How are you? I mean really… You’ve been in the house for 10000 weeks or so, your eyebrows look like caterpillars, you ain't never seen your real nails for this long and if you ask your friends again what to watch on Netflix they might stop speaking to you. Look, I’m right there with you. Along with trying to pick up a new skill and keep the same level of productivity in my job, everything seems to be getting tend to aside for me. And when I say me, I mean both my physical being but also my mental.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried during the middle of the day for no apparent reason or got frustrated because every time I look up there is a pile of dishes in the sink. Didn’t I just take care of that? It feels like I’m losing my mind since being inside and my skin is showing it.
On the quest to get my mental health back on track, I began to partake in ordering more books to read during my downtime. One of the books that I have been anticipating finally came. “Relationship Goals: How to win at dating, marriage and sex” written by Michael Todd. Now you have to be living under a rock if you haven't heard about Michael Todd OR about his new sermon series called ‘Relationship Goals Reloaded’. I'm an active member of Transformation Nation and have been watching Michael Todd for over a year. Every time I listen to his preaching, I feel like I get dragged across my living room and left with my wig halfway on. But through the dismay, I find myself actively changing and transforming.
In my evolution, I have learned to put myself first. Which has been very hard for me to do. I have a big heart and I tend to want to extend it to everyone I meet, even when they don't deserve it.
Over the past two weeks, Relationship Goals Reloaded has changed the way I view my current relationships both in my friends, family but also romantically. In that, it brings the title of this week's blog post.
May is known as Mental Health Awareness Month and through my journey with the Relationship Goals series and dealing with my mental health during this time of social distancing I wanted to dedicate this week’s blog to Workin on Ourselves, with the help of Jordan A. Madison, LGMFT.
Jordan A. Madison (hence the JAM), is a licensed graduate marriage and family therapist, originally from Brooklyn, NY, and currently practicing in Bethesda, MD. She received her B.A. from the best place on earth, Spelman College, and her M.S. in Couple & Family Therapy from the University of Maryland-College Park. She currently works for Friends in Transition Counseling Services, a black-owned private practice, as a Couple & Family Therapist. She helps individuals, couples, and families heal from emotional, mental, and psychological wounds. She takes a collaborative approach with her clients to empower them to rebuild and maintain healthy, fulfilling relationships. She also works as a couples facilitator for the Together Program, a free 6-week workshop for couples around stress management, communication, financial management, and problem-solving. When she is not pouring into others, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and pouring into herself in various ways. She is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health and going to therapy in the Black community and aims to promote a space for healing and growth. She notes, “It is important that I create and provide content around building and maintaining healthy relationships, as well as taking care of yourself. Therapy is my JAM!” This post includes an interview with Jordan on the topics of relationships, childhood trauma, healing, and mental health to provide insight, inspiration, and influence to all of us looking to win. I am extremely proud to call Jordan a sister, soror, and friend. This is for you ladies, enjoy.
Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me. I have been following your platform for some time and what you are doing is so unique but also needed in our community. On your website, you talked about how all of this started for you during a Grey’s Anatomy episode, can you tell us a little more about that story and how everything began to roll out after that light bulb went off?
So it was season 4, episodes 16 and 17, and Meredith was in therapy and her therapist helped her to have an “aha moment” and realize what her mother meant when she said, “Be extraordinary.” And in watching that, it was like wow. That’s what I want to do, I want to help people realize and learn more about themselves. So I knew I wanted to be a therapist since around 13 or so, but was unsure of the type. I did find myself liking to hear about my friends’ relationship problems and it was always interesting to me to see how people make a relationship work. It would be a few years before I decided that marriage and family therapy would be what I wanted, but around the time of the murder of Michael Brown, all I kept thinking about was how that’s one more life taken away, one more Black man taken away from his family, and how would his family go on without him. So in a sense, my passion around police brutality and the sadness I felt when I saw those occurrences automatically made me think of the families, and it made me want to help Black families heal and grow so that they could produce healthier individuals.
I have always been curious about this but, would you say the way therapy is displayed in Tv and Movies is different than how it is, in real life? Many times when people bring up the word therapy it comes with negative connotations and I believe it is because people do not truly know what it is or what happens during a session. Can you walk us through that?
