Sisterhood Heals

The Transformative Power of Healing in Community




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June 27, 2023 | ISBN 9780593739945

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About the Book

From the licensed clinical psychologist behind the award-winning podcast Therapy for Black Girls comes “a roadmap for personal growth and improved connections with others, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and joyful life” (Nedra Glover Tawwab, New York Times bestselling author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace and Drama Free)

“Inspiring, wise, and thoughtful, this book is a gift for anyone looking to deepen their friendships.”—Luvvie Ajayi Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Professional Troublemaker

Sisterhood is that sacred space where all the masks that are worn for the world fall off. It’s the place where you lay down your load, refill your cup, and laugh until your belly aches. Our sister circles literally prolong our lives. However, building and keeping healthy friendships take work. How must these friendships evolve as we age? What practices can we put in place to maintain them? Can they be the key to unlocking a more fulfilled existence? The answer is yes.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford has been doing the work to help Black women heal together for over twenty years. In a sisterhood community with more than half a million members, she’s the go-to therapist for Black women looking to prioritize their mental health and become the best possible versions of themselves. Now she’s sharing all she’s learned using the tenets of psychology and group therapy to help us foster relationships that are not only positive, but transformative.

In Sisterhood Heals you will

• discover the ways in which your present-day relationships with Black women have been influenced by your past
• identify the recurring role you play in your friend group and how it influences your relationships
• learn new strategies to grow and sustain healthy, nurturing friendships as well as how to rebuild after a rupture

Dr. Joy brings the warmth, wisdom, empathy, and levity found in our girlfriends to these pages, and reminds us that during difficult times sisterhood is often a lifeline with the power to help us experience fuller, more satisfying lives.
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Praise for Sisterhood Heals

Sisterhood Heals is full of guidance and insights on building and nurturing solid relationships with other women. Dr. Joy Harden Bradford offers a roadmap for personal growth and improved connections with others, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and joyful life. . . . A valuable resource.”—Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist and New York Times bestselling author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace and Drama Free

Sisterhood Heals is a revelatory work about caring for ourselves and for our friends, and how our relationships impact us in more ways than we ever realized. Inspiring, wise, and thoughtful, this book is a gift for anyone looking to deepen their friendships.”—Luvvie Ajayi Jones, speaker, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author of Professional Troublemaker

Sisterhood Heals will give Black women and girls permission to celebrate our bonds, understand ourselves more deeply, mourn our losses, and find and maintain the communities we need to heal. It is a gift.”—Tarana Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

“Dr. Joy’s work joins a long legacy of Black women writing us into new realities of wellness. Sisterhood Heals is an exceptional new text for us to learn from. It’s a loving reminder that we are our sister’s keeper and she is ours. If you want to feel seen and be lovingly invited to build life-changing relationships, read this book and share it with a friend.”—Rachel E. Cargle, author of A Renaissance of Our Own

“For many, there is a collective wound around safety and support in friendship. We long for connection but don’t always have the tools to meet that need in a meaningful way. Dr. Joy’s work continues to free people everywhere through her depth, expertise, authenticity, and courage to show the way forward.”—Devi Brown, founder, Devi Brown Well-Being

“This book feels like an offering for the altars of sisterhood, love, and guidance. And, most important, it’s a skilled handbook on knowing how to preserve those connections.”—Fran Medina, wellness advocate, producer, and founder of Hey Fran Hey

“[An] impressive debut … backed with psychological depth, and especially welcome in a culture that sometimes downplays nonromantic bonds. This is food for the soul.”Publishers Weekly
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Sisterhood Heals

Chapter 1

What Shapes Our Connections

We are each other’s 
we are each other’s 
we are each other’s 
magnitude and bond.

—­Gwendolyn Brooks

My grandparents’ home sits at what I would describe as the apex of the little town of Napoleonville, Louisiana. It is directly across the street from a Baptist church, up the street from the elementary school, around the corner from the house where you could buy the best homemade pies, and on the route to the only grocery store there was in town until it closed after Hurricane Katrina. In short, it is a great place to have a front row seat to all the action, and the best seats were always on the front porch, where the women in my family “held court.”

Like the ear-­hustling kindergartner I was, the porch was also where I wanted to be. It’s where the women in my family would gather, whether they were eating frozen cups or doing hair. It’s where my Tee Jane would talk about whose kids were acting up at school and my Tee Cynt would talk about the latest employment drama at Bill’s Dollar Store. It’s where my Tee Ivy would get caught up on all the latest town gossip since she now lived in Texas and was usually only home for the summer and Christmas. Tee Lisa would take a sip of Dr Pepper—­mostly for dramatic effect—­before filling us, I mean them, in on what she’d heard while getting her hair done.

“Y’all heard Reverend Arnold’s sons was down there fighting at Blue Monday?” Tee Lisa would ask.

“Fighting! What were they fighting for?” Tee Cynt wondered aloud.

“Apparently that youngest one, Darryl, found Cedric Wilson’s car in the driveway when he came back from offshore, and you know that didn’t go over too well.”

