Dear Dr. Buckingham,
I am 38-year-old black father who wants to comfort and educate my 13-year-old son during these difficult times, but I am struggling myself.
With the recent killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the cops in Dallas [Editor’s note: this letter was written prior to the attack on the Baton Rouge officers] my heart has been heavy lately, and I have been feeling a little vulnerable.
I know that you are probably not used to hearing a man, especially a black man, say that he feels vulnerable. I have experienced a lot of things growing up, but I have never really felt vulnerable.
I am trying to make sense out of my emotions and my feelings of white people, especially white cops. Like most black men, I want to comfort and help my son, but I do not understand this emotional thing that is happening with me.
As a psychotherapist can you provide some insight?
Which emotion causes people to feel vulnerable and react violently?
Thanks in advance,
Vulnerable Black Father
Dear Vulnerable Black Father,
First, I would like to thank you for not allowing your ego or pride to prevent you from reaching out to me. As men, we sometime do not get the help we need, nor do we get our questions answered because we are afraid.
Secondly, I would like to say that I can relate to your feeling of vulnerability. As black males, we were born endangered and will probably die the same.
Many may say that I am being negative and discouraging. No, I am being realistic. I live with hope in my heart but fear in my mind.
I’m fearful that I will never be good enough for anyone, although I have achieved great things.
I’m fearful that I will continue to be preyed on.
I’m fearful that another man will take my life, although he did not give me life.
I’m fearful that my skin color provides a platform for violence against me.
I’m fearful that the more disappointment and anger that I show, the more I will be labeled and attacked.
I’m fearful that people will speak on my behalf as a black man but not understand my fear.
I’m fearful that I cannot protect my love ones or myself.
Fear is the primary emotion that causes people to feel vulnerable and to react violently. It triggers defensiveness in people. It also triggers a fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival.
“Until fear is addressed, no change will come.”
As black men, we fear white men and white women fear us. America was built on this fear. White Americans fear losing power, and black Americans fear just about everything. Everybody is fearful of something. I have feared the police most of my life, and I’m sure many of them have feared me for my color as well. If police continue to fear us, they cannot protect us. Until fear is addressed, no change will come.
We are living in a mental health crisis, and we all need help. I know I do. It is difficult to trust and respect people you fear.
Protesting and advocating for change in laws will not and cannot change people. Laws are designed to govern behavior, not change the hearts or minds of people.
The best thing that you can do to cope with your vulnerability and to comfort your son is to get professional help. Fear is best addressed through systematic desensitization, also known as graduated exposure therapy. Systematic desensitization is a type of behavior therapy used in the field of psychology to help effectively overcome phobias (fears) and other anxiety disorders. The belief behind this approach is that people can overcome their fears through gradual and systematic exposure.
The process of systematic desensitization occurs in three steps. The first step of systematic desensitization is the identification of an anxiety inducing stimulus hierarchy. The second step is the learning of relaxation or coping techniques. When the individual has been taught these skills, he or she must use them in the third step to react toward and overcome situations in the established hierarchy of fears. The goal of this process is for the individual to learn how to cope with,and overcome the fear in each step of the hierarchy.
Professionals like myself can help you and your son. Please consider seeking help because we were not created to live with or in fear. 2 Timothy chapter 1, verse 7 states “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.