“Black women can do anything, and we have proven that time and time and time again” – Tarana Burke.
Historically and generationally, many African American women are raised to exhibit the epitome of strength. They are trained to be self-reliant and confident. They are often expected to be the provider, the homemaker, the counselor, and the caretaker. Being a strong black woman, in most cases, is viewed as a badge of honor. There are some downsides to this classification, and they are rooted in what are often the overwhelming expectations of prioritizing everyone else’s needs above our own.
In episode 3, The Strong Black Woman Syndrome, Elaina, and Tracy discussed the traits of strong Black women. What are the qualities that have made these women such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, and for some of us your mothers and grandmothers so special? What are the consequences of being a strong Black woman? Elaina and Tracy have explored the individualities commonly used to define a strong black woman and how these expectations affect one’s mental well-being. This episode was also joined by the Hope Warrior Project team to share their success journeys with us.
When we think about strong black women, the expectation of even being identified or labeled as a strong black woman, it’s a badge of honor, and but it’s almost a curse at the same time when we say, strong black woman, we’re talking about the woman who is expected to juggle multiple roles, the mother, the wife, the lover, the student, the friend, the therapist.
We’re expected to be self-reliant, self-contained, and we’re supposed to be self-sacrificing in a sense, meaning we put everyone else’s needs above our own, and we keep going even when we know we need to stop.
Elaina said it takes strength to be vulnerable. It takes strength to ask for help. It’s okay to be strong, and it’s also okay to seek help and be vulnerable, there’s no shame in doing so.
Elaina introduced The Hope Warrior Project, which is a community that helps women identify their strengths, and they create togetherness. They have a fabulous Hope Warrior Academy, where they go through different books, mindfulness activities, and connect them to their lives and learn different strategies of coping with life and being vulnerable.
And we have to learn how to put our needs first because if we’re not filling our buckets, then we’re not going to be able to give to others and the things that we’re trying to accomplish, we’re not going to see the results that we’re trying to obtain if we’re not taking care of ourselves.
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[00:00:00] Tracy: Cope Queens episode three strong black woman syndrome. This is the third episode in our eight-part series. Black and depressed. In this episode, we explore the traits often used for the find a strong black woman and how these expectations of that one’s mental well-being.
[00:00:24] Elaina: You are listening to the Cope Queens podcast, where every Wednesday cohost Elaina Jones and Tracy Hampton challenges mental health stigmas through sharing personal experiences, storytelling, interviews, and round table discussions about everyday life challenges. This podcast in no way is a replacement for mental health treatment. To learn more, please visit copequeens.com. Now, without further ado, let’s cope together.
[00:01:00] Elaina: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Cope Queens. Today we are focusing on the strong black woman syndrome and what that means, what the benefits of being a strong black woman are, as well as what are some of the consequences and the weight and how it links to our mental health and creates anxiety and feelings of overwhelming and depression. We’ll also share a conversation that we had with the crew over at the Hope Warrior Project. So, we’ll go ahead and get started. So, Tracy, when you think about what defines a strong black woman what are some of the traits that come to mind?
[00:01:42] Tracy: I automatically just think about a woman who does it all. I think about a woman who pretty much goes to the point where at times she’s sacrificing herself, not really, engaging in that self-care that’s so important, but just making sure that she’s there and just providing for everyone. I really relate to this topic because a lot of times, I’m one of those people I hate asking for help and I would rather take on the world before I reach out and ask someone to help me. So, I often think about a person who is juggling a million and one things but doesn’t feel like life is normal if they’re not juggling a million and one things.
[00:02:26]Elaina: When I think about strong black women, the expectation even being identified or labeled as a strong black woman, it’s a badge of honor, and it’s almost a curse at the same time, when we say, strong black woman, we’re talking about the woman who is expected to juggle multiple roles, the mother, the wife, the lover, the student, the friend, the therapist. And that can take a lot. And you are absolutely correct, we’re expected to be self-reliant, self-contained, and we’re expected to be self-sacrificing in a sense, meaning we put everyone else’s needs above our owns and we keep going even when we know we need to stop. And I think that feeling of not being able to share with others as far as how we’re feeling is because of that self-containment expectation, right? You keep those negative thoughts and feelings and those self-doubts to yourself because things have to get done and people who are relying on you, ’cause you’re not going to be perceived as a strong black woman if you’re not dependable. And that carries a lot of weight. And it’s a lot of expectations, and in some cases, when we talk about roles, we have women out there that not only have to be mother, but they have to be father.
