“Black people’s pain is always on a spectrum. There is always someone who has it worse off, and for that we should be grateful.” There is no better way to open this review of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen than with the great wisdom of Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler. Instead of comparing our troubles those endured by others—an act which dismisses and disregards our own troubles—the author urges Black women to work towards healing and becoming the best version of ourselves. This non-fiction debut asks you to take pause and think about the health, mental well-being, and humanity of Black women.

Imagine a pie, and in that pie are the slices that make up Black women’s experiences. You cannot simply take one and understand a Black woman’s life: Black women are multi-faceted, meaning that it is extremely important to consider the whole pie. Dr. Burnett-Zeigler structures her book with this truth in mind. Each chapter begins with an explanation of a mental health illness that affects Black women and follows up with psychoeducation and personal testimony, concluding with advice on how to heal and survive the illness.

Chapter 3—titled Intergenerational Trauma—starts with a personal account, proceeding to citing statistics and investigating what PTSD (Post Traumatic Syndrome/Stress) Disorder) looks like in Black women. Dr. Burnett-Zeigler then strengthens the chapter with therapeutic healing tools and methodologies for those living with PTSD. Intergenerational Trauma closes with Dr. Burnett-Zeigler stating that “given the multifaceted trauma that Black women continue to face, post-traumatic growth offers the possibility that instead of being stuck in suffering, our struggle can lead to emotional evolution.”

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen reminds Black women that we are not superheroes, thus we should not treat ourselves or allow others to treat us as such.”

One of the best tools used in this book is the reflection questions because these urge Black women to engage and be active participants in their healing journey. They remind Black women to look at their upbringing, their relationships, and how their past has shaped who they are today. The author’s also peppers each chapter with real-life snippets of counseling. Most noteworthy are her reflections on trauma bonds, in which she describes how they operate, provides examples of how they can show up in your life and equips Black women with tools to avoid making those types of attachments in the future.

In Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, we learn how to ask ourselves the difficult questions and reflect on whether past hurt is hindering our ability to maintain and create healthy relationships. We learn how to advocate for ourselves and the wellbeing of our bodies. We learn that suicide rates and low moods affect us too and that we—Black women—are not apart from those truths. We learn—and are reminded—that Black women’s bodies and health matter. A personal account, a testimony, and a self-help guide wrapped into one, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen reminds Black women that we are not superheroes, thus we should not treat ourselves or allow others to treat us as.

Burnett-Ziegler counsels: “Be an informed patient, doing research and being prepared with questions when you visit your doctor. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself.” This will sit with me when I am in the workplace. This will sit with me when I express pain or discomfort to a healthcare provider. Sometimes you don’t realize that you have not been advocating for yourself until you see the proof on the page. Well, Burnett-Ziegler has written 256 pages to remind Black women to take care of ourselves. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen repeatedly reminds Black women that in our strength, advocating for our wellness is our top priority.

“Sometimes you don’t realize that you have not been advocating for yourself until you see the proof on page. Well, Burnett-Ziegler has written 256 pages to remind Black women to take care of ourselves.”

While reading Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, I thought to myself: would this book help the Black woman who does not follow Christianity? Would this book apply to Black women who are spiritual in their practices and do not follow organized religion? The stigmatization of mental health can be a problem in some Black church-going communities and as a Black woman raised in the Southern Baptist church, I intimately understood the book’s exploration of how religion can be advantageous in mental health wellness. Though Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen is perfectly suited to someone looking to pair theology with therapy, it would not be as useful to an atheist Black woman.

I had to take my time while reading this book simply because I felt so seen and it resonated deeply, both personally and professionally. As a trauma-informed therapist, I have found a highly informative resource and tool to use with my clients. The way in which the author discusses therapy as a collaborative experience echoes my intake session with clients. It is wonderful to see the work I do affirmed by another Black woman.

By Bre “Loc’D Booktician”

BRE is a book reviewer, booktuber, booktoker, and bookstagrammer. She works on keeping her online presence as a book reviewer separate from her professional career as a trauma-informed therapist. Bre wants to open her own private practice and continue to read books that focus on Black mental health. She also enjoys mystery, thriller, and horror novels. You can find Bre on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

DR. INGER BURNETT-ZEIGLER is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. In her clinical practice she promotes holistic wellness through mindfulness and compassionate self-care. Inger’s scholarly work focuses on the role that social determinants of health play in mental illness and treatment, particularly in the Black community. She is an active contributor to the public discourse on mental health and she has been featured in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, and Chicago Tribune. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The title of Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler’s Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen is a phrase that masks the internal woes of existing as a Black woman in the worldNobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women by Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler
Published by Amistad on 29 June 2021
Genres: Christian, Debut, Non-fiction, Self-help, African American, Womanism
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
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four-stars

On the heels of Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes comes a highly engaging work from a respected clinical psychologist which turns the conventional cultural myth of being a strong Black woman on its head. Many Black women have endured physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, domestic violence, pregnancy-related trauma, loss, and abandonment. Rather than admitting their pain—seen as a sign of weakness—Black women mask their troubles behind the façade of being 'strong' and ever capable of handling everything for themselves and those around them. Nobody Knows the Trouble I Have Seen helps women understand the high price they pay for wearing a mask of strength and provides a framework for healing. Black women deprive themselves of experiencing a full range of emotions and tend to hang on to anger and hurt which simmer. This leads to feelings of shame, loneliness, and other negative emotions that test their mental health. In addition, Black women are less likely to acknowledge their mental health needs or to seek mental health treatment, increasing their risks for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal thoughts which can lead to debilitating physical problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Combining the latest research with her personal story and those of family members and clients, Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler reveals that a life of joy is possible, and discusses outlets for support, including mental health treatment, the church and spirituality. Her illuminating work gives the phrase, “I am a strong Black woman” a whole new meaning while letting women know they are not alone in their suffering.