“Oh no! Didn’t his wife just have that baby a few months ago?”

Hiding behind the door or hovering unseen somewhere nearby, with the tiny hairs on my five-year-­old arms standing at attention, I’d peep around the corner to listen as she expertly weaved the harrowing tale of what happened when Darryl came back home to find Cedric alone with his wife. “Girl, yeah. They said he took off on foot running straight down Highway 308. He lucky he didn’t get hit.”

“I know them neighbors was outside cutting up.”

“You know they were!”

The cackles and laughter as she relayed Cedric’s attempts to run out of the house unscathed did something to my little body that I wouldn’t be able to define for decades. Though I didn’t always understand what they were talking about or what was going on when my aunts and grandmother would have these porch talks, I knew it was something special. There were always laughs, always somebody talking loudly, or whispering if the occasion called for it. All I knew was that this dynamic, this back-­and-­forth way of being, of engaging, was everything. It was where I first learned the healing power of sisterhood. It’s also the first place I learned how to navigate conflict. It was the sharing between these women in my life that provided a foundation for what I understood sisterhood to be.

Over the course of our lives, we build the foundations of our connections on inherited ideas about what it means to be in relationship with one another, how to deal with differences between ourselves and others, and who is deemed worthy of such connection. Those earliest ideas about connection, community, and sisterhood as well as how we attach ourselves to one another are often formed in our youth. They evolve from our very first relationships, with our parents or caregivers, siblings, and family members. In order to truly unpack, heal, and grow our friendships and ourselves we must start at our origin stories.

Some of the most formidable conversations I have with my clients stem from the information they share about their early relationships. I often spend time asking them questions and listening to their responses: Who was your biggest supporter growing up? How would you describe your relationship with your parents? How would you describe your relationships with your siblings? What did your friendships look like as a child? What I’m listening for are patterns in relationship dynamics from childhood that might be impacting current relationships. For example, a response like “No one really supported me growing up” or “I made friends pretty easily but none of the friendships seemed to last” would likely prompt a conversation about what support looks like today and whether longevity in friendships continues to be difficult. By no means does our childhood write our future in stone, but it can provide some helpful clues.

Because of the salience of women’s friendships in our lives, it is important for me to assess this as a part of my work. Our friendships, our sister circles, have been proven to extend the years of our lives. This isn’t hyperbole, Sis. It’s true! In fact, Dr. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, states that “friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-­being, and happiness.”1 There’s no way around it—­we need one another. We need our sisters. Psychologist Julianne Holt-­Lunstad and her colleagues found that being isolated was as bad for our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day. And Harvard Medical School agrees. Its 2010 study showed that “a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-­life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality.”

In addition to all the studies about how affirming friendships and connections are to improved physical health and longer life expectancy, it’s also true that relationships with our sisters can contribute to greater self-­esteem and stronger mental health. Healthy friendships make us feel less lonely, and that has a huge overall impact. Much has also been written and shared about the staggering impact that loneliness can have on our lives. In 2019, the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index reported that 61 percent of Americans shared feeling lonely. That same year, a study of two thousand Americans, commissioned by Evite, found that the average American hadn’t made a new friend in the past five years. Loneliness has been linked to elevated risk of heart disease, higher blood pressure, and increased rates of depression and anxiety.

Forming strong connections with others—­physical, mental, and emotional bonds that can withstand time and change—­is not only valuable in many areas of our lives but also integral to our development as humans and connected to our very survival. For Black women, this is especially true. It is why I believe that the best way for Black women to thrive is through our healthy relationships with other Black women. As Nikki Giovanni once said, “Black women are . . . the only group that derives its identity from itself. I think it’s been rather unconscious but we measure ourselves by ourselves, and I think that’s a practice we can ill afford to lose.” Yes ma’am, Ms. Giovanni. I couldn’t agree more. I mea­sured so much of myself by those women I loved on the porch. But I’m also clear that keeping close ties and maintaining flourishing relationships as an adult is not always so easy. The hurdles tend to have deeper roots.

Messages from Mama

“What did Sheena say to you yesterday?” my mama would say. Or, her favorite question was “Do you think she’s jealous of you?” From the time I started high school until now, my mother has always been intrusive in my relationships with other girls and women. She wants to know everything—I mean, every single detail. She’s always cautioning me to be wary of my friends because she believes that women, in general, are not trustworthy. In her words, “They will turn on you in a minute.” I don’t necessarily believe that, but I have to admit that her questions often left me confused. I gravitated to having more friendships with guys because it just didn’t create the kind of friction with Mom as the relationships with girlfriends did.

—­Tamara, 35

About the Author

Joy Harden Bradford, PhD
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is a licensed psychologist and the host of the award-winning mental health podcast Therapy for Black Girls. Her work focuses on making mental health topics and support more relevant and accessible for Black women. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana, a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from Arkansas State University, and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Essence, Oprah Daily, The New York Times, HuffPost, Black Enterprise, and Women’s Health. Dr. Joy lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two sons. More by Joy Harden Bradford, PhD
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