How Unresolved Trauma Affects Relationships

“Unresolved Trauma sits in the front seat of the car…” says Jhane’ Johnson MSW,LMHP-S and she shares so much more… Listen to learn more about her amazing insights.

Dr: O: Hey, Hey, Hey, welcome to the Black Marriage and Family Therapy matters podcast where we connect black families to black therapists. Today’s guest is Janelle Johnson Hi, Janelle Johnson.

Jhane’: Hello.

Dr: O: How are you?

Jhane’: I am fantastic.

Dr: O: Let me tell our guests a little bit about you. Janelle Johnson is a native of Durham, North Carolina. Reflecting on today’s childhood Janelle knows she was battling many things internally that prevented her from being sensitive to others needs Janelle wishes she would have known all the things that are possible and having a mentor or therapist and not seeing it as something negative. Having that voice of reason and helpful guidance would have helped Janae navigate much easier. This is one of the many reasons that she was excited about starting her own private practice. Immediately after Janelle graduated from North Carolina A&T Janelle was accepted into an accelerated master’s program at the University of South Carolina Janelle decided to be a child and family therapist to help intervene in families where children are fighting internal battles, struggling to have healthy relationships with loved ones and peers. Janelle believes using her personal experiences combined with her master’s level education in therapy and counseling, that she can truly prevent young people from spiraling out of control. It can help all people live a better life. Welcome, Janelle. Thank you so much for the awesome work that you’re doing. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you became a therapist?

Jhane’: Yes, I actually did try therapy, I think once in my childhood, and it was not a good experience at all.

Dr: O: And tell us tell us why.

Jhane’: The lady was just… I felt like she was very judgmental. I didn’t feel very heard in mind you I’m a child. So most kids don’t feel heard anyway. Mm hmm. But the whole point was to have that opportunity. And I felt robbed of it. Even though this was her job to listen. So I figured I wanted to be able to do her job the way I felt like it should have been done.

Dr: O: Exactly. Well, let me just ask the elephant in the room. And the reason why I started this podcast, and that is was your therapist? Black?

Jhane’: Yes. My therapist was black. She was black. Okay. Okay. That’s that’s kind of I hate that. I hate to ruin that.

Dr: O: Yeah, just because you’re black doesn’t mean you’re going to get it all the time.

Jhane’: Right. I also think it comes from being passionate about what you do. If you’re not really passionate about it or not in it for the right reasons. I also think it’ll show in your performance.

Dr: O: Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and I only say that, because when I was growing up, I didn’t know any black therapists. I barely knew what a therapist was. But I definitely didn’t know any black therapist. So So I think it’s interesting that you were fortunate to have one but you didn’t you didn’t have a good one. Yeah. Yeah. No, bummer. Well, you’re a great, you’re a great therapist. I know. So maybe that was a way to just introduce you, like you said, and to help me knowing how to do her job even better.

Jhane’: Yeah, definitely what not to do. what not to do, there we go, what not to do.

Dr: O: Oh, right. Um, So our topic today is going to be about the impact of trauma on relationships. Um, first of all, how, what what exactly is trauma for our listeners, who might not have a clear understanding of what that means.

Jhane’: Um, trauma is any type of adversity or uncomfortable situation that you had to face or one had to face and they didn’t have any control over it. And this can be something you personally experience, or it can be something that you witnessed with, you know, family members, but any uncomfortable adversity that was unwarranted and uncontrollable from your, from your perspective can be can be how you define trauma for me.

Dr: O: Well, I think that’s a great definition is someone who works with a lot of trauma clients myself. I think a lot of times we associate the war with trauma and not saying that it’s not but a lot. We don’t realize that trauma is so much more beyond people who go to war.

Jhane’: Right, right.

Dr: O: Can you give us some examples?

Jhane’: Definitely. So trauma can be natural disasters… your trauma from parent passing away, you can have trauma from being bullied. I mean, it’s so many things that can be person specific. It can be witnessing, shooting, if you’re from violent neighborhoods seeing their body. It doesn’t have to be war, and most people have associated more specifically PTSD, the war and that, that’s very close minded perspective, because everyone can experience trauma at any given time.

