GOOD GIRL GONE BAD BOY: Rihanna and Chris Brown perform during a 2008 concert. In 2009 Brown brutally assaulted Rihanna, his then girlfriend, on the eve of the Grammy Awards. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Newscom).
As a woman who is closer to 40 than to 30, I’m a bit annoyed at myself that I’m writing about R&B and pop sensations Chris Breezy, aka Chris Brown, and his kinda former girlfriend RiRi, aka Rihanna, who just celebrated her 24th birthday.
But as a woman who has loved wrong more than once and has lived to tell about it, I feel I ought to offer my thoughts in the frenzied Internet discourse that has erupted following the recent musical collaborations of the abuser and the victim of his abuse. In case you are not an Internet fiend as I am or don’t have the music of Chris Brown and Rihanna on your iPod playlist, let me update you.
On Monday, Rihanna’s birthday, she, without the official backing of her music label, released via Twitter a remix to her sadomasochistic song “Birthday Cake” which features Chris Brown on the vocals. On the very same day, Chris Brown tweeted his remix to his song “Turn Up the Music,” featuring Rihanna without the official backing of his label. This would be oh-so twenty-something cute if Chris Brown would have not have assaulted Rihanna right around this time of the year three years ago on the eve of the Grammy Awards. And if their music reunion is not enough, it has been reported that the two are seeing secretly seeing each other again and have been for some time.
But for Chris Brown and Rihanna fans, their reunion, whether in public or private or both, is probably not a complete surprise. Although a restraining order was filed against Brown following the assault, last year the restraining order was reduced per her request, and the two began following each other on Twitter as well. And in her 2010 collaboration with rapper Eminem in “Love the Way You Lie” Rihanna co-signs on the dichotomy of pleasure and pain in an abusive relationship.
So what does a woman hopefully old enough to know better make of all us? The sometimes repentant celebrity gossipmonger in me is like, “That’s so juicy!” And to get people talking (and buying) may be their ultimate goal in these collaborations. But I don’t think that is all there is to it.
The woman who knows what is it like to choose someone who is not good for you is dismayed to see a young girl go through this life lesson so very publicly. To be clear, lest my parents read this somehow, no man has never, evah, evah laid his hands on me. But I have dated men that I knew were not the best choices — in spite of what others may have thought.
I’m not a star and so I’m not obligated to spill all of the details of my missteps, but I will reveal this: until the pain is greater than the pleasure of dating the bad boy, there is very little that can be done. I just hope that those who love Rihanna will pray that she be released from the seemingly magnetic force that is attracting her to Chris Brown before he shows his bad side again.
And it is not the first time that Rihanna reunited with Chris Brown. In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Rihanna revealed why she went back to him AFTER the incident in February 2009. “It’s completely normal to go back. It’s not right. I learned the hard way, but again, this is what I want people to know,” she said. “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn’t be held responsible for going back.”
And it’s not that I think Chris Brown is the devil or anything, but he was wrong and more plainly horrifically abusive. And while three years have gone by since the altercation, I’m not sufficiently convinced that Brown is truly repentant for his actions or even fully aware of the gravity of those actions. In spite of the incident, I wanted to root for Chris Brown because he’s cute, can sing, and can dance like Michael Jackson. But his meltdown on Good Morning America, where he reportedly broke a window at the television studio, ripped off his shirt and walked the streets of New York like some escaped animal after being asked a question about the Rihanna incident did not convey maturity or anger management. (He was ordered to take anger management classes following the incident.)
The truth of the matter is sometimes it takes a few bumps on the head — literally and figuratively — and counseling before you finally and truly understand that love does not inflict harm. A thorough examination of 1 Corinthians 13 wouldn’t hurt either. Hopefully, Rihanna and other women — both young and old — will learn this lesson soon enough to celebrate more birthdays.
With such a passionate response to my last article,“10 Ways to Recognize a Good Guy,” I felt the need to do a followup that addressed the other side of the coin. Many women may have read the “Good Guy” list and thought, “Well, I guess it’s time I admit my man is no good.” I’d hate to leave that reader hanging, since I believe firmly in presenting solutions and not just pointing out problems.
