The loss of Whitney Houston is with me. In 1988, I included lyrics of her song, “The Greatest Love of All,” in a case I wrote up involving a client with a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse. In her growing up, this woman had never been honored nor cared for in gentle, facilitating ways as the words of this song advise.
While I do not know the intricacies of Whitney’s life, I am aware of her relationship with Bobby Brown—how she was the victim of physical abuse in a relationship characterized by domestic violence, as well as significant love and attachment. Further, while the current toxicology report has yet to be revealed to determine the actual cause of Whitney’s young death, it is clear that she had a significant substance abuse history and that this may have resulted in her mortality.
There is a high correlation between women with abuse histories and substance abuse. While Whitney was able to separate from and divorce Brown, it is not clear that she was able to heal from the devastation of this loss. Often, the physical separation is the “easiest” part of leaving someone who has been abusive. Yet, internally, one frequently remains connected, still loving and longing for the lost lover and abuser. Deep-seated insecurities, familiarity, and even “addiction” to the abusive partner play a part in such desires and complete inability to separate.
The process of healing is long and complex, often involving significant therapeutic attention to family-of-origin factors leading up to patterns of connecting up with abusive others, and staying in relationships deemed as self-destructive. It appears that Whitney Houston may have used alcohol and drugs to deal with her depression and unhealed wounds. I am sorry she could not get the help she needed and that the world—and especially her 18 year-old daughter—has lost a talent like she, but as we know, beauty, talent, and even being loved by many, often does not mitigate against or trump severe impoverishment in one’s sense of being valued and valuable, loved and loveable.
Rest in peace, Whitney Houston.
Gwenn A. Nusbaum, LCSW, BCD, CGP
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