[00:03:47] Tracy: Yeah, absolutely. And I think even Elaina when I think about those times where I had that whole strong black woman syndrome going on, and you mentioned the whole badge of honor. I always looked at it as a badge of honor. It was something that I bragged on that I was able to do this. I was able to do that, and I didn’t need anyone to help me to do this, that, and the other. I don’t think it was until I had a breakdown. It was at that point where you just finally feel like you’re reaching your breaking point because you have nothing else to give to anyone. I had finally reached that point where I had to really admit I can’t do everything, I can’t do everything and still, be there for myself and give myself what I needed, and I think that’s something that a lot of women, they struggle with and they may not even realize it until they have that, that breakdown or, that come to Jesus meeting with someone where it’s like, look, I can’t do anything else.
[00:04:43] Elaina: Yeah. And that’s the only if that breakdown ever comes. I think for some women it doesn’t, it doesn’t come in a sense of how like you and I would view a breakdown. My breakdown is depression and I know what those signs are for myself and, I want to get better at recognizing the signs earlier to avoid the depression because that only just makes situations, worse. Part of the issue those closest to us, don’t recognize when we’re going through something because they look at us as being able to handle whatever comes our way. And so, they don’t really worry about us. We don’t really feel that emotional support. I know for myself; I feel alone. I feel like I have to handle this on my own because everyone is depending on me to just get it done. I’ve created this persona, and I’ve put on this brave face, and there are times that I’ve pretended to be happy and pretended to be okay. So, I’ve trained them to not worry about me.
[00:05:47] Tracy: I’m so glad you pointed that out, Elaina, that that breakdown may not look the same for everyone or that that breaking point. If that breaking point is ever reached, it may look different. Cause you look at some women that maybe they come to the point where they’re so used to doing everything and when you have a woman that’s doing everything and they’re carrying everything and they’re not giving that 100% to things or even giving to the capacity they want to, that’s where I think a lot of that negative self-talk comes in because they’re disappointed because they’re not able to give the way that they would want. Or the way they feel that they should, but in reality, it’s because you’re juggling 10 balls. You can’t possibly give 100% so all 10 of those balls. So that breakdown for that person may just be, that negative self-talk, and constantly beating themselves up because they’re not living up to their own expectations.
[00:06:41] Elaina: My mother and I were just having a conversation the other day because we were talking about, the negative self-talk, and I said that, I’ve named her anxiety, and it’s this voice that goes off in my head and I’ve had other choice words for this heffa, my mom cracked up laughing cause she was like, “oh my goodness where the same person,” because she has that same voice and it’s the voice that tells you you’re not doing enough. And it’s the voice tells you that what you are doing, you’re not doing it well enough and you need to do better and you need to do more. And I’m going to tell you this, that heffa has to learn to just back up off me sometimes. Because I feel like I’m giving all that I can, and I don’t need any more pressure. I will have a sidebar conversation with anxiety and let her know like, look, I need you to stand down because you are working my last nerve.
[00:07:36] Tracy: I love the way you confront this, look heffa.
[00:07:42] Elaina: Not today.
[00:07:45] Tracy: Not heffer.
[00:07:45] Elaina: Heffa, not heffer.
[00:07:46] Tracy: Heffa.
[00:07:49] Elaina: That’s right.
[00:07:49] Tracy: I Love it.
[00:07:50] Elaina: That heffa gotta take a couple of seats and leave me alone. I have conversations with her because I think that we are all anxious and have anxiety in some ways. I do put a lot of pressure on myself. When I think about just growing up and seeing the women around me; my mother worked full time. There was a point where she worked two jobs, I never saw her falter. I’m sure she had those moments where she felt weak and vulnerable and like she wanted to give up. But I never saw that. Even when I think about my father’s mother, who did not have the easiest life. When I think about my grandmother, I always heard her singing. I saw the strength in them, and I think I internalized that as, or that was something that I aspired to be, somebody that could handle whatever came my way, no matter what. I was going to be resilient and I was going to get through it, and it didn’t matter.
