There’s an elder in Baltimore, Sabrina N’Daiye, that used the term shadow side during a training I attended. As soon as I heard this, my spirit was immediately intrigued. My Spirit said, “that’s it.” At the time, she explained the shadow side as that part of each of us that loves to tell us why our dreams are impossible. It tells us all the reasons why we just aren’t enough. She referred to it as the shadow side because it’s often the darker, negative side of our being.
In my work, I have begun to think long and hard about shadow sides. In doing so, I’ve discovered that we all have them. So, I’ve created my own definition. I define the shadow side as “the parts, topics, thoughts, and characteristics of ourselves and our society that remain hidden.” There are so many reasons why parts of us remain hidden. And it’s not always because we want to hide.
In my work as a therapist in Pikesville, MD, I have learned that none of us truly want to hide, but at times will choose to. Most often, folks choose to hide because the world makes their truth taboo. There is power in visibility, but to be visible is to also be vulnerable. So, sometimes folks choose to hide because being fully visible causes pain. This happens every single day to survivors of homicide.
Every day, we see various clips of homicide survivors and advocates on the news. Sometimes they are leading protests and sometimes they are standing tall as their lawyers issue public statements. Or, sometimes they are requesting a call to action. Many folks at home support these efforts by marching, protesting, reposting information, supporting bills, or signing petitions. These parts of homicide survivors become our focus and example. In doing so, many folks comment on the “strength” of homicide survivors. But, what about their shadow sides?
The Impact of Shadow Sides of Homicide Survivors
The Media on Homicide Survivors
The media is a powerful machine. For homicide survivors, the media is powerful and hurtful. First, the media somehow decides which murders are newsworthy. Second, for the murders that are exemplified on their platform, the representation is not accurate. Third, the media decides what type of media platform on which the information is presented and in what format. Fourth, because of “Freedom of Speech,” homicide survivors are often never asked or included in the creation of content about their loved ones.
Think about it this way for a second: If it were you, even if it were true, would you want a strange reporter or a racist platform to use pictures of your loved one? Would you want them to provide information about your family without their approval? Further, would you want them to use a family nickname without your permission? On the other hand, would you want them to turn the murder of your loved one into a book or a film, without your consent? Chances are no. But, guess what? This happens multiple times a day to homicide survivors.
If it were you and your loved one’s murder wasn’t publicized, would you want the opportunity for it to be? Would you want the opportunity to select the photo used and write the information provided? And would you want the ability to decide if the information converted into a book, television series, or film? Chances are you said yes to some of these because you value choices and providing your consent. Homicide survivors do too. Homicide survivors want choices and options. Every day the media chooses for them and this power is too great.
Navigating The Judicial System as a Homicide Survivor
One of the things that surprise me the most is the length of an average criminal trial for murder. The average length of a criminal trial for murder is 1.5 to 2 years. I’ll repeat, 1.5 to 2 years. During this timeframe, homicide survivors cope with the repeated rescheduling of court dates, scrutiny regarding their court appearance, invasion of their privacy, and pervasive ambiguity about the next steps. Rarely does anyone sit down with a homicide survivor and say “here is how everything works.” Do you know how they learn? Pain and confusion teach them. If they’re lucky, they are assigned an advocate or victims rights attorney that journeys with them. But, this is not always the case.
Also, the above only applies if there’s been an arrest. What about the homicide survivors who have no idea who murdered their loved ones? And what about the homicide survivors who go to trial but there is no conviction? Where are their law and order? They are hurting, confused, disappointed, and are deserving of answers, justice, and closure.
The Traumatic Grief of Being a Homicide Survivor
Do you know what word makes me cringe? Strong. Here’s the deal, being a homicide survivor is a club no one wants to join. Society is uncomfortable with rawness, vulnerability, and radical self-expression. As a result, the world has become an unsafe place for those who want to express raw emotion. Grief is raw emotion. It is not pretty or easy. Homicide survivors learn very quickly just how unsafe the world is when people say things like “God gives his strongest battles to his toughest soldiers,” “They’re in a better place,” or “You’re so strong.” Every homicide survivor probably wants to tell you to f*ck off. But they don’t. Instead, they turn on their autopilot and mask their grief until they are in a safe place.
Despite what you think you see, there is pain. There is difficulty learning how to honor their loved ones. And of course, there is confusion about how and why this happened. Moreover, there is thos feeling of impossibility when trying to conceptualize moving forward.
The Relevance and Prevalence
Murderers hold a lot of different jobs, yet recently the ones getting the most attention are those murdered by police. Those lives deserve the overdue attention. However, my point is that they all do. In 2019, there were 16, 245 murders in the U.S. Of those murders, 6, 425 of the victims were Black or African American. For 2019, that means there are 6,245 Black families in the U.S. experiencing the shadow sides of homicide. In Baltimore in 2019, there were 348 homicides of which 167 were Black. In Baltimore in 2020, there were 335 homicides, of which 130 were Black. Further, in Baltimore, there are over 300 families a year experiencing the shadow sides. Have you heard of all 300+? Chances are you haven’t. And I encourage you to be curious about the reason why.
A Call to Action
These parts of homicide survivors remain hidden for protection. Protection from the pain of misunderstanding, judgment, and disappointment. Together, we can change this. We can begin by more consciously choosing the types of media we consume. In consuming media, we can also be more mindful of what we share, how we share it, and how quickly we believe the narratives presented on large platforms. Together we can support those with “low- profile cases” and those who have no arrest. We can ask them their stories, receive consent to share them in their way, write petitions, and say their names. Moreover, we can retire the white-washed definition of grief. Then, we can help others personalize their grief. Let them do it their way and on their terms. We can simply be present and offer ourselves as support. Because importantly, if we together no one of us is alone.
Therapy for Homicide Survivors Can Help Heal the Shadow Side
As a trauma therapist in the Baltimore, MD area, I have worked with many individuals who have lost their loved ones to homicide. Speaking about the shadow side as a survivor is difficult. And it’s extremely challenging to open up about. But, I will say that once you do, you’ll be glad you did.
Trauma therapy can help you acknowledge the weight you’ve been carrying. Then, together we’ll work to identify ways to lighten the load of the shadow side. Throughout our work together, we will find ways for you to honor your loved one. And by reaching out for support and taking care of yourself, you’re already making strides in the right direction. Make the first step to get started with therapy for homicide survivors in Pikesville, MD.
- Contact me here with questions about me or my Baltimore area practice.
- No questions and ready to get started with therapy? Schedule a consultation now.
- Start therapy to heal your heart and reconnect in your life.
Other Therapy Services at Revitalizing Inner Self Essense
As a Black therapist in Baltimore, MD, I am a passionate advocate for Black and LGBTQ+ folks. So, I provide trauma therapy in the form of Mind-Body Medicine, EMDR therapy, and more. Further, I specialize in working with homicide survivors and domestic violence survivors in the Baltimore area. For more information about my Pikesville, MD therapy practice, please check out my other blog posts or contact me.