I'm going to show my age here (or my youth, depending on who is reading this), but my Senior Class Song in 1997 was "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly.

Now, at the time, I voted against it because I thought it was too cliche for a class song.  But, as motivational songs go... I guess the lyrics are pretty appropriate for a graduating class. 

Honestly, I can't say that I paid much attention to R. Kelly after that day.

I remember hearing something about his sex tape.  I remember hearing that Dave Chappelle did a parody of it. I liked a few of R. Kelly's songs.  

But, let's just say I was R.Kelly ignorant.

And then, a few of my friends started posting #muteRKelly on their social media accounts.  A few blogs starting popping up on my feed about John Legend being a hero for speaking out.  (And notably, about other celebrities who refused to speak out). And the more I heard about this new Lifetime series "Surviving R. Kelly" the more that I felt compelled to watch it. 

I was MISSING OUT on something important.  And there is nothing in the world that I hate more than being left out of something important. 

My husband said he was "not at all interested" in watching the six episode docu-series. Little did he know that not only would he watch it, he would actually become quite interested in finishing it.  

I thought I was prepared to watch it.  I was so NOT PREPARED.

Unlike fictional shows like 13 Reasons Why which created controversy for the storylines that were said to glorify suicide or trigger depressive episodes, "Surviving R. Kelly" claims to be a true story about real people and the trauma that they have endured.

Now...they include a disclaimer that R. Kelly has denied all of the allegations. In fact, he has threatened a lawsuit over the series and is supposedly launching a website against his accusers. And he has no convictions for any of the alleged crimes that are discussed.  And, in my quick research on the posts on the Mute R Kelly Facebook page, there were quite a few defenders of R. Kelly. 

But despite all of R. Kelly's denials, the testimonials of these women are compelling.  And to be totally upfront, I've only watched the first three episodes so far. 

Importantly, the producers of the series also include trigger warnings in every episode and PSA's from Alyssa Milano and others about violence against women.  Included in all commercial breaks are messages that say: 

“All women deserve to be free from violence, sexual assault, harassment and shame,” Tarana Burke , #metoo founder

A Few Things to Know Before You Watch "Surviving R. Kelly"

  • The women share very graphic accounts of traumatic sexual abuse.  

If you have a history of sexual abuse, please have support before, during and after watching this show.  It may, in fact, be very triggering for you and potentially unsafe for you to watch.  Go here as a starting point for help. 

  • The women share very graphic accounts of violence often seen in domestic violence relationships including being held against their will, being degraded and controlled.

If you have ever been in an abusive relationship or been the victim of violence, emotional abuse, or abuse of power in a relationship, please have support before, during and after watching this show.  If you are currently in one of these relationships, DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW with your partner.  Go here as a starting point for help. 

  • If you have children, you are more than likely going to be very angry!

Throughout the episodes, there are adults that are covering up, denying, hiding, or down-right assisting in the alleged events.  

From R. Kelly's older brother saying that liking young girls is just a "preference" to studio producers turning a blind eye to underage girls in the bedroom of the studio, to his manager for coordinating the forgery of the marriage certificate so that R. Kelly could marry 15 year old singer Aaliyah, there are adults all around that failed to take even a tiny action to protect any of the girls involved.  

It is criminal failure to protect and it is infuriating. 

  •  I can almost guarantee that you will leave every episode wanting to fight someone.  And yet, you also leave feeling extremely helpless.

The call to #muteRKelly seems warranted and yet not even close to enough.  Basically, people want to take away his power by attacking his money.  Don't buy concert tickets, boycott his sponsors, don't download his music -that's the basic idea. 

Only, it's even more maddening, because his music downloads are UP 16% since the release of the show.  

  • You need someone to talk to about this show.

I can promise you that you will not be able to watch this one without discussing it with someone.  You need an arena to vent, to process, and to think about what you saw and heard.  

There is a therapy concept called vicarious trauma - it means that hearing the trauma of others and bearing witness to their pain can leave you feeling emotionally charged (either spun up or tuned out). 

You can be traumatized by just listening to the trauma history of others. 

After binge-watching three episodes, I definitely felt the effects. 

  • You might feel guilty.

Remember, when I told you that I really had no idea what was going on with R. Kelly all of these years.  Then, I found out from others that they DID know or had at least heard many of the stories.  

I felt guilty.  I felt like I had turned a blind eye to an important story.  I felt responsible in some way for these girls.

Logically, I know that I am not responsible.  But, I like the music.  I laughed at the Dave Chappelle thing.  I didn't care enough to learn more. 

Final Thoughts

So, watch the show if you are interested in hearing the stories of children who seem very credible to me.  

I believe them. And I believe their stories are important. 

But, please be aware of what you are in for.  

It is totally and 100% okay to choose not to watch because it is very likely that it will affect you in a deeply emotional way.  

Please be strong enough to know when it is better for your own mental health to avoid watching.  And get yourself help first. 

And I can jump on board with not attending R. Kelly concerts and not listening to his music, but it doesn't feel like justice.  

I have three more episodes to watch.  Because, if nothing else, I will hold the space for these women to share their experience and know that people in this world understand that they were NOT to blame for this. It was not their fault.  They were not stupid.  

They were babies. 



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Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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