Toxic relationships inhibit peace, destroy self-confidence, and hinder your ability to make wise choices. In extreme cases, these relationships can include emotional or physical abuse. But, wherever they fall on the spectrum, all toxic relationships lead to unhappiness — and they are difficult to leave. There comes a point, however, where you have to decide that your happiness is more important than the irrational security of a dysfunctional situation. I’m here to tell you how I ditched my own toxic relationship. Before I could move on, I had to accept the fact that despite my positive self-image, I had allowed myself to plunge deep into a place where I did not belong. I’ve been there, so I share this list with the utmost sincerity and sensitivity.
1. Seek God!
When you are in a toxic relationship, you usually have begun ignoring God altogether. You figure you already know what He thinks about your situation while in reality God is not burdening you or even making you feel guilty. You know all He wants to say to you right now? I LOVE YOU! That’s it. Stop beating yourself up. Get in the Word and see what He really thinks about you. Remind yourself that you are beautifully and wonderfully made! It won’t feel right at first, but if you meditate on that thing, it will grow and develop. I remember what God told me when I was really in deep: “I will restore you to a point even better than you ever once were.” And He did! I would have never believed that in the thick of it, but God WILL hear your cry and He will always give you a fresh start, if you REALLY want it.
2. Reconnect with People Who Have Known You Longer
It wasn’t until I started spending more time with family, that I realized something had really happened to me and the change wasn’t positive. Being around people that knew me before my corrupt relationship not only put into perspective how much I had changed, but also how awesomely happy I used to be. This was a crucial part of my process because one of the first changes that usually happens in a toxic relationship is you begin to distance yourself from friends and family. Call up an old friend, spend a day shopping with a family member you haven’t spent time with in a while. This will provide healing, although it may be uncomfortable because this is likely to bring conviction.
3. Stop Making Excuses
This may be the hardest one to do. By now you’ve probably been told by a few people that your relationship is having a negative impact on your life, and you’ve probably told a few, if not all, of those people off. So, it’s certainly not going to be easy for you to swallow a few of those statements and digest them. The next time you catch yourself defending your relationship or your man, don’t! Ask yourself, if this person NEVER changes a single thing about himself, the way he treats you, or the way he treats others, will you be able to be at peace? If the answer is no, start accepting that you have to leave.
4. Have a “Me Day”
In a toxic relationship, you feel completely consumed with making things better. You absolutely never consider yourself, and the guy always takes priority. Take a day to do all the things you never do for yourself. Go out with your girlfriends, go to the spa, or spend some time relaxing without him!
5. Get in Shape!
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but you will be surprised how disciplined you can become in other areas of your life when you discipline yourself to workout. Getting in shape will also boost your self-confidence and help relieve stress. This is not superficial at all; you’ve spent enough time taking care of “project relationship,” next goal = project me!
6. Make a List of Pros and Cons
In Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, Janet Jackson’s character dropped some good advice when she told her girlfriend to write a list of reasons to stay and reasons to leave. I took that advice! By the time I got done with the list, I had three pages of cons and a pitiful half-page list of pros. Man, was that mind blowing! How on earth did I even want to stay? I learned that the main reason was because I felt leaving was losing rather than gaining “me” back. I put a lot of time and effort into that relationship, I wasn’t about to give up now! Obviously, my perspective was WAY off. Thank God for grace!
7. Tell Him NO! Rinse. Repeat.
At this point, your man is so used to getting his way, he doesn’t even think he has to ask for it! I think Beyoncé said it best in her lyrics, “The first time I said no, it’s like I never said yes.” He throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and spends a great deal of his time trying to tell you what to do with every aspect of your life. Decide today to stop letting him act out. You have a good head on your shoulders and you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, desperately trying to get your attention. You’ve changed a lot of your normal activities to cater to his mood swings and you tell him what he needs to hear. Here’s a revelation: Tell him NO! And then do it again, and again. You will see just how little he loves you, and how much he loves himself!
8. Take Inventory of Your “Friend Zone”
I consider myself a pretty confident person, but after a few consecutive failed relationships even I had begun to lose faith that an “ideal” man existed. Looking back, ironically enough I had several examples of good men close to me, and chances are you do too. The funny thing is that those men cared very deeply for me. I called them when things went wrong, and they were always there with a listening ear. (Don’t go jumping into their arms, carelessly thinking you’ve fallen in love because you’re wounded, but do take inventory of all the good men around you — friends and family — to remind yourself that your high standard does exist.)