Dr: O: I would go so far as to say everybody probably has, at least by the time they died, have seen or experienced something traumatic.

Jhane’: Yes.

Dr: O: Would you agree, or definitely a lot more than people are often comfortable talking about?

Jhane’: I definitely agree. And I do feel like even if you have experienced trauma, there’s some people who don’t even know they have.

Dr: O: Exactly, and that’s where it’s really dangerous. And that that kind of goes into what my next question was going to be. What do you how do you how, what do you think, wish black families knew about the impact of trauma and their relationships?

Jhane’: I wish black families knew that trauma was something that needs to be processed through. I think a lot of black families have this expectation of get over it, or you got to be strong or let that go. Or they want you to brush things off and kind of have this demeanor as if nothing affects you and not allowing you to process things or feel you’re feeling. I think black families definitely shun away from that, especially when it comes to black men and boys.

Dr: O: Can you tell me more?

Jhane’: Yeah, so I think that the persona that black people have to be strong is already a narrative, but more specifically men, because I guess they’re perceived to be the protector. And if you’re protecting people, you can’t be Klein, you can’t be weak, you can’t be scared, how can you protect me if you if you’re fearful, or if you’re nervous, or feeling like they have to take the brunt of things, when when I guess there is difficulty in the household, the man is expected to take care of it. So it’s almost like frowned upon for a man to have trauma or be able to process it. No, I think in their relationships, that avoidance of their feelings, or that avoidance of being vulnerable can affect how they’re able to love a woman.

Dr: O: Or how they’re even able to be good friends or good.

Jhane’: Mm hmm. That’s so true. Because when you think about things that men typically do to socialize, it doesn’t really require a lot of intimacy, or intimacy, I guess, in the fit in the, in the way I think of it, like, you know, we’re women, when we go when we will pre COVID when we would socialize and stuff, you know, we’d go out to drink, or maybe go dinner or something like that. But men, they typically play ball, and things like that. So so even they can be really good friends, but not really communicating that much. I don’t know.

I agree with you, because most of their activities are more like talking is really not a thing. It’s more of action. Like he said, playing ball, or, or drinking beer is just kind of like, let’s just hang out, we don’t have to talk. You know, how have you been? That’s probably not happening. It’s more like, what do you think of the game?

Dr: O: Yeah, I think that that is definitely true, where a lot of times they’re not really in settings to have conversations.

Jhane’: Mm hmm. Like, what types of messages Do you think we give our children about? Even you know, and I guess I’m coming, one thing that comes to mind is I have a girl and a boy. And I noticed that if my daughter is crying, right, it’s more, it’s easier for the adults around her to say, to cater to her, but if my son cries, it’s more like, Hey, you know, “toughen up,” you know, “you got to be a man.” I feel like those are messages that are already being ingrained in our children. Do you see that same step fail, same type of patterns in your practice?

Dr: O: I do. Um, I feel like parents don’t want there’s two. There’s two things that I see in practice. So first thing like you were saying, as far as gender roles, I think that boy’s parents don’t want their son to be soft. Because if you’re soft, people are probably going to, you know, pick on you more or push you around. Instead, they’re like, you got to be tough, you got to be strong. I don’t want anything to happen to you. Then on the other side, I see parents tuning out emotions from their kids because they don’t want people to view their child is having something being wrong with their child. parent, in my opinion, can have a sometimes I feel like parents can have a tendency to be on little too stuck in their ego. And if something’s wrong with their child parents thinking as well, something must be wrong with me, I didn’t do something right as a parent, if my child can’t handle stress, or if my child is the one crying or my child is the one always freaking out, or my child is the one always doing this or that. So I feel like a lot of times parents want to see their kid up to set a good impression of them.

Jhane’: I’m wondering what you think that might mean for the parent in their trauma?
Exactly. I feel like any parents who has thoroughly been able to work through their trauma and their own issues, understand the importance of allowing their child to do certain things. I think parents who have not done that, you see them projecting onto their children, for sure. And it becomes one of those things where it’s generational curses, or generational trauma, where you’re passing that down.

