those left behind.

Worldwide, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That adds up to close to 800,000 people per year, and doesn’t even include all the people who unsuccessfully attempt to end their lives. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for today to be about “40 seconds of action” devoted to suicide prevention. Experts believe that, with the right intervention and help, many suicides can be stopped before they happen.

You can do your part by using your social media platforms to raise awareness of mental health issues and the importance of suicide prevention. You can also encourage your churches, mosques, clubs and organizations to include mental health awareness programming throughout the year. And most importantly, you can lead by example, and make your own mental wellness as big a priority as you make your physical fitness.

For far too long, mental health issues have been ignored, swept under the rug, and deliberately misinterpreted as weakness of character. This needs to stop. Seeking and accepting professional help for your mental well-being takes real strength. So if you need help, please talk to someone.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, and you live in the United States, the suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24/7/365.

Growth and Expansion by Sophia Ned-James

First of all, my sister, your beauty is boundless! Everything about you is lovely and lovable, so don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You’re already a work of art, made in God’s image, so love who you are right now!

That said, you must continue to grow and expand. And that means letting go of anything and anyone that no longer serves you. Just like your hair won’t grow unless you trim the dead ends, you won’t grow unless you get rid of the dead weight. It’s way past time to unload all that unnecessary baggage, lighten your load, and expand!

Don’t worry, though. A lot of that dead weight will fall away naturally. Because as you continue on your journey of growth and expansion, you will alienate, intimidate and even infuriate some people. And that’s okay! Not everyone will be able to handle the new you. Truthfully, some of them don’t deserve the current you, either.

So stop wasting your emotional energy on people who are never emotionally available to you. Instead, devote your valuable time and energy to those who feed your soul and help you grow.  Just keep moving forward and trust that the right people will love and encourage your journey, even when they can’t travel it with you.

#growth #expansion #selflove #selfcare #BlackWomen

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Can We PLEASE Redefine the Strong Black Woman?

Sisters, we really need to redefine what it means to be a Strong Black Woman.

Listen.

I long for the day when a Black woman’s strength isn’t only measured by how much mistreatment she can endure. When you’re strong because you have to be, people tend to forget that you’re only human: fallible, vulnerable, and capable of feeling pain.

I’d love for people to recognize the strength it takes to be vulnerable and ask for help. It isn’t easy to let your guard down and bare your soul. It’s hard to be open and raw and deeply honest about who you are or how you feel. To do so takes real guts.

I want to redefine the Strong Black Woman image to include not just our resiliency in the face of oppression, but also our beauty when we’re broken and our joy when we’re ecstatic. I want it to include the full range of what it means to be human. We’re as complex and confusing and confounding as anyone else, and should be allowed to be our full selves without being considered “weak”.

The image of the Strong Black Woman as society’s “mule” persists, most certainly because it serves both white supremacy and the patriarchy to do so. But it persists also because we, as Black women, allow it to.

Consider the way we praise the long-suffering Black girlfriend who puts up with her man’s cheating, beating, or whatever, only to finally “get the ring” years later when the guy finally settles down and proposes.  This sister is celebrated, by men and women alike, as “strong” and “loyal” and “deserving”.

I call bullshit.

She was “deserving” before she spent the best years of her life waiting for that man-child to grow up. She would have still been “strong” had she kicked him to the curb, even if it meant being alone. “Loyalty” in the face of mistreatment isn’t commendable, it’s just sad. And we need to recognize that a woman’s strength has nothing to do with her ability to endure heartache from her romantic relationships.

Further proof of how this unhealthy notion of the Strong Black Woman is so deeply entrenched in our culture is how medical professionals treat us compared to how they treat white women. For example, studies have shown that in the U.S., Black women are prescribed opioid painkillers far less often than our white counterparts. On the one hand, this has resulted in fewer opioid overdoses among Black women than have occurred among white women. On the other hand, this also proves that Black women are expected to be able to endure more pain.

And it goes beyond pain management, too. I mean, don’t even get me started on the ridiculously high Black maternal mortality rate in the United States. But that’s a topic for another day. The bottom line is that this outdated, misogynistic notion of the Strong Black Woman is literally killing us!

When you’re seen as impervious to pain and abuse, you’re easy to hurt and abuse. When you’re strong because you have to be, people tend to forget you’re still human. And it’s easy to ignore your humanity because they think you can take it.

Sure, we can take it. Black women can take whatever life dishes out, and look damned good doing it, too. After all, we embody Black Girl Magic in spite of our oppression. We continue to show up and show out for the people we love; we run successful businesses and build empires; we’re the backbone of our places of worship; we enrich our culture with our art and talent; we dominate sports that a few decades ago were completely closed off to us; we serve our communities from the grassroots to the military to elected office; and we change the world with our scientific and technological genius.

In spite of everything thrown at us, we rise, we conquer, and we flourish! So yeah, Black women can take it.

But we shouldn’t always have to.

#NotYourMuleAnymore #StrongButHuman #BelieveBlackWomen #RespectBlackWomen#ListenToBlackWomen

Photo: Pixabay

Monday Motivation by Sophia Ned-James

Sisters,

In this life, you will experience defeat, but you won’t always be defeated. Every heartbreak, setback, or failure may bring you low, but trust and believe, you won’t stay down forever.

Pain is temporary, and victory is imminent!

Read that again.

