Written by Renee L. Richardson

The Perception of Love and the Power of Subliminal Messages: A Ghetto Love

As an African American Woman, reared within a low socio economic environment, I have spent many years confused about intimate relationships. In addition, through observation, I have witnessed many unhealthy relationships within my family structure of which has contributed to my having and accepting toxic intimacy. Many failed relationships later; I was inclined to conduct some research as a means of establishing an understanding of the characteristics of which continually led to various painstaking break ups. I have found that first we must give credit to our early childhood experiences of which are responsible for shaping our views of love. The questions what is love? , How do you respond to love? And how do you handle feelings of rejection (the feelings felt when love is withheld) are the questions that I used to serve as the basis of understanding my views of intimate relationships. Who are the culprits responsible for teaching me the answers to the above questions?

Through many years of personal experiences and heartbreak, I found that we are taught verbally, through physical actions/reactions and through subliminal messages. Yes, the subliminal cues the tiny little messages that are not heavy enough to cause a conscious response but deadly enough to elicit behaviors on the unconscious level; which are often observed interpreted, and internalized by the observer. For instance, as a young child, I often witnessed my grandfather yelling at my grandmother during his drunken stupors. Because she sometimes used verbal abuse as a means of defense, and before nightfall things between the two of them went back to normal, I interpreted and internalized that their behaviors were appropriate. Through the observational lenses of a child, I accepted my grandfather’s behaviors as appropriate ways of which to express anger. For one, I observed that he had often gotten his way when he displayed such behaviors; therefore I made a mental note to react in similar manners when angry/displeased. On the other hand, I witnessed how my grandmother handled her frustrations by verbally lashing out at my grandfather and I saw that such brought her relief.

Another culprit responsible for shaping our views of intimacy as well as giving life to negative gender-role identity is that of our community. The community of which one is reared has a personality so to speak all of its own. The tone/voice of the community has a lot to do with how we view and respond to the opposite sex. For example, I can remember being as young as maybe 7 and an older lady was arguing with her male partner and she began using all sorts of profanity to express how she was feeling about him and what he had done to her. After the man walked away, she looked down at me and stated: “see baby, that’s how you fix a no good dog” The lady with the profanity only reinforced the behaviors of which I observed between my mother and her boyfriends and it was right then that I learned what I rendered as effective ways that women express anger towards men.

Peer interactions are also culprits that shape our views on what is considered acceptable versus unacceptable in the land of love. I am from the Samuel J Tilden Projects which are located smack in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. As a young child, I remember watching from my bedroom window how the girls would playfully tease the boys by yelling “Ha, ha, ha ha ha na na na boo boo you can’t catch me” and the boys would chase the girls down and would hit, push, and grab on them possibly hurting them all in the name of play and the girls seemed to be enjoying it and I couldn’t wait to get my turn; as soon as my mother felt that I was big enough to play outside without her supervision. In addition, boys were expected to play rough either with one another and/or with girls and little girls were expected to tolerate such. We are mentally conditioned both on the conscious and unconscious levels to accept the gender identity role of which states that boys are mean, rough, and insensitive physical machines, while girls are feminine, patient, caring, loving and tolerant verbal machines; in other words boys are aggressive and they physically carry out their feelings of anger while girls are talkers and they use verbal skills to express anger.

Now, for a child, a very young child that is, during the beginning of their interactions, gender role identity has no real basis by which is of any relevance. However, as the child interacts within the surrounding world, depending upon who they are reared and where they’re reared the child steps almost automatically into the gender role identity thereby breathing life into the gender role identity (all depending upon the beliefs of the child). For example, you may have a male child who is sensitive to the needs of others thereby expressing his displeasure by crying. As a preschool teacher, I have observed many of my colleagues (TEACHERS) yelling at male students because they were crying. The teachers’ response to the young male student was “Why are you sitting there crying like a little girl”. Are we all not guilty of this toxic thinking at some point? I mean even if you’ve never verbalized the thought, you sure did think it or something similar to it at some point in your life. Further, when we observe a female child playing with trucks or running around the courtyard in a certain manner, we almost automatically compare her behaviors to the behaviors of a male. Let’s face it we have been brainwashed into separating male and female behaviors into two neat little categories: Rough for males and Dainty for females and such thinking is the very foundation of the beginning stages of domestic violence.

