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Up until recently, I was among the people who hated reality TV. And there are some shows – like the popular one about a family of attention whores and the other about a group of women who used to be married to or date athletes – that are fairly pointless as anything but guilty, mindless entertainment. But a closer look at some of the shows provides something surprising. On shows like “Love and Hip-Hop” both the New York and the Atlanta version, there are a host of relationships in turmoil. Whether it’s Chrissy Lumpkin infamously vying for a ring from her longtime boyfriend, rapper Jim Jones, or Emily B.’s incomprehensible commitment to a man who doesn’t even claim her, there are cautionary tales to be learned from.

One of the best views of a troubled relationship up close is the one on “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” which details the triangle between former Bad Boy producer Stevie J., his longtime love Mimi Faust and his mistress/future baby mother Joseline, who he also works with. While it remains unclear just how much these shows are scripted and how much they are true to the lives and relationships of these C-list celebrities, what is clear is how much they reflect the dysfunction of some real-life relationships. If your life has included functional, happy relationships and a family background of educational achievement and financial security, then you may not relate to these shows at all. Or if you’ve overcome a background that was difficult because you were resilient enough to recognize you didn’t want to repeat your parent’s mistakes, then more power to you. But the vast majority of African-Americans who have lived through significant dysfunction in this country are repeating it in the next generation. The daily stories of child abuse and murder, the persistence of drug and alcohol addiction and the broken and dysfunctional families that you see in your own lives are proof of that.

Seeing Mimi and Stevie both admit in therapy that they were abandoned by their mothers – Stevie from 8 months old and Mimi from the age of 13 when her mother’s devotion to Scientology severed their relationship, made sense. When you don’t feel love in your formative years, as their therapist pointed out, you’re apt to seek it out from the wrong people or hurt others in the midst of your own pain. Stevie, as is typical for many men, acknowledged that his mother left but never connected it to his own hurtful behavior or dealt with the pain it has obviously caused him. Mimi, in trying to get love from someone who lacks the capacity to give it, is simply replaying her childhood.

Healthy relationships are only as healthy as the people involved. While we all have our demons, insecurities, issues and challenges, some of us develop tools to deal with them better or learn to be more resilient. Others are constantly repeating childhood hurts or dealing with the depression, sadness and pain those hurts have provided without even realizing it. Once we learn to deal with ourselves and the issues and problems that have shaped us and find a way through pain to love, our relationships both to ourselves and each other can only improve.

If you are in a relationship that is hurtful, you might not be strong enough to leave, but begin by figuring out what it is that you’re lacking that makes it so appealing to you to stay. Then, with therapy if necessary, begin to figure out ways to heal without depending on another person to provide you with the love and nurturing that you missed out on. If you’re the person who is always hurting someone, then you also need to recognize the wounds that cause you to hurt those who are closest to you and that you profess to love. You need to find a way to release the pain and heal the damage that is a result of what you’ve been through.

It may sound like b.s. to some people who’ve been through hell and found a way through without therapy or religion or anything else but true grit. But just as everyone is not hurt the same way, everyone does not heal the same way. Allow others to find the avenue that works best for them. Therapy is just one of those ways. But healing yourself is necessary if you are going to be able to truly love someone else and have the healthy relationships that are the foundation to families and communities.

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