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Dr. Jeannelle Perkins-Muhammad is an author, Psychotherapist and Licensed Family Therapist with more than 20 years of experience in relationship and life coaching.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke to Dr. Jeannelle about her new book, ‘Into-Me-See’, which uniquely explores specific cultural issues affecting Black couples, including how a history of slavery and the ongoing racism in America have created relationship expectations that often work against intimacy.
After surviving the COVID-19 shutdown with a clearer vision of her own future, albeit with a steep cost, Dr. Jeannelle says, “I came out of it [the pandemic] divorced, which is unfortunate.” She continued, “And that part for me has been pretty traumatic. I coped by going to therapy, two days a week for about two years. I was like, ‘I can’t just do all this therapy for everyone else.’ I needed a place to release also.”
She holds a Bachelor’s degree in organizational communications, a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision. Dr. Jeannelle is specifically trained to transform relationships by exploring communication skills, understanding intimacy and sexuality, and improving conflict resolution.
“We in the Black community are still living with some of the trauma from COVID and the racial injustice of that period,” said Dr. Jeannelle.
“It is made obvious by the levels of anxiety and depression that are heightened in our community. Just by nature of being Black everyday there is a level of trauma that is experienced and unfortunately normalized.”
She continued, “It has taken our community quite some time to truly embrace mental health and mental wellness as much as we do physical health and wellness. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that we come out in a more knowledgeable commitment to wellness in all its facets.”
Dr. Jeannelle specializes in the intersection of race and mental health, particularly related to the Black experience, the history of American slavery and its influence on the lives and relationships of individuals, families and couples in the Black community.
“In America, most people desire emotional stability, the ability to feel loved and feel like you belong. But for Black people it’s tough — nearly impossible. And when the next level is all about self-esteem. If you haven’t had those positive experiences, it’s hard to esteem yourself high or see yourself as a good person who is worthy, honorable, and lovable,” Dr. Jeannelle explained. “We have to change the way we think about ourselves.”
Asked about the difference between people claiming to be “real” and what real actually entails, Dr. Jeannelle responded, “when people say ‘I’m real,’ they are speaking from the perspective of ‘I tell people what I think regardless of the response they give me or whether or not they’re receptive.'”
She furthered, “But there’s a way to be genuinely honest and sincere about helping people that is more real than the ‘real’ we use. So when I say ‘authentic,’ I’m talking about being true enough to yourself that you have the opportunity to assess whether or not you even need to say something in a particular situation.”
“Many of us don’t even recognize that we are in flight or fight mode the majority of the day,” says Dr. Jeannelle.
A litterateur since high school with a rich family legacy of the Afro American Newspaper, Dr. Jeannelle warned of the changing times. “Because of the way social media has come onto the scene there are a lot of voices and a lot of chatter. And if you don’t know yourself, you can fall into following whatever the latest trend is.”
Asked how family members or friends can assist a loved one in crisis, Dr. Jeannelle responded, “you have to have someone who’s willing to make adjustments in an effort to move you to a healthier place.”
“It’s important that family and friends give you an opportunity to decompress. Ask people if they want to pour their trauma or their daily adversities into you. For example, in my house, the first question is, ‘do you have space for this?'”
Power in the Tongue
Dr. Jeannelle explained the influence words can have on our body, “The minute that we hear certain words, we tense up and become anxious when it’s on the negative side, or we relax and are calm if it’s on the positive side. Words have so much power.” She continued, “Imagine what would happen if you changed the way you think about yourself and others if you didn’t have so much judgment about what people are doing.”
Dr. Jeannelle advised, “Comparison is the thief of joy. We can’t compare our ills or our joys with everyone else. Being content where you are is truly a matter of seeing you as your best possible self. Contentment is all about being satisfied in the space you’re in as you improve and make it to the next level. But complacency — that is destruction.”
“The greatest generational wealth that we can distill is mental and emotional wellness,” says Dr. Jeannelle.
When searching for a therapist, Dr. Jeannelle stated it’s important to find someone to develop a therapeutic relationship with above all else. “We can’t anticipate that just because you look like me, you’re going to think the way I do or you’re going to assess how I’m feeling in the way that I do or that you have the same or similar experiences.
She continued, “Black people are not a monolith. If that therapist doesn’t work, don’t just say ‘I’m never going back.’ Go to another therapist until you find what you need.”
‘Into-Me-See’ also includes the importance of bringing mental and emotional challenges into the open, so that they can no longer sabotage efforts to become more intimate.
Other topics include the four different levels of intimacy: physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual that must be addressed to deepen our intimate connections.