The Sisterella Complex

Published: Jul 22 2021

In chapter 5 of Shifting, Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden provide explanations and various example of “Sisterellas.” A Sisterella, like the classic Cinderella, is a black woman so consumed with the care of others (e.g. family, friends, businesses, etc.) that they neglect caring for themselves.

The Sisterella Complex is an example of shifting gone awry. Sisterella -- a form of depression -- can emerge when the African American woman subsumes her own needs to those of others and/or when she internalizes negative stereotypes and myths about Black women. The Sisterella Complex often, though not always, appears in the form of classic depressive symptoms, including chronic sadness, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in people and activities, and low energy. The number and severity of these symptoms may or may not warrant a DSM diagnosis of dysthymia or major depressive disorder. But sometimes these traditional symptoms are not evident, but are masked by culture-specific manifestations, as in the Stoic Overachiever persona, the Angry Black Woman persona, somatization, and emotional overeating. What is unique about the Sisterella Complex is the role of internalized racism and/or sexism on the African American woman's psyche and functioning.