See, for males, they are taught to measure their manhood by things like how many women they’ve been with, the sense of demanding respect (even when they do not deserve it) and females are taught to measure their femininity based on how soft spoken they are in the midst of pure chaos and both role characteristics can take its toll on the individual. For example, I had a mate (notice I said had) who became angry and yelled at me every time I disagreed with him. I mean, he’d become angered by things as trivial as him not being permitted to choose what I ordered whenever we’d eat out. To add, he’d even go as far as to accuse me of wanting to flirt with the waiter due to my needing to order my own meal. However, those times went really smooth whenever there was a female waiter. During the times when I did not let him order for me, I tried to remain calm despite all of the disgraceful names of which he’d call me and then me being human, I’d lash out at him. Whenever I would attempt to stand up for myself in the slightest way, he would accuse me of acting like a man. For some time I was baffled by his thinking and behaviors until I began to research and in all fairness to him and his ill behaviors, I was able to look at his views through his mental lense.

See, society creates gender role identities at its convenience; meaning that at times it is ok for males to behave aggressively and for female to behave feminine. For example, have you ever observed a dainty football player or a masculine prom queen? I have not. To add, you have the many women who pretend to be helpless when they want men to do things for them such as pumping the gas into the car. These are the times when the woman bats her eye lashes and asks: Baby, do I put the gas pump into the trunk in order to fill up the gas tank? ; That’s when she fulfilling the gender-based ideologies of man being super hero and woman being rescued. On the other hand when she is ready to step out with the girls on the town, he may ask her what time she will be coming home and then Walla, she’s Mrs. Independent. What a mixed message to send. This is not to state that as women we should behave helpless but it does give light to how we can use our powers as women (batting the eye lashes and acting helpless) when such is convenient for us and then shifting into liberated woman at our convenience as well.

Now men, there are times when you play the old bait and switch on us as well. For example, living within a poverty stricken environment- the Projects, I have observed that most men live with their women. In other words the apartment is in the woman’s name. To add, the female is usually on public assistance, some of the women may work but the man does not. In many cases, the woman is primarily responsible for all or most of the bills. Now with this said, doesn’t this arrangement go against the ideology of man being responsible for bringing home the bacon and the woman frying it up in a pan? Society once labeled the man as the provider and the woman as the stand beside him and now that in some situations the roles are reversed why do men still feel as though taking care of the children, doing house work, and cooking are the duties of a WOMAN? How can it be alright as a man to with live off of a woman financially but you are too manly to clean the house, cook food and deal with the children? After all, you DO NOT WORK!!! And when asked to conduct such responsibilities your reply is “NO, I can’t do that, I’m a man”. Mixed messages, subliminal messages, society’s gender role biases, corrupt parenting, environment incorporated with the get over techniques can equal major trauma in intimate relationships.

After reaching the realization of the importance of subliminal messages, I am led to ask myself if we are truly unique in our experiences, interactions, and behaviors as we journey through life. Such a question raises concerns in that we pride ourselves on our individuality and if we are truly not responsible for our feelings and behaviors such would propose that we are merely nothing other than slaves to a predisposed rhythm. What do you think? Join me in my quest for knowledge as I attempt to gather some sort of understanding in regard to the way we behave, interact, and feel. Are we individuals in our uniqueness? Or were we taught what and how to feel?

Author's Bio: 

Renee L. Richardson
Renee L. Richardson has always possessed a passion for learning and attempting to understand people. In addition, she has a profound respect for utilizing every experience whether positive or negative as teachable moments.
Growing up in a low socio economic environment, she has defied physics so to speak with her dynamic approaches to wellness as she reflects on her past experiences as a tool of guidance. In addition, Renee has a BA in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Psychology, a MA in Education and is currently seeking a Phd in Counseling Psychology; all of which are considered bonuses to her natural talent when interacting with individuals as she assists them in appraoches and methods to foster psycholgical growth.
Renee has also written two books of which is scheduled to be published in 2012. The first book written is a semi-autobiography of which explains the childhood abuse that she endured. The book reveals the tools and methods of which concluded as successful as she encountered and balanced her extremely toxic relationships throughout childhood and well into her adult life.
As a full time teacher, adjunct professor, and motivational speaker, Renee welcomes the challenges of speaking out at public events in the attempt to touch at least one person. Her relentless efforts to spread a positive word whether in person or via the written word, she welcomes the challenges in regard to promoting change.