Dr: O: Um, we you mentioned generationally. Where do you think the trauma I guess I won’t say started, but what do you think our history has done in terms of desensitizing? Our community, from traumatic experiences?

Jhane’: Who, um, you know, this can go back hundreds of years way before? Yeah, but I think women have endured a lot of concerns as it pertains to being left alone. Being protected, and hurt. I think that women over time as far back as slavery, you know, with us having to be raped and ripped apart from our families. Yeah, I think women have had to really endure so much pain. And I think it comes down to the point where it’s like, okay, we went from being sad and defeated. And I kind of feel like it evolved into being strong and independent to going into being angry and mad. Like, over time having to constantly endure the same type of mistreatment in a different fashion, but pretty much the same message. I think it has evoked a certain type of black woman over time, and a lot of times when there are single mothers, that same feeling just gets passed down on to their kids, and so on and so forth. And somebody decides they want to break that.

Dr: O: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, what advice would you give someone who wanted to break that cycle, but was still in a community or a setting where they didn’t have access to, or no training or no resources, really, to help them get into therapy, at that point, that is when I bring in my favorite word resilience. Resilience is being able to withstand anything. So even though you don’t have the resources, even though you don’t have the help. You don’t have the role models, you’re not in the best environment, you’re able to overcome a very difficult situation, or very, any anywhere where all odds are against you. And you say, but I will, and I can. That is the resilience, and it’s one of those things where it’s like, well, where do I start? And honestly, the starting is just the fact that you even can make the statement. You don’t have to actually have something in front of you to say, Okay, this is that one, this is step two, as far as from inside, you have to just genuinely want better for yourself. Love it.

Jhane’: That would be definitely Awesome.

Dr: O: Awesome, awesome. Awesome. Are there any resources that you think might be available for someone who is recognizing they had a traumatic event? They know that it’s affecting their relationships, but they don’t know.

Jhane’: That’s all they know. Like they made the first step, as you said, by acknowledging the resilience, what resources can they tap into to kind of start working on it?

Dr: O: Well, definitely the most obvious would be therapy. There are plenty of online now that we’re in the COVID situation online options where people can utilize therapy and they think certain or not certain, but several insurance companies will cover someone being able to receive therapy, at least outpatient therapy, which is the most basic… realizing that there are people who are available to help you through this because we don’t expect anyone to just have it all together. So therapy gives you that sense of understanding where someone is able to take that jumbled up mess in your mind, and lay it out in a very clear, concise way where you can understand it, and you’re able to work through it. And also think that any type of community or like support system, like groups, or any, just any type of community, networking, I think works as well. Just surrounding yourself with other like minded people who are positive and who are trying to go somewhere because a lot of times our circle can hinder us from being our better selves.

Jhane’: Yes, yes. Just because they your skin folk don’t mean their you’re kin folk…

Dr: O: Exactly… Exactly…

Jhane’: Yeah. What is the Is there a common myth about trauma and relationships that you’d like to debunk? Um, well, I don’t know if this is a myth. But it’s something I hear women saying all the time, or people in general, but I’ll say women, I don’t mean to beat the ladies up. But all men are trashed. Dating these days. stuff. Every nobody is faithful and just kind of like just writing off the world?

Dr: O: Oh, yeah.

Jhane’: It’s a huge trend that I see as it pertains to relationships and trauma. So can I kind of expand on that?

Dr: O: Oh, absolutely, please.

