I am still deeply sighing after screening director “Lee Daniels’ stunning movie “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”.
As an adult psychiatrist with a community practice that has been primarily urban, I have witnessed firsthand the destructiveness and deep psychological trauma that usually results from sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Viewing the struggle and journey of Precious, her family and other players in her life still left me reflective.
What I have continued to think about was not the graphic scenes of sexual abuse in the movie. I unfortunately deal with that issue on a daily basis in my practice and am no longer shocked by the personal stories. What I have learned is that you can’t always look at someone and know the depth of his or her inner pain or experience.
Perhaps because I have four daughters and was mothered myself, there remained a haunting question left for me after the movie. The question is not a new one, as shrinks have analyzed it ad nauseam. That question is: What would make a mother so full of rage at her daughter that she yells, screams, abuses and essentially tries to rip out her daughter’s soul – exposing her vulnerability to the world?
The simple answer would be that mothers who were abused themselves have low self-esteem, are depressed, and are more likely to replicate the abuse. Not a big surprise. However, there are some women who have lived through horrific abuse who are the kindest, most thoughtful, and sincere individuals, and they live their lives without hurting others. Why?
One scene is the movie explains it. Alternative school. Precious enrolls in an alternative school, Each One Teach One. It is there where Precious learns that love is about choice. Get it? Alternative. Just because you were raised in a negative way, or treated harshly, this is not an indicator of how you have to live or who you are – on the inside. We all have choices.
As a black woman raised lovingly, but at the same time intensely, by a black mother, I was subject to verbal and physical ‘discipline’ that I have consciously avoided using on my own daughters.
Research suggests that differences in mothering style can be found between black mothers and white mothers. Black mothers may emphasize the importance of control and compliance in their children. At the same time, other studies show no difference in black and white mothers parenting styles. The most significant factor for girls and their mothers related to symptoms of depression or acting out behavior is a low level of maternal warmth and a surplus of harsh discipline.
The lesson we can learn as mothers from Precious is to think about our daily conversations and interactions with our daughters. We need to be aware of how we have dealt with our own unresolved conflicts of childhood and how we continue to deal with existing life conflicts.
If we constantly put down or criticize our daughters, verbally abuse or curse them, or even ignore them, those are acts of psychological abuse or aggression. As a mother, if you are questioning whether you are crossing the line between discipline (making a constructive point in a positive way) versus degrading and destroying your daughters, then you probably are.
Break the cycle. Make the choice of love.