…The freedom to tell it as I see it: I have always been direct, but it took me to my forties to truly own what I say. As women, we sometimes question our thought and ideas when they are received with any hesitation. Early in my life, I would back up or sometimes even apologize for my being forthright if someone refuted me because I did not trust my ideas.
As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Denna Babul.Denna is an expert in the field of relationships. She’s also an author, sought after speaker, relationship coach, award-winning author of The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives (Avery, 2016) and Love Strong: Change Your Narrative, Change Your Life, and Take Your Power Back! (Savio Republic), and the founder of the Fatherless Daughter Movement non-profit. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. You can find more info at DennaBabul.com.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
I am always getting inspired by finding ways to help people continue to build on their narrative. I have two new books I am currently working on. Lead Strong is an initiative that is very near and dear to my heart. It is about helping women understand how to best use their voices to get the results they both want and deserve in corporate America. Although women’s voices in corporate America continue to evolve, I still find that our male counterparts don’t always understand who we are and how to best work with us. I plan to try and continue to close that gap with Lead Strong. My other book is a passion project. The working title is The Coach’s Wife. It is a story loosely based on mine and my husband’s relationship. It follows an up and coming college coach who marries the love of his life. The story centers around what two people who love each other will do to help each other meet impossible goals.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
I have been giving relationship advice since childhood. It is intuitive for me. I can read any situation and know what is best for everyone involved almost immediately, but I, too, had a year where the rubber met the road in my personal life. I went through a life-changing break-up, and my old abandonment issues came flying up to the surface. It was only then that I decided to stop dating and start putting all my effort into healing and understanding my childhood trauma. It was a profound year for my personal growth, and through that growth, my Love Strong methodology was born. I have been perfecting it for the last twenty years while working with thousands of women. What I know for sure is if we do not take the time to understand our childhood messaging, it can and will dictate our adulthood relationships.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I think you first have to understand the verbal and non-verbal cues given to us in childhood. What areas did your parents focus on? Where and when did you receive praise? The things we hear and see can leave an imprint on our mind, and most importantly, on our hearts. An example of a verbal cue could be something as simple as if your mother or father only praised you when you wore make-up. By saying something like, “You look so much prettier when you fix up.” Today you may only feel you are at value when you are dressed up with a full face on. A non-verbal cue can be a bit harder to quantify.
An example could be that you never saw your parents argue; therefore you have a hard time dealing with healthy confrontation. An example could be if you and your significant other have a disagreement, and he or she tells you what they think. Because you are not used to verbal assertiveness, verbal confrontation can seem overly aggressive versus a healthy way to find a resolution. I try to refocus my clients to look deeper at understanding their own wants and desires versus that of their parents. When those cues are turned off, a person can better understand their own needs and values. Core values are where the real magic is. Core values are the extended version of tall, dark, and handsome. They are the fundamental beliefs a person has about life and how he or she chooses to go about it. They are the foundation for how we conduct ourselves out in the world, the guiding principles that help us understand what is right and what is wrong. Getting clarity on those values will always lead you to your heart’s desires.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
When we truly understand ourselves and why we do what we do, acceptance takes place. We give ourselves the room to forgive and let go of the things that no longer serve us. By accepting our histories and learning to love ourselves despite our failures, we acquire the ultimate inner child reckoning. We decide to let go of the past to make room for loving ourselves. It is in that space that the light comes in, and we begin to grow into who we are meant to become ultimately. This time is vital because each time we project our needs onto others, we are failing to find the love within us. For me, the act of finding strong love within ourselves is what will ultimately lead to us truly loving others-without losing ourselves along the way.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
People remain in mediocre relationships because of fear. Period. Fear that they believe either they are not enough or ultimately unlovable. To know yourself is to love yourself. When we understand the why of who we are and why we react in specific ways, acceptance can flow from within. I always find it interesting that we go to college or apply ourselves to work, but we don’t take the time to understand ourselves in love. Inevitably, heartbreak will always force our hands to do the work. In Love Strong, I wanted to lay the foundation for self-acceptance, how we give & receive love, and what to do to make it all happen. I would tell anyone who is settling, that when they are ready to meet themselves in the mirror, the real love will follow. Until then, everything else is just settling.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
We have all felt weak in a relationship at some point in our lives, in romantic love or maybe even in friendship love. Many times, as women, we take on the brunt of the blame. We are born to nurture, so we get busy taking care of another person’s needs, and somewhere along the way, forget about ourselves. We may think, “If I could just love this person more, it would all work out.” We set about trying to understand how to love the person better and start forgetting about self-love. When the balance is off or somehow shifted to favor the other person, that is weak love. It is not sustainable, and to keep it going, we will inevitably lose ourselves in the process. Think about a past relationship, the one you are in now, or the one you are hoping to gain in the future. How do you want to feel? How do you not want to feel? To give you a better understanding of the difference between loving weak and loving strong, I have listed a few characteristics below. Think about your person. Circle which category your love falls into based on how it made or makes you feel.