9. Reject Guilt
Guilt is a dangerously powerful emotion. It’s absolutely imperative that you forgive yourself for falling in love with that fool in the first place. Depending on how toxic your toxic relationship was, this step can take years. Unfortunately, even though you may have taken a huge step towards your future by leaving the relationship, the people around you may not be as supportive and sensitive as you need them to be. It amazed me how vocal people were in support of me leaving him, but how unhelpful they were when I needed to talk. You may be the only one to forgive you for your past, so make sure you do it!
10. NEVER LOOK BACK!
Say this out loud: “We can never be friends!” Keep practicing it until you can say it to him. Don’t fool yourself into believing your situation is different. No, it’s not! Never looking back was the best thing I ever did. Despite all of my regrets and embarrassments over my past, never looking back is one thing I can actually be proud of. Going cold turkey is like an honor badge that anyone that’s ever kicked an addiction can understand. Somehow it restores some of your pride. It’s like all of the sudden, the lights turned on and I could finally see the door! I just walked out; and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I knew it was the right thing to do, although I had tried to leave before and had quite a different experience. I was miserable and depressed. You know what made the difference? God! I tried to do it on my own the first time and failed. The second time, it was like the welcome-back party for the prodigal son. It was beautiful.
I say this with love in my heart. This is for all of the women I have known in toxic situations, and for the ones that I know right now who are struggling. That toxic situation is trying its best to take you out, but it’s not too late. God’s power to transform and redeem is so amazing that you’ll hardly recognize your old self once you allow Him to work in you. Forgive yourself and move on; there’s more living for you to do.
Last week, controversy swirled around the release of Rihanna’s latest music video, “Man Down,” which depicts a rape victim (portrayed by Rihanna) seeking revenge against her attacker. Critics immediately questioned the video’s violent and disturbing imagery.
“Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability,” said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, which led the charge in denouncing the video.
Fair or unfair, as a celebrity abuse victim, anything Rihanna says or does for the foreseeable future will be examined inside and out for insight into her current state of mind. The problem that most critics are having with Rihanna is that she often contradicts her words with her lyrics, or as one critic put it, “(Rihanna says) yes I’m mad, no I don’t want to talk about it, but yes I will sing about it, but no don’t hold it against him, but yes revenge is okay.” But what I think Rihanna does well is portray the schizophrenia that anyone who has ever been a victim of domestic violence faces. There’s no coincidence that victims of abuse often become the abuser or find themselves in a series of abusive relationships. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. And, over 40% of victims of domestic violence are involved in more than one incident. No other type of crime has a rate of repeat victimization as high.
Perhaps, it is uncomfortable for us to witness the frail state of a victim, but the rawness is something that deserves to be put on screen if the artist chooses. If it is acceptable to portray abuse in its raw state in films like Precious, then it should also be acceptable for a young woman to fight the demons she wrestles with on screen as well. In the film Woman Thou Art Loosed, Michelle, played by Kimberly Elise, kills her longtime abuser in a church, yet the film was widely received by Christian audiences. Why can’t Rihanna tell her story? In the Loosed, Michelle seeks repentance. In “Man Down,” Rihanna expresses similar regret: “I didn’t mean to end his life. I know it wasn’t right. I can’t even sleep at night.”
Unfortunately, simply taking a woman out of an abusive situation is only the first step to healing. She will have moments where she is able to suppress her past and have intimate healthy relationships, but she will always be in a tug-of-war with pain and feeling worthy enough to deserve peace. This is the sort of reality they do not teach you in Sunday school. I have known far too many people that have been in abusive relationships, and I know that you can be removed from the situation but still have a battlefield in the mind.
Rihanna may be even more vulnerable than the average person. As a celebrity, her private life is subject to constant examination by the media. She’s regularly asked to relive her past over and over again through interviews, and it’s still unlikely that she’s sought professional therapy. Everyone wants Rihanna to be a spokesperson for domestic violence, but they don’t want to give her time to heal. Patriarchal societies often re-victimize its female victims, whether intentionally or subconsciously.
Meanwhile, through her music and messages to her fans, Rihanna is trying to communicate her feelings the best way that she can:
“Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!” (Rihanna via Twitter).
Rihanna, perhaps this is just your way of coping with the past, but if this is how the world is going to react to your vulnerability, maybe it’s time you go talk to someone who cares. Simply put, the media is not your friend, Rihanna, and certainly not your counselor. This may be a hard pill to swallow when you are always in the limelight, but it’s something to consider the next time you decide to share your pain with the world.