While speaking at the University of Colorado-Boulder last month, the rapper and actor said he learned something very important about himself after the split.
“I discovered I didn’t truly believe in myself wholeheartedly with every morsel that I had in my body, and I discovered that through a breakup. I was in a relationship with Erykah Badu,” he explained. “When we did break up, one of the most important things I discovered was that I was scared to wear my greatness … Which meant I could be in a relationship and dim my light for others.”
Common then said dimming his light with Badu bled into his relationships with other people and even family members.
“I could be around other artists and dim my light for others,” he stated. “I could get around my parents and dim my light. I could get around friends who I felt like I might make them uncomfortable ’cause I was doing something that they hadn’t maybe achieved yet or they weren’t happy with the way they were, so I would dim my light for others.”
Some may find it ironic that Common’s ex Serena Williams said something similar after their union ended.
It was during a 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey and although Serena didn’t mention the rapper’s name, she admitted to lessening herself to satisfy the men she dated. The tennis star and Common were a couple from 2008-2010 and have since spoken publicly about their breakup.
“You can’t pretend to be any less of what you are,” Oprah told Serena during their chat. “And you are so huge. You carry such a big light, so you can’t go around dimming your light just to be walking with somebody else.”
“I’ve done that before,” replied the tennis star who was 32 years old at the time. “[I dimmed my light] to appear like I’m [not] full of myself or I’m [not] better than you, because that’s really not me.”
Oprah then said it’s okay for people to think highly of themselves, but there’s a right way to display that confidence, so it doesn’t turn people off.
“What you really want is to be completely full of yourself, so your cup runneth over, so you can give it to other people,” she explained. “Not in an arrogant way but that you absolutely own your own power.”
That seems to be what Common did after he and Badu said their goodbyes because he eventually found his path by reading a lot and talking to smart, enlightened people. The 45-year-old also explained that he became a better listener and devoted more time to meditation and prayer.
To help others accomplish the same thing and to get a better understanding of people dimming their light, we spoke to relationship expert Dr. Tiffanie Henry, who runs a private practice in Atlanta and has a website called My Intimate Details.
ABS: How can you tell when you’re dimming your light in a relationship or when someone is contributing to that process?
Dr. Tiffanie: We always want that friend, that good guy friend or that good girlfriend that believes in us, that toots our horn for us, that is ride or die, that really knows our potential. But when that’s not reciprocated or you feel like this person doesn’t ride as hard for me as I do for them [it’s a problem]. And certainly when the spotlight is on me, they don’t promote me and love on me and hold me up as much as I do for them and even further than that, they seem uncomfortable with the attention, accolades and the praise that I get.
That means your relationship is not reciprocal and it’s kind of one-sided. We might love someone so much and want something for them so much, we don’t realize it inhibits and dishonors ourselves, especially when it isn’t reciprocated.
ABS: What are some of the responsibilities people have in relationships, so their partner or friend doesn’t feel like they’re dimming their light?
Dr. Tiffanie: Take Oprah and Stedman or Oprah and Gayle. In both of those two relationships, Gayle is her biggest supporter and she is Gayle’s, and Stedman takes more backseats than any man I know, but she’s very much supportive of him, and he’s always so supportive of her.
A lot of times that’s all people want in a relationship: Just acknowledge that you couldn’t go out and be the movie star, the singer, the actress, whoever you are without me staying at home and taking care of these kids. Because if I didn’t do it, you wouldn’t be able to do it.
What I hear Common saying is that ‘I was appreciating all that she was, but I don’t think that was reciprocated and was acknowledged and appreciated for all that I brought to the table. And I couldn’t be the best of who I was or even had to hide the best of who I was. Sometimes people feel like ‘If I focus on you, then you can’t focus on me.’ We can focus on each other and make each other better and build each other up.
ABS: If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s extremely successful and may be further along in their career than you are, how do you keep your voice and still feel like an equal? Especially since you’re probably giving that person a lot of support?
Dr. Tiffanie: I truly believe that everyone has a voice in a relationship. Some of us don’t use our voice. You have to be able to articulate to someone what it is that you need and sometimes we don’t know. We just know a feeling that we have … And if that’s all you know, then say that. Like, ‘I feel this is kind of one-sided.’
I feel like you don’t appreciate the fact that I’m here to pick up the kids every afternoon at 3:00, so you don’t even have to think about trying to get off work early. I feel you think that dinner magically appears on your plate. These things all happen because I’m here and I need you to acknowledge that and say thank you.
ABS: Common talked about not having the right amount of self-esteem during his time with Erykah Badu. How can people fix that if they’re going through the same thing?
Dr. Tiffanie: Sometimes people stay in a relationship past the expiration date, because they’re trying to change someone else or hoping that person will change or wise up or see their light, when in actuality it was Common who needed to make the change.
He was probably hanging in there longer than he needed to, hoping that she would come to her senses [and] recognize his sacrifice and what he was doing and his potential and all that. He had to see it. And once you see that, you realize you’re worth more and you don’t deserve that. That you deserve better.
ABS: Is it really possible for someone else to dim your light? Shouldn’t you have sole control of that?
Dr. Tiffanie: You control the dimmer switch, for sure. I think there are people in your life that suggest that you do dim but you control it … Everybody should be allowed and supported in pursuing their dream and shouldn’t have to dumb down their dream or whatever it is they want, so a person feels better. If you feel you have to do that in a relationship, that’s not the relationship for you.