I think it depends on the tv show honestly. I think now the media is doing a better job of depicting what therapy looks like though. Recent episodes of This Is Us or the show Couples Therapy that appeared on Showtime I think have helped give a better idea. I think therapy has such negative connotations because of the stigma of mental health in the Black community, as well as the mistrust of the healthcare system. For a long time, people saw going to therapy as something only “crazy” people do, so they thought if their problems “weren’t that bad” they didn’t need to go to a therapist. A lot of people don’t see the point of talking to a stranger when you can just talk to a friend. However, that is one of the benefits of therapy. Having someone that is not biased and can hear your problems and provide alternate ways of viewing them from an objective standpoint. Therapy sessions can look different depending on the person and the relationship you have with your therapist. Typically there is an intake session, which allows you to share what brings you to therapy, what you are looking for out of sessions, and any important information you feel is necessary for your therapist to know. Intake sessions are also great for you to be able to get to know your therapist and ask any questions you may have. Once a relationship and goals have been formed, sessions can target what has been established, or it can look like check-ins and coming in with whatever recent events are bothering you or you need to process. The success of therapy is heavily correlated with the relationship between the client and the therapist. Remember that it takes time to build trust in someone, and healing is a process as well so have patience and trust the journey
Your title is ‘Licensed Graduate Marriage & Family Therapist’, what is that exactly? And a follow-up question to that is; who are your typical clients and how can singles looking to build healthy relationships benefit from seeing a counselor like yourself?
A Licensed Graduate Marriage & Family Therapist is licensed to see clients but still required to get supervision from a Licensed Clinical Marriage & Family Therapist. We are able to see individuals, couples, and families. We take a systemic approach and view individuals through how they operate within a system, and what patterns and behaviors they have picked up from relationships. Singles looking to build healthy relationships would benefit from seeing a therapist because it would help them to understand themselves and their patterns better, help to work on the improvements they want to make within themselves, and allow them to think of what it is they are looking for in a partner.
The title of this blog post is called ‘Relationship Goals’, in part because there is a certain level of hypeness right now with hundreds of thousands of people following Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church and his new series entitled Relationship Goals Reloaded. As we have you here, I wanted to know what does ‘relationship goals’ look like from a mental health standpoint or even a therapist perspective? How does the mental coincide with the spiritual steps we all need towards our relationships?
The mental and the spiritual affect relationships, in positive and negative ways, because I have seen situations where people stay in unhealthy relationships because they are viewing it as well, Jesus is all about forgiveness, I have to forgive or I can't have a divorce because that is against the rules or God frowns about that or I've made this decision I have to stick by it. So that is where I see where the spiritual having a negative impact but I think at the same time it provides a positive impact. Especially when it comes to when both partners have the same spiritual beliefs because I think it can be used as a way to find a balance between both. It allows people to remember that there is a shared goal or a bigger picture. As far as what relationship goals look like from a mental health perspective, the goal of any relationship both romantic or platonic is that you feel safe being yourself. You shouldn't have to feel like you can’t speak your mind or that you are walking on eggshells or that the person doesn't treat you with respect. Even when there is anger involved or disagreements, in a healthy relationship both parties should recognize hey we aren't seeing eye to eye right now. Let's take a break from this situation, not the relationship and come back at a later time.
We get our first example of what romantic relationships and what friendships look like from watching our parents. Growing up, I was very observant of how my mother moved through her romantic relationships or even her friendships and honesty, which played a role into how I act now. How do our parents shape the way we see romantic relationships and friendships, from a mental perspective?
Parents shape the way we see romantic relationships and friendships through attachment bonds. The common theory that discusses this is attachment theory. Basically whatever our attachment style was as a child with our caregivers, typically tends to translate to our attachment styles as adults. If we feel secure in our bonds with our parents and that we can trust them to be there for us, then that typically translates to feeling you can do the same with others unless they give you reason not to. However, if you have an insecure attachment with your parents, feeling you cannot trust them to keep their word or protect or be there for you, that can translate to you having mistrust of others. Before we enter school, our parents are the main examples we see of relationships and interactions. If we see healthy communication between our caregivers, then we learn to do the same. If we grew up in chaos, heard yelling, or constant conflict, then we could possibly see that as normal and begin to see that as acceptable behavior.