[00:08:57] Tracy: I think that’s something that, we as women, especially women of color, I think a lot of times it’s something that we do, we see from our moms or we see from our grandmothers, just how they carry the world on their shoulders and they keep moving forward. And we never see that point a weakness. I know with my mom, she used to work in the medical field, so she would work at night. She’d come home for work early in the morning before we went to school, she’d have breakfast ready, she was there doing homework. I mean, everything, where now looking back, I’m like, when did this woman sleep? And how does she have time to make my sister? So, it’s like we see them, just really going above and beyond and carrying on and we kind of feel like, that’s what we need to do or that’s the normal way of functioning. So, it is something that we do observe, and I think it carries on from generation to generation.
[00:09:58] Elaina: It takes strength to be vulnerable. It takes strength to ask for help. And even as I think about my daughter and being that example for her, I absolutely want her to be strong and independent and self-reliant, but I also want her to understand her limits. And recognize that when she needs help, that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to seek guidance. Those things are okay. Those things show that you are strong, and you are showing strength in those moments.
[00:10:31] Tracy: We have to look at ourselves as human beings, period. We’re multifaceted, we’re going to have strength, we’re going to be strong. But we were also vulnerable. And it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’re also, there’s so many different parts to us, and I think it’s learning to be okay with each of those parts.
[00:10:49] Elaina: Yes.
[00:10:50] Tracy: Where it’s okay to be strong, but when you feel like you need help or you feel like it’s time to be vulnerable, it’s okay. Accepting all of those different parts to ourselves. So, I love what you’d said about, your daughter. Cause that’s one thing that I am trying to work on with my daughter as well. Just making sure that, she realizes that it’s okay for her to be her, and hope that the cycle doesn’t continue where she sees me, cause I’m not going to lie, I still have my moments where I’m still trying to be all for everyone and do all, but I think self-awareness is so very important. Just being aware of when I, I find myself going down that road and just allowing myself that time to kind of be vulnerable, ask for help and just reach out when I feel I need to.
[00:11:42] Elaina: You and I’ve had conversations about saying no and setting boundaries. I will say no in a heartbeat, and I don’t feel like I need to justify it.
[00:11:52]Tracy: I think that just goes into some of the ways that we can kind of cope with those moments of being that strong black woman setting those boundaries and learning to say no, and it’s something that’s evolved for me, the older I’ve gotten. When I was younger, it was something that I struggled with because I want it to be that good person and I wanted to be there for everyone and do whatever I could. I felt like it was selfish if I had extra time itself is for me to say no to someone when they need me to do something. As I’ve gotten older, I’m comfortable with saying no. What I will say the change is before, if I did say no, I always felt like I had to have that explanation to say I can’t because of blah, blah, blah. Now, it’s to the point, if you’re close to me, if it’s a family member, but someone that I feel like I had an intimate relationship where I do really care about the person I will provide that reason why I’m saying no and I’ll keep it totally transparent with them. You and I’ve had those conversations before where I’m like, look, Elaina, I can’t take on any more but if it’s someone I don’t have that relationship with and I really don’t care, it’s no, and if we’re not that tight, to begin with, they won’t ask you, and I’m okay with that. I think as you grow older and everyone’s different, everyone has their own personalities. It is something that you just have to be comfortable with saying no, setting those boundaries, identifying what your boundaries are, cause a lot of times we don’t know what those boundaries are until someone crosses them.
[00:13:23] Elaina: Yes.
[00:13:23] Tracy: So, learning what our boundaries are, being okay with saying no, all of those things help us as we try to, take care of ourselves.