Jhane’: So I kind of thought in my head, sometimes when people are dating, it’s almost like they allow their trauma to take a front seat. And let that be their determining factor for who they will date, first of all. And once they’re in a relationship, how they carry themselves. I think the trauma is always the leader, if you haven’t worked through it, your trauma is definitely staring staring you through. So I think with trauma, as far as who you attract, I think your trauma is always going to want to be fed by your partner. If you’re if you’re not healed, I think if you have experienced a lot of violence growing up, or you’ve experienced a lot of or you’ve witnessed a lot of domestic violence, and you begin to almost be attracted to men who see that fearing you. And then you’re in those domestic violence relationships. Or if you had no father figure or anything, you’re looking for a man to fill the void. Now you’re constantly looking for someone to love you the way you wish you were loved. And that’s not that’s not good. If you’re searching for a relationship based on trauma. And even though it’s subconscious, it definitely happens every day. And then, let’s say you’re dating someone who’s exact opposite. They’re nothing like you’re trauma, they’re not going to hit on you, they’re not going to take advantage of you, they’re not going to try to manipulate you this is a good man, then your trauma comes into play when you’re questioning it. The saying, Well, “why are you doing this?” or “What did you do wrong? And now you’re just trying to make up for it?” “What do I have to do in return with you being so good to me?” “Well, you’re doing good now. But how long are you going to keep this up?” You know, now, now you’re pushing that person away, because your trauma was not even allowing you to accept something that’s not going to hurt you. So becoming too comfortable in your trauma, anything else outside of that is unfamiliar is almost scary, even though it should be the opposite. You’re scared of something good because it’s the unknown. So we fear the unknown. And if you’re used to constant trauma or toxicity, or volatile relationships, anything that’s not that it’s almost like what is going on?

Dr: O: Yeah.

Jhane’: And questioning like, what why did this person even want me? You know, things like that? Yes. All relationships.

Dr: O: Mm hmm.

Jhane’: I’ve had a client go so far as to ask me, is it man was it hitting her, then that means he couldn’t possibly love her? Because that’s a sign of not affection, but a sign of you know, loving.

Dr: O: He cares so much. You believe that so much he got mad at me. And this is what he did.

Jhane’: yeah. Um, that that kind of goes hand in hand what we were talking about earlier, men are really only granted one emotion, which is anger.

Dr: O: Yeah. So tell us more.

Jhane’: Anger this is the only emotion men are allowed to have. So if he loves me, he needs to get angry. You know, if he cares about me, he needs to get angry. You know, if I’m jealous, he makes to get angry. And why like, the other emotions? No, he can’t do that. Because you know why?

Dr: O: Right?

Jhane’: That’s not what men do. Yeah. Um, so the anger part is like, well, this has to happen, right? Because this is what men get to do. That’s the next. That’s why everything just gets all jumbled up, because we’ve already put that narrative out there that men cannot have other emotions.

Dr: O: Okay, good. Good insight. good insight. Thank you for that. All right, well, we’ve come to a part in the show now that’s called “What’s Good.” And “What’s Good”is a simple part of the show where I give a hypothetical situation, and I am going to ask your feedback on what should happened. Oh, right. Okay, so meet Tasha. Tasha has three children, with three children with three different fathers. Her oldest child’s father is currently incarcerated. Her middle child’s father has been murdered three years previously, she is now in a relationship with her baby’s father. Her baby’s father is generally a good man who keeps a job, but does use drugs, and spends a lot of their money to sustain his habit. As a result, when he’s under the influence, he beats Janet, how would you suggest she reached out to get help and for be resilient in such difficulties?

Jhane’: Well, I don’t know. Her name is Tasha?

Dr: O: I couldn’t rememer. There we go.

Jhane’: I think the first step is the children herself and thinking about safety of the situation. Um, jail. Drugs, is a cycle where she’s exposing her kids to this. And I think that she would have to realize this is not what I want for my kids. I’m looking at all the men I’ve reproduced with. And do I really want that to trickle down into my kids? The first step for me, I think, is confronting him. I think confrontation is always the best answer. And if this is the man she’s currently with, confronting him about her concerns, and encouraging some sort of rehabilitation, or encouraging some sort of couples therapy that can encourage him to ultimately stop. But I wouldn’t say just ghost him, I wouldn’t. That would not be my first instinct, my instinct would be to try to help him. And then,

Dr: O: I’m so glad you said that. I am so glad you said, sorry. You’re here because well, and the only reason why is because I’m a big advocate against domestic violence and things like that. But you brought up a very good point. And that is our black men have been conditioned to only be able to respond in anger. And I, that’s trauma as well. So in many ways, he’s being traumatized in the same capacity, as the black woman who’s getting beaten, is traumatizing. Because when people when I have worked with physical abusive, physically abuse admit, they’re not happy with doing that. Like they don’t, you don’t come from a space of fullness when you exploit and take advantage of other people. And when you throw out the baby with the bathwater, you know what, how does that person get rehabilitated? How does that person you hit? How do we break that cycle, so that he doesn’t turn around and do it to somebody else? That doesn’t mean be a doormat, and keep your buddy, but there, there are alternative ways of looking at it. And I’m glad you brought it.

