Updated: Sep 14, 2022
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the term, mental health? Take a moment to consider it.
The reality is, in spite of numerous campaigns to de-stigmatise mental health, there is still a long way to go.
In particular, the professional black women who make it to my therapy room, have often been referred to me for career coaching or to confront intimate relationship issues - it’s never mental health problems.
Mental health is often equated with madness and we don’t want anything to do with that (especially if there has been a history in the family)! In some sense, matters of the heart or career are considered ‘acceptable life challenges’ and as such, it circumnavigates the stigma associated with mental health problems and the taboo of ‘chatting your business’.
Based on my observations as an experienced psychotherapist, the greatest challenge for successful professional black women is accepting that:-
You can’t do it all
It’s ok to be weak
It’s ok to ask for help
Being perpetually strong takes it toil on the human spirit. This is particularly concerning for the professional black woman for a number of reasons, including being the bread winner (more likely for woman from Caribbean backgrounds); cultural conditioning (that promotes strength and denounces weakness) and having to learn, negotiate and strategically understand the unexplained dynamics within, white dominant organisations.
Matters can be compounded if she is the most and / or first successful person in her family, as she may have limited access to a robust support network and leveraging opportunities.
If she is also transitioning class, the ‘you’re a sell-out’ mentality can be incredibly hurtful and can leave her feeling ostracised and guilty about her achievements, or perhaps the professional black woman is from a background of high achievers and her education has taken her internationally, where she’s attended prestigious boarding schools that have been heavily funded by family.
At times, it can result in immense pressure to be ‘accomplished’ and to make the family proud. Compounded by trying to achieve society’s ever growing milestones that indicate success.
This concoction often results in the ‘relentless pursuit mind-set’; nothings ever good-enough and a consistent need to produce paths way for a robot, in essence a human doing. A person who no longer knows how to just be, what’s worse, is she experiences extreme guilt if she relaxes or takes time out, because restoration pursuits are classified as non-productive and therefore bad.
In all, the ‘relentless pursuit mind-set’ is detrimental for self-care, well-being and can subtly fuel common mental health problems.
Additionally, because she is conditioned to be strong, she never asks for help and weakness is for cowards, so she ignores all the warning signs and avoidance, denial and distortion behaviours set her on a rather dangerous path.
This ever-growing issue can result in the professional black woman following an ‘acceptable’ career path that in some instances conflicts with her natural flow and authenticity.
For example, she may naturally be creative, but abandons this side for logical ‘acceptable’ pursuits that keeps her family happy often at her own expense.
A lack of authenticity is a massive factor that fuels common mental health problems.
What if she falls in love with a ‘liability’, bozo or someone with narcissistic tendencies? This cocktail can be particularly problematic and if one is not careful, be a catalyst for a breakdown.
So self-care, self-awareness and authenticity is priceless and this is where I come in. I am an invaluable, trusted companion that sees the obstacles; promotes caution, self-care and fore sightedness as ultimately I have her best interest at heart.
Keeley Taverner is a British-Jamaican psychotherapist that started adulthood is a mother of two working as a cashier at Ikea while feeling trapped in an abusive relationship with a narcissist.
Raised by her single mother on a London council estate where 'schools housed us rather than engineer our minds for success', she left school with no qualifications, prospects, ambition or self-belief.
Self-help books were solace, and one day, as she sorted through abandoned stock at the checkout, she experienced what she describes as her ‘yellow bag’ epiphany when she heard her inner voice speaking to her loud and clear. “Surely you can do better than this, Keeley?”
She listened, hard, and step by step, brick by brick, she began rebuilding her life. From women’s refuge to fighting for a place at a university to coaching inmates, to running her own practice, Key for Change.
Keeley has boldly, passionately and courageously defied the odds -- and now she's on a mission to help others do the same.
Keeley Taverner, Person centred psychotherapy MSc | Psychology BSc | Neuro-Linguistic Program Dip | Person centred counselling Dip.
For further information visit www.keyforchange.com