[00:13:34] Elaina: Yeah. And, and you bring up a good point about taking care of ourselves. One thing that I’ve had to learn is self-care. I’ll put myself on a time out. So, even if that means I just go into my bedroom and turn on my essential lavender oil lamp and, whatever that means. And if I just take a few minutes to just to inhale and exhale and just five minutes to block the world out and not focus on anything that I need to do or something that someone wants from me, then that’s what I just need to do. And I think it’s just so important that we remember, one of the things that, I talked to my mom about a lot is depleting your bucket and filling your bucket. And basically, what that means is you have these buckets where you give your energy and your time and your effort, and pieces of who you are to take care of others. But what happens is as that bucket’s energy depletes, you’re losing that for yourself. And so, if you don’t do things for yourself, then you’re not keeping your bucket filled. I tell my mom all the time is, you have to take time for yourself and do things that you enjoy that have nothing to do with anyone else. We talked before about, yes, I will color, that’s just my moment to just get out of my head, I’ll enjoy my glass of wine. I’ll enjoy just listening to music. Tonight, when I was cooking dinner. I had Alexa play ‘Uptown Girl’ by Billy Joel. I had Alexa play, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ by Def Leppard because those are just things that kind of remind me of, my childhood and things that I’ve experienced and just got me out of my head of everything that’s happened from the workday. So, I could just enjoy dancing around the kitchen, my dog and my cat, my daughter was upstairs she hides in those moments, but the dog and cat looking at me like, girl, what are you doing?
[00:15:29] Tracy: I love that though, Elaina. And it is something, that’s one thing I think we share. That’s one of my coping mechanisms is the whole dance thing. I’ll get what I feel like I’m stressed out and I just can’t take anymore, I will turn on some music really loud and Maya and I will dance until we just fall out laughing. So, doing those things that really help you and kind of like you said, fill your bucket, which I love. I’m putting that on my wall. I think those are things that are really important. When it comes to that self-care piece, even when you think about positive affirmations, that whole phrase filling your bucket like I’m the, anybody that knows me knows that I’m the queen of positive affirmations. when I first started Instagram, I think my whole Instagram was nothing but these positivity quotes, just things that I wanted to remember. I have them all over my office, but. And again, everyone’s different. But for me, those are the things that kind of feel me up when I feel like I’m, down if I feel like I’m stressed, I feel like I have too much on my back, a positive affirmation, reading a motivational quote, things like that. They really helped me out and, help me to really, reflect on what I’m feeling at the moment. That’s something else that I think is really helpful when you really want to incorporate that self-care.
[00:16:48] Elaina: I’m also a fan of positive affirmations and I have a few, in my office as well. when you look around your office, what’s one that stands out to you in this moment?
[00:16:57] Tracy: The one that I read on a constant basis is more of a quote than a positive affirmation, but it’s, “nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” It really spoke to me because I’m a person that notices patterns and I noticed in my life there are certain patterns I continue to repeat and sometimes I’m like, “Lord, why am I always here?” Different characters same act, and when I read that it just spoke to me. I’m looking at it, “okay, Tracy, you still haven’t learned what it is you’re supposed to learn from this.” So now I’m looking at it from the viewpoint, okay what’s different about this situation? What’s the same? And I’m analyzing the situations now, but I really love that quote.
[00:17:40] Elaina: Now, one of the quotes that I have in my office is “watch your thoughts for they become your words. Watch your words they become your actions. Watch your actions because they become your habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”
[00:18:03] Tracy: I believe that 1000% and I have read the quote before, and that’s another one that speaks to me. I see why we’re friends.
[00:18:11] Elaina: All right, everybody we’re going to share the conversation we had with the Hope Warrior Project. The Hope Warrior Project is a community that helps women identify their strengths and they create this togetherness and they have this fabulous Hope Warrior Academy where they go through different books and connect it to their lives and just learn different strategies of coping with life and being vulnerable. One thing I took away from my conversation with them that helped me in my mindset and perspective was becoming a warrior of hope, not for just others, but for yourself and what that looks like. They’re doing a really great job in what they’ve started. We’re going to share a part of that conversation and if you want to hear the full conversation with them ahead over to copequeens.com.
[00:19:21] Stephanie: I have a joke, we’re a really small gang of hope dealers. You’ll find, I like to be funny sometimes, but I think kind of in a nutshell, we try to really facilitate hope by providing people with tools and resources to encourage not only themselves but encourage others. That’s just kind of like the little short in a nutshell what it is. It’s really interesting I think how it got started, and so, Lydia has a great story about that.
[00:19:49] Elaina: Okay.
[00:19:50] Lydia: I believe that Hope Warrior was kind of given to us. It is something that comes out of my personal story, and I met Stephanie while I was figuring out what Hope Warrior exactly was. I was going through life checking off things on my list, things that I thought I was supposed to do what society was encouraging to me to do what my family was encouraging me to do, and I wasn’t really being truly honest with myself. College, job, baby, husband, house, whatever. I guess not in that order, but I had an order of very specific order and when I thought things were supposed to be done by and I was checking them off my list and from everybody’s perspective on the outside probably thought I had it all together and everything was going according to plan and that I was happy, but on the inside I was very, unhappy and unfulfilled and I didn’t know why.