In preparation for our conversation, I surveyed young women who are at different stages with romantic relationships, friendships, and even family relationships. A common question that came up was how does childhood trauma affect the way we view and participate in our relationships. We don't realize it until we are older, but the absence of parental figures, divorce, sexual assault, physical abuse along with other things all play into how we view and interact with others. What are your thoughts on that?
I completely agree. Childhood is where so much of what we know was instilled in us. There is plenty of research on how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) affect our physical and mental health. The link below has the quiz and also discusses what scores mean and offers some photographs to depict what has been found in research.
And following behind that, what are the steps towards healing? Forgiveness? Removing emotional baggage?
I think healing looks different for everyone, and I can’t say there are certain steps involved because I tell my clients often that healing is not linear. It goes up and down, you can have bad days or be triggered, but that doesn’t take away the healing that you’ve already done. I definitely would agree that forgiveness is essential for the healing process though because it allows you to let go of whatever pain or anger you are holding onto. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what the person did is okay, or that you want them back in your life, it simply means it doesn’t have the same emotional control over you that it did before. I think healing also looks like being honest with yourself about past hurts or traumas that you have experienced. Once you are honest with yourself about your experiences, and behaviors, that is where self-love comes in. Loving your whole self, flaws, and all. Healing looks like being at peace with your past, being in the present, and having hope for your future.
A lot of women around our age are looking for ‘the one’. When preparing to enter a new romantic relationship or even if you're facing some bumps along an ongoing romantic relationship, how do you know that it's going to work? Spiritually the idea of being ‘equally yoked’ comes up often however, through your experience what are some early signs that you are in a healthy, mutually benefiting relationship? What should you be looking for as it progresses?
I think that’s the thing, we don’t know if a relationship is going to work or not. The only way a relationship works is if the people involved continue to make an effort. But some early signs that you are in a healthy relationship include conflict resolution, trust, and communication. Any relationship is going to have arguments or disagreements. It’s natural for two people from two different backgrounds, experiences, and values to have some type of conflict. However, healthy relationships should be able to resolve conflicts without hurting one another. Healthy communication is a great sign as well because it shows that you two will be able to express emotions and thoughts, allowing your partner to better understand you. Trust is another great sign. Trust doesn’t just mean in the sense of fidelity, but that you trust your partner has your best interests at heart and want the best for you. That you trust their intentions, and give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming their intentions.
I recently heard about this book entitled ‘Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone’ which is a fiction book written by Ralph Richard where he discusses the ‘problem of marriage’ within the black community; he notes the statistics that nine in ten black women married in the 1950s while three in ten currently do so. What are your thoughts on failing marriages/divorce rates in the black community or the low numbers of women who are getting married in the first place? Why have times changed?
I think in the 1950s women were more dependent on marriage for stability, source of income, whatever the case may be. Marriage felt like a necessity, whereas now it is more of an intentional decision. I also think divorce is just more acceptable in the Black community now as well, so that could be impacting the numbers. I also don’t think that it’s not that Black women don’t want to be married, I think they are just waiting longer than previous generations and focusing on their careers or themselves first, before getting into a marriage.
This has truly been great and I am excited about what will come out of this for some women. If someone is seeking help, what services do you offer and how can people get in touch with you for more information? As well as what advice do you have for young women looking to win at relationships?
As of now, I am only licensed in the state of Maryland so I can only see clients that reside there. Due to COVID-19, my schedule has been packed and I am not able to accept any new clients at the moment, but I have been asked to do a few self-care workshops in light of the pandemic, so I do think I will begin offering that as a service for groups. I also plan on beginning to sell merchandise that reduces the stigma of mental health in the Black community and normalizes going to therapy. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter at @therapyismyJAM and my website is www.therapyismyJAM.com.
My advice for young women looking to win at relationships is to practice self-love, set your intentions on what you want out of relationships, and remember that you deserve those things as well. Also, if your faith is a big part of your life, I find that reminding myself that all things are working together for my good has been helpful for me as well. So if a relationship ends, or you’re still in a stage of singleness, it is for your good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to Jordan for providing her wisdom and insight on these topics. Mental health is not just important during the month of May, it should be a continuous practice. Workin to love me, always.