Building an emotional support network

Brown girls friendship

“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” – Toni Morrison – Beloved

Existing, surviving and thriving in a world that is consistently trying to police your existence through violence can be a minefield of micro-aggressions. These can produce and exacerbate depression and anxiety eroding your mental health. Whether in spaces designated as “private” (our homes, families and work environments) or public (e.g taxi ranks and streets), black lesbians are constantly fighting for the right to exist. Our life is political and so is our mental health.

By political, I mean that being a black lesbian in the world – particularly when your sexuality can be assumed from the ways you dress – does limit your life chances. By life chances I don’t mean a determiner of whether you are likely to be physically assaulted and violated – although this is included. By life chances, I mean that being a black lesbian women limits your overall access to financial, emotional and mental health security. Both our physiological and mental health becomes vulnerable, further exposing us to insecurity and death. it can be overwhelming when “safe-space” turnout to be the primary sites of violation; including physical assault, rejection and emotional trauma. That is why I always tell black lesbians to invest in and create an emotional support network to help provide critical self-care.

This is why I wanted to start this blog. A lot of black/queer lesbians do not place as much importance in this area of their lives as I think they should. By emotional support network I mean people in your life – usually friends – who will provide you with healthy, self-affirming love and critical introspection. You need to surround yourself with people who are able to pour love into you through ensuring that they are honest and emotionally available. Importantly your emotional support network also provides emotional accountability. The people you call friends must be able to be brave and invested in you enough to tell you the truth and to stand by you when you are not able to make healthy emotional decisions.

The ability of your friendship/emotional support network to hold you accountable in all facets of your life is perhaps the strongest part of what makes them an emotional support network. Holding another person accountable to themselves means being a person who is emotionally responsible. Below are some traits that I look for in emotionally responsible people.

They take emotional responsibility (obviously)

I have made my fair share of bad friends and I have made really great friends. The one thing that distinguishes these two groups is a concept I like to call “emotional responsibility”. Emotional responsibility is the ability to take ownership of your emotional footprint. If you have hurt someone or caused them harm in any way, your ability to acknowledge your hurt-causing actions and to  to take actions towards remedying future actions.

On the flip side, emotionally responsible people aren’t afraid to stand up for you and to you. On the one hand, standing up for you means they can be depended on to fight your fights with you. Fighting your fight can range between reminding and encouraging you to start looking for that job you said would develop you skills and improve your career trajectory or standing up for you against someone who is bullying you – even when that person is you. On the other hand, standing up to you means they hold you accountable for the shitty things you do; whether it be you not calling them or you hurting their feelings in some way.

Basically emotionally responsible people know how to fight you and fight for you in a healthy non-toxic manner. They realise that not every friendship disagreement must result in tears and passive-aggressive silence. They help you navigate disagreement in a healthy and productive manner.

Further, emotionally responsible people do not make your failings as a friend feel like character flaws. They understand when you are busy at work and cannot make that date but they also expect you to make fresh arrangements for another date. They understand when you haven’t been calling them for the past two weeks because they know you will be coming over with amagwinya for lunch because they’re your favourite.

They take accountability

Another aspect of being an emotionally responsible person is that they don’t respond immediately with an apology when you express hurt at their actions or inactions. And if they do say I am sorry immediately – which I am not saying is a bad thing – they follow up that apology with a set of reasonable steps which will prevent them from causing similar harm to you again.

So for instance let’s say a friend agreed to cook you soup. On the day, last minute they realise they cannot dedicate an entire day to cooking soup and hanging with you. As an emotionally responsible person they would call you up, admit fault and offer to cook you soup or something else on another day or any other reasonable substitute. Typically emotionally responsible person attempt to rectify the hurt their actions have cause in addition to an apology.

This is important because what people usually do when they have failed or hurt another is to resort to blame shifting – it is not their fault it is this or the other. When a person informs you that they have been hurt by your actions, it is not an invitation to proffer an excuse but rather an invitation to take accountability.

Identifying emotionally responsible people is a long and arduous process. Sometimes it means being patient with your friends and sometimes it means realizing when to cut ties with toxic people in your life.

*Image used is from Brown Girls ,  intimate story of the lives of two young women of color. Leila is a South Asian-American writer just now owning her queerness. Patricia is a sex-positive Black-American musician who is struggling to commit to anything: job, art and relationships. While the two women come from completely different backgrounds, their friendship is ultimately what they lean on to get through the messiness of their mid-twenties.

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