Loving strong can:
Bring peace and love into your life.
Give you the confidence to both give and receive love freely. Treat you kindly.
Accept you in all of your glory.
Make you happy.
Encourage you to try new things.
Make you feel secure.
Give you hope.
Loving weak can:
Make you question yourself.
Make you feel sad.
Make you feel misunderstood.
Make you act out in anger.
Make you feel fear.
Make you close yourself off from family and friends.
Make you change who you are.
If you find that you are loving weak, it is probably time to do some inner work to get the love you want.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)? Being alone helps quiet all of the noise around us that is keeping us from hearing our own needs. I find that people run from solidarity when their own inner narratives are too hard to deal with.
The good news is, your inner dialogue can be easily changed by using positive affirmation repetition. Studies say it takes sixty-six days before a new behavior becomes automatic. I call this part of the process, “the reveal.” Try keeping a thought journal, or you can use sticky notes, as I like to do. At the end of three days, I want you to highlight the negative comments in your journal. Sit with them for a few days, and be mindful of what you say outwardly versus inwardly.
After your three days of writing down your negative self- talk, I want you to find a positive affirmation to counteract what you are saying to yourself. You will see that there are about five to ten damaging statements swirling around in that pretty little head of yours daily. Write your affirming statements about the self-talk you are determined to change. Then, for the next sixty-six days, put your new internal dialogue into practice. Note that change is not always straightforward or constant. But keep reaffirming yourself; once you get comfy with your new self-talk, share some of it with a close friend or trusted family member. Ask them to call you out when they see you being harmful to yourself. Soon those berating messages will be a thing of the past. By letting go of the negative self-talk you will begin to hear your real thoughts and needs.
Getting quiet with one’s self gives us time to hear our inner voices. When we are not fully “woke” it is our subconscious mind that most often takes the lead. She is the part of your mind who is not fully aware of what you want but continues to influence your actions, feelings, and many of your choices. According to most cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions and emotions depend on the other 95 percent of the brain’s activity that is not fully awake. To get focused and wake up the other 5% of our minds where we have to practice getting quiet and feeling all that is there to guide us.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others? By loving ourselves, we are indeed free to love others. By understanding ourselves, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and agile to the world’s possibilities. Those vulnerabilities invite others to be open to give and receive love in tandem with us.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
I think, as individuals, we all come into adulthood with the energy from our family histories, traumas, and the fractures that happen along the way. As individuals, we have to take some accountability for all of it and commit to healing so that we don’t project our pain onto others. However, as a society, we are not all capable of doing the work. Either we don’t have the emotional tools or courage to do it alone, or we simply don’t think we have the pain to heal. I think a lot of people find it hard to deal with people who are emotionally or mentally weak and incapable of doing their work. We believe that if we can do the work, others can too. I wish it were that easy; if it were we would all be walking around free of pain. For me, acceptance is key. Accepting people for where they are is where the real healing happens. Sometimes loving people from afar has to occur to best love ourselves.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
Wow! This question got me thinking…in a good way.
- The freedom to tell it as I see it: I have always been direct, but it took me to my forties to truly own what I say. As women, we sometimes question our thought and ideas when they are received with any hesitation. Early in my life, I would back up or sometimes even apologize for my being forthright if someone refuted me because I did not trust my ideas. The more and more I fell in love with myself along the way, the stronger my convictions have become. An easy way for all women to best use their voice is first to check their intentions behind their worlds. If your intentions are in the right place, let your words flow.
- Taking time to rest your mind: I am a leader, creator, empath, and an optimist. I take in a lot of other people’s issues and energy. It is the part of myself that I think God bestowed my best gifts. I was born to help others. I eat, drink, and live it. However, to be able to continue using those talents, I have also to take the time needed to rest. For me, walking on the beach or losing myself in a book is the best way to recharge my battery. My husband has also learned to help me when I need to rest my mind. He is lovely and grabbing up the kids and taking them on an expedition while I take the time to rejuvenate the soul.
- Exploring my creativity: I am a storyteller. Everything I see and hear is always being used to create something. I keep a notepad and journal and am regularly writing down ideas and thoughts for something I will use at a later time. To me, there is nothing like exploring somewhere new to get inspired. The minute I get on a plane and the wheels are up, my mind starts to run wild. My thoughts are inundated with ideas for books and scripts. I have a script that I have been working on for years. I even told Devon Franklin about it, so now I know it will come to fruition.
- Words have power: When we are in the space and frequency, we are supposed to be living in things that come naturally. I try to live by this mantra, knowing that the things that are meant for me will be, anything else is just a distraction. When I