Remember those words. Write them down if you have to. Repeat them to yourself whenever you feel sadness, fear, or doubt.

And when you’re having a bad day, week, month, or even year, remember to dig deep within and tap into that all that strength and resilience that got you to this point. Then pick yourself up, shake yourself off, adjust your crown and go build your world!

You got this!
#LoveYourselfFirst

Relationship Goals by Sophia Ned-James

Don’t let all these online images of “perfect’ couples fool you, Sis. There are no “perfect” couples! That’s because couples are people, and people aren’t perfect! You only get to see the good times on social media, the happy times people choose to share. You don’t see the hard work and the messy arguments. You don’t get to witness those long, awkward silences that occur in ALL relationships.

They’re not showing you the fights about bills and money. No one’s posting or sharing pictures of the unanswered texts, the ignored calls, or the insecurities that make them doubt themselves. All relationships have tough moments, but you don’t see them because we don’t share them.

So, judge your relationship on it’s own merits and stop looking for perfection. Stop seeing #RelationshipGoals whenever you see pictures or video of that seemingly “perfect” couple. Comparing your relationship to some celebrity couple’s fabulous public display of love and romance will always leave you feeling wanting. And holding your guy to some ridiculous standards established by some jet-setting media “influencer” will always leave your guy looking unnecessarily lacking, when in reality, your guy is absolutely wonderful to you and for you.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a relationship that’s built on love, respect, and friendship, and you’re truly getting all that you deserve and desire, then you’ve already achieved #RelationshipGoals. After all, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.

Sophia’s Sunday Uplift for July 14, 2019

“Shhh …”

Black girls and women are too often silenced in today’s world. Either we’re too loud, too aggressive, or we have too much attitude. Some folks even begrudge us our happiness, complaining that we’re laughing too loud in public.

Throughout our lives, so many people “police” our tone and our words: from our elders who shush us when, as little girls, we try to talk about being abused; to some of our own men whose fragile egos seek to stifle our voices and dim our lights for fear we’ll outshine them. And don’t even get me started on the many public forces that seek to silence us or render us invisible! 

How many times have you been told to “calm down” when you stood up for yourself? How many times have you been told that your attitude is the reason you didn’t get that raise or promotion? How many times have you tried to shrink yourself into a space that didn’t really fit you or welcome you?
Well I say stop letting others silence you! Stop allowing others to police your tone or dull your shine! Keep speaking up … in fact, speak LOUDER! Don’t apologize for being who you are, because you are worthy of respect, attention, and all that is good and positive!

Distance yourself from people who can’t handle ALL 100% of you. Remove yourself from spaces that won’t allow your to flourish and shine and grow. Rid yourself of ANY circumstance that doesn’t see or serve you in all your infinite glory!
Always be YOU and do YOU, because you are enough, just as you are. And you DESERVE TO BE HEARD!
~Artist is unknown and I don’t own the rights to this artwork

 

THURSDAY THOUGHTS from Sophia Ned-James


RADICAL SELF-ACCEPTANCE!  
When you radically accept who you are, in this moment, it’s easier to engage in radical self-care. And self-care is important so that you do more than just survive, you THRIVE! It isn’t selfish to occasionally put your own needs and desires ahead of everyone else’s. In order for you to be the best YOU for your loved ones, you have to first be the best YOU for yourself.

 

5 Ways To Do Better By Black Women by Sophia Ned-James

Sisters!

We all know that #BlackGirlMagic is real because we live it, breathe it, and manifest it every single day. We’re out here making strides and building legacies. We’re thriving and breaking down the same barriers that held our foremothers back for centuries.

Yet somehow, we Black women are still perhaps the most maligned, abused, and mistreated demographic in the world! We’re woefully underpaid and overworked. We’re constantly underestimated. We’re always expected to take whatever’s offered and do more with less. And on top of all that, we’re expected take care of every-damn-body.

Listen. It’s time to turn things around and change the narrative. We deserve better, so we must demand better. As the saying goes, we teach people how to treat us. Well, we need to start teaching people how to treat us with the awe, reverence, and respect we deserve. 

Here are FIVE THINGS we can all stop doing RIGHT NOW that will make the world a better place for all Black women:

1. STOP judging a Black woman’s beauty by European standards (skin color, hair texture, and body size/shape);
2. STOP judging a Black woman’s strength by how she copes with oppression and abuse;
3. STOP judging a Black woman’s worth by whether or not she’s in a romantic relationship;
4. STOP judging a Black woman’s womanhood by whether or not she has children; and
5. STOP judging the value of a Black woman’s emotional or physical labor by her willingness to provide that labor for less than it’s actually worth.

Let’s do it for the diaspora, for Black sisterhood, and for OURSELVES!

~Art is “Internal” by Mia Bergeron. Neither SuzyKnew! nor I own the rights to this artwork.

Sophia’s Sunday Uplift for June 23, 2019

I long for the day when a Black woman’s strength isn’t measured by how much mistreatment she can endure. When you’re strong because you have to be, people tend to forget that you can be vulnerable or that sometimes you need help. And it’s easy for them to ignore your humanity because they think you can take it. Sure, we can take it. We can take whatever life dishes out, and look damned good doing it, too! But we shouldn’t always have to.

#NotYourMuleAnymore #StrongButHuman #BelieveBlackWomen #RespectBlackWomen#ListenToBlackWomen

~Art: African Woman by Psichodelicfruit