So, I just kind of kept chugging along and ignoring it, just kind of in denial until I couldn’t avoid it anymore because all those plans that I made kind of fell apart. And I was dealing with a situation where my husband wanted out of the marriage because he had met someone else and I was pregnant with my second child. we had to abandon our house and it was just really a dark, dark time in my life that I was completely blindsided. Of course, now hindsight 20/20, I was completely blindsided because I was in just a completely different mindset and headspace that I was just not living true to myself, which is what I think caused a lot of the things that happened in my life. I found myself in my childhood room with my infant and my daughter in my brother’s old room, and I was just so confused, how did I get here? And I got really super curious about who I was because I just felt lost. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore cause everything was so different in such a short amount of time.
[00:21:59]I really just started tapping into podcasts, sermons, books, and I started to learn from people’s stories, people that were vulnerable enough to go out there and share their stories of overcoming or of trauma or whatever the case may be, and other people’s stories just really, really gave me hope. And that’s kind of where hope warrior started to make its way into my life because. The more I tapped into other people, the more hope I was able to, to find for myself. And then as my life started to reform and transform into what it is today and being able to work things out with my husband and save my family. We’re so incredibly happy now because we both have this mindset of working on ourselves to be better individuals so that we can be better together.
So, that just really inspired me to do the same thing for other people. I started to look for these opportunities to share my story and encourage other people. And I was talking with a friend who was actually going through a divorce and she was just in a really difficult place. I know how difficult that places cause I was on the brink of it, signing papers and everything, and I told her if you ever just need encouragement or you need to vent or whatever the case may be, or if you want to hear more about my story, I’m here for you because I’m a hope warrior. And when I said those words, I honestly felt really silly because it’s just not something I would ever say, and it didn’t feel like it came from me. It just slipped out of my mouth. And even after I said it, we kind of looked at each other like that was awkward. I said it and then I couldn’t get it off my mind. It felt divine. It felt like something special. It felt powerful.
[00:23:50] Stephanie: Lydia and I try to share things that we’ve been through for myself I’ve struggled with infertility and that was really, really hard for me because all my friends were getting pregnant and having babies. and I always thought, well, you know, like, is it going to happen for me? And then you would hear the success stories of people who went through fertility treatments and then it works. So, everybody’s like, Oh, just, you know, go, go have this done. Go, you know, have this procedure done. You’ll have a baby. Well, that didn’t, that wasn’t my story. I did go through fertility treatments. I did go through all of that. Taking all the hormones and making me crazy and all the other things of that nature. But I wasn’t, we were never successful. And being able to have a child. And so, my story, I can still have hope that even though that dream of mine didn’t come true, that I can, I still enjoy my life. It took me, it was a process for me to go through to accept that my life is still good. Even though this dream that I had didn’t come true. And so, I think that’s another thing a lot of times we’ll see the positive results of certain things of that nature. And then if that doesn’t happen to us, then we can lose hope but there is other ways to have hope. You know, even when things that we really, really wanted in life don’t happen. there’s hope there too. that’s one of the things that I feel like I really want to help people in those situations because I’ve been through it myself.
[00:25:16] Elaina: If you want to hear the full conversation, please visit copequeens.com. Remember that, as women, no matter what our race or ethnicity is, we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and we have a lot of people dependent on us. Sometimes a great place to be in, but it comes with so many expectations and some are very unrealistic and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we have to take a step back and we have to accept the reality of who we are as human beings and what our limitations are. And we have to learn how to put our needs first because if we’re not filling our buckets, then we’re not going to be able to give to others and the things that we’re trying to accomplish, we’re not going to see the results that we’re trying to obtain if we’re not taking care of ourselves. If you want to learn more about the Hope Warrior Project visit hopewarriorproject.com and you can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.
[00:26:17] Tracy: You’ve reached the end of another episode of the Cope Queens podcast. Thank you for coping with us today, and we hope you’ll join us for the next episode until then, connect with us on Twitter @CopeQueens.