Jhane’: And I think that just leaving him only provides the opportunity for him to do it to another woman. Helping him allows him to see like, Wow, she’s not gonna just leave or she’s not judging me, she doesn’t hate me. We have to uplift one another and just saying, Oh, this person is crazy. I gotta go. How are you helping them, you’re only going to put them in a place to do it to somebody else. So we’re at five, Hello, are you breaking and even still, if you left that doesn’t make him no longer the father of your child. So it would be better for you to try to get him some help. So he can be a better father instead of being the same father, but just separate from you.

Dr: O: Mm hmm. And I think I want to make sure that it’s clear. And I know this is not what you’re saying. But I want to make sure this is clear that people know that we’re not encouraging them being safe. So just for clarification purpose with the safety first, you know, before we can actually take the first step to help

Jhane’: Yeah, and as far as the abuse portion of it, I definitely do feel like I’m making things documented is being able to communicate with the courts what’s taking place, it’s always a more than because see why you need to make sure that anything that’s happening, especially when kids are involved, there is documentation or reports about it. And that’s one of those things where it’s like, Listen, I don’t want you to get in trouble. But I gotta do what I have to do for my kids. So it’s not accountable for your actions. So I definitely think making sure the courts or legal system is involved, to some degree helps. And then even still with that, they often push men to do some type of program, or you know, some type of rehabilitation for anger management or something. So if you have it recorded, then most of the time, not only is it enforced, but you can also be encouraged or to say, Hey, this is what I think we should do, because I want you to be better.

Dr: O: Right? And not not, I just want to add one more tidbit to that, too. You know, a lot of times what we don’t do is we don’t report it, like you said, and what happens is he relies on your the secrecy to continue to be able to beat you. But if you expose his behind, you know, I’m talking about tell the court, tell his mama tail, you know, I mean, don’t put it on Facebook or anything, but you know what I mean? Like people who are who can have some type of influence in this person’s life? That’s a big barrier. That’s a big resource to help eliminate.

Jhane’: Yes, and reporting is important as well, because some some people view silence as consent. If you don’t say anything or you’re reporting a thing or she’s not really that mad, or I didn’t really hurt her, or you know, she’ll get over it, but being able to say, no, this is not okay. Is you saying? Is you not giving that consent? Um, so absolutely men, men and women both needs to understand they’re always going to be consequences for your actions, especially when you’re physically assaulting somebody.

Dr: O: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well Janelle you brought some amazing insights to our show today, I am very, very grateful that you came and that you talked with my audience, can you tell my audience where they can find you, if they want it to work with you or see what you’re doing?

Jhane’: I would love to. So, on Instagram, I get confused with a lot of pages because my Instagram name is very similar to others, but it’s going to be the Aventine and then @Blackfemaletherapist And it’s all together. It’s not any spaces or underscores at black female therapist. And I do have a my own non practice my own practice my own private practice agency called Pivotal Point Solution. And pivotal point is basically to help people reach a pivotal point in their lives, you no longer want to go down this path. So you can always go to my Instagram page and the website is in my bio, my bio, I have the link there where you can schedule an appointment for an assessment for either life coaching or just therapy in general.

Dr: O: Fantastic Janelle. I’m also going to highlight both of those locations in the show notes. You can just click on the website to find them. All right. Well, thank you again for joining the show. It was amazing having you here today. And I hope you have a wonderful day.

Jhane’: You too. Thank you for having me. Bye bye.

Dr: O: All right. Take care.

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