When Thugs Cry: DMX Breaksdown on VH1’s ‘Couples Therapy’

Writing within the context of my own community; oftentimes a Black woman’s dating patterns–especially if that pattern is askew, like a Möbius strip– and disposition is attributed to her relationship with her father.  We hear society wax poetic about a woman’s supposed Daddy Issues (clinical term: Electra complex); particularly if she’s prone to behavior that’s considered aggressive, wanton, attention hungry, and nihilistic; we never really explore why dads  take sole responsibility for their daughter’s dysfunctional behavior or ponder the opposite end of that spectrum… the opposite end being Black women’s (and especially Black men’s) relationship(s) with their mothers and how that maternal interaction impact their adult lives.

I don’t watch VH1’s “Couple Therapy.”  I did however, read my social media platforms explode into cyber equivalents of nonplussed commentary and harsh assessments after rapper DMX– (who, along with his estranged wife Tashera, is a participant on the show)– apparently broke down during the most recent episode.  I watched the clip and immediately saw a troubled man— used to posturing in the steely, thuggish “Keeping it Real” role dictated by Rap music’s narrative—defeated.  And a lot of young, Black urban men are often expected to take on that same aesthetic, lest they be accused of being too soft or a punk.  This expectation leaves no room for Black men to express themselves and it can manifest in the myriad of destructive ways. Male children who have unstable attachments to their maternal caregivers are vulnerable to behavior problems and become aggressive, hostile adults sometimes incapable of maintaining healthy romantic relationships or friendships. For DMX it manifested into a drug addiction, womanizing, and multiple run-ins with the law.

Family therapist, social philosopher, and advocate for boys, Michael Gurian has written extensively on how parents, especially mothers, can help cultivate their sons’ development. In his book, “The Invisible Presence“– which explores the positive and negative aspects of the mother/son bond and how it shows up in a son’s adult relationships– Gurian writes…  

“Unresolved issues in a man’s relationship with his mother are profound sources of trouble in a man’s life. In studies and surveys done by psychologists and researchers over the last decade… we have discovered that the majority of men in this culture have unresolved problems concerning their mothers. Some of those involve a mother’s abuse, neglect, abandonment, or impingement on a son’s healthy individuation.”

When DMX confessed where his feelings of dejection stemmed from during the televised (for Reality TV) therapy session with Dr. Jenn Berman and Tashera, it was a very authentically raw moment… unheard of by today’s “reality TV” standards. DMX divulged an unrequited desire to hear his mother (who he hasn’t spoken to in years) say “I love you”.

“I used to always turn to drugs when I was feeling a certain way and now I’m not doing that. Sometimes the pressure builds up; I’ll call someone and say… I just wanted to say ‘Mommy.’ I wanted to say that word… ‘Mommy.’  Not ‘my mother,’ you know, I wanted to say ‘mommy’.  I just wanted to talk to her.’” DMX confessed.  

“I haven’t spoken to her in years and I just wanted to be able to say, ‘Hi mommy, I love you.’  Not once did she ever tell me she loved me. I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that, no matter how strong you are as a man, no matter how tough you are, we all need to be somebody’s baby.”  He said, wracked by sobs.

While DMX’s vulnerable moment of clarity was very telling and exposed a very legitimate issue regarding mother/son relationships, the Twitterverse and social media burst into a chorus of confused tweets, laughter, and jeers:

“So she didn’t say she loved you, my father hated me. My mother chose her husband over me. I don’t treat people badly or even whine about it,” wrote one unsympathetic commenter on a popular celebrity news blog.

“Oh yea. DMX was crying like a bitch on VH1 last night. Ima [sic] watch his show so I can watch a grown man cry… its [sic] always funny,“ tweeted another.

At least a few Tweeters found no solace in laughing at the embattled rapper breaking down on national TV:

“The way DMX was crying on Couples Therapy may be amusing to some, but I bet half of yall [sic] judged him & don’t/didn’t know the pain he endured. “ 

… And that empathetic tweet presents a good point about the stigma of psychotherapy and mental health in the Black community; a resource that can be an empowering and useful tool toward a better quality of life; and can aid in helping one become more communicative and expressive, as opposed to acting out in self-destructive ways; which I’m hoping is at least one of the reasons why DMX and his long suffering wife, Tashera decided to appear on the show.

As unusual (and discomfiting) as DMX’s breakdown might have seemed to those folks used to his tough-as-nails, growling rap anthems to “Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down open shop!”  Please keep in mind that he did also rap: “All I know is pain/All I feel is rain/How can I maintain, with mad shit on my brain I resort to violence…” among other things of course.

As evidenced by DMX, Black men and their relationships with their mothers definitely shape how they live and love as men. Despite what pop-culture and music dictates, it’s never wrong or bad for a Black man to fight and flail towards the crux of his issues, so that he can maintain some semblance of sanity, particularly since he has several children… and most times this involves open-mouthed, ugly, wall-sliding sobbing… and it’s what Luscious Jackson calls a Nervous Breakthrough. Even thugs are capable of imploding.