Black women, our closeted emotional needs won’t get met
Black women are all things magical, divine, and powerful, but we are not immortal, nor are we immune to the basic needs that sustain us.
by Najya A. Williams
In the dark of the night, the world had fallen asleep and I was left to the comfort of my favorite recliner and a random Enneagram personality test my friend had shared with me. With the popularity of tests and quizzes meant to predict your life, I held a healthy amount of skepticism about the accuracy of the results, but even still, I decided to go forth in honesty and openness.
The Enneagram test provides participants with statements that they are required to answer with their level of agreement or disagreement. Based on these responses, the system is able to categorize you, ranging from Type 1 to Type 9. After starting the test, I felt myself growing smug at the unassuming nature of the statements. I thought to myself, “How in the world can this test determine who I am?” However, this confidence did not last long because soon, I reached statements that I would have paid a substantial amount of money to not have to answer for myself, let alone for the test.
“I want to win the approval of those in authority, sometimes even when I don’t really like them.” Okay…that might have stung.
“Even though it is frequently irrational, I sometimes worry whether people are talking about me behind my back.” Now you want to discuss my insecurities?
“While I am very loyal myself, I frequently worry that others are not going to be loyal to me.” So, my trust issues aren’t off limits either, huh?
After trudging to the completion page, I was shocked by the fact that I was identified as a Type Two, the “helper who needs to be needed.” According to the Enneagram test, Type Two people are the warm-hearted givers who pour their all into others at the expense of themselves, and eventually, become resentful and emotionally burned out when their needs aren’t met. I sat in complete silence as I read the full description of what a Type Two person is supposed to be, trying to rationalize the ways in which this couldn’t have applied to me. Yet, I reached the stinging conclusion that the test wasn’t the faulty entity in this situation.
Growing up, I bore witness to the true definition of radical love and benevolence. I was raised to never allow people around me to go without if I was in a position to help, and to stand firm in this principle, even if I am standing alone. The saying that was instilled in me from childhood and that is something I still hold close to my heart, even to this day, is: “A closed fist: nothing comes in, nothing comes out. But an open fist, things can go out, but more can come in.”
With this foundation, I have always devoted my life to the success and support of the people around me in striving to be the best I possibly can for them, and stepping up to the plate, no matter the time or location. Interspersed with a stifling desire to make friends and overcompensate for the abandonment wounds my childhood bullies left behind, I set a dangerous precedent for myself in believing that being selfless meant I couldn’t be selfish, even if it was for my own preservation.
I spent years pouring into relationships and refusing to allow the people I cared about to pour into me in the same fashion, and as much as I believed I was helping and ultimately gaining more from it, I was just hindering my progress. It seemed as if the more I poured into the people around me, the more I felt isolated and alone in a sea of people. Soon, my fatigue translated into my inability to continue feeding the appetites I’d encouraged from my family, friends, and acquaintances, and ultimately, I take the steps needed to remove them from my life permanently.
It wasn’t until I was forced to confront my burnout, flailing mental health status, and emotional exhaustion as a young adult that I was able to identify this pattern, and at that moment, I knew I had to look within myself for the root of my disappointments and frustrations. While many of the relationships I have removed from my life have had more than one problem to validate my complaints, I had to honestly ask myself if I’ve ever acknowledged my emotional needs, let alone clearly communicated them to the people in my orbit. Unsurprisingly, the answer was no.
For years on end, Black women have been forced to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders without complaint or acknowledgment, lest we get labeled emotional, irrational, and more notably, angry. We have swallowed oceans of tears for the greater good, all without an ounce of appreciation or gratitude from most.
In fulfilling the roles society has set for us as the lowest rung on the social ladder, when do we even have time to address the emotions we feel and arrive at an understanding conducive for clear communication within our personal relationships? In attempting to remove the metaphorical gags that an inherently racist and misogynistic country has continued to place on our mouths, many Black women have given and received the mantra that “closed mouths don’t get fed.” To thrive and achieve in the face of oppression means standing up and boldly proclaiming our truth with the same confidence of those who wield the torches of injustice and hatred.
I believe that a similar principle can be applied to Black women and our emotional wellness. Closed mouths don’t get fed, and closeted emotional needs don’t get met. Black women are all things magical, divine, and powerful, but we are not immortal, nor are we immune to the basic needs that sustain us. Acknowledging our emotional needs and taking the steps to ensure they are filled are radical acts of resistance in a world that doesn’t want to see us live, love and receive the fullness of what an unapologetic, selfless, and emotionally mature connection has to offer.
After identifying my needs and the facets of my life that weren’t meeting them, I completely overhauled my life. I continue to extend my generosity to the world that surrounds me, but now, I lean into the boundaries I’ve set for how far I’m willing to travel for the sake of helping others and the baseline measures needed to ensure that my cup continues to overflow without the bitterness of entitlement or unspoken expectations. It has been and will always be a privilege to serve others, but through my healing and self-discovery, I have learned that it is important to allow myself to be served, too.
Born and raised in “Chocolate City,” Najya Williams is a poet, writer, and author studying Sociology at Harvard College. She has written about personal identity, intersectionality, coming of age, health and wellness, and politics in We are the 94 Percent, ForHarriet, Black Girl in Om, and several other publications. Najya looks ahead to continue making a difference in not only her community, but the nation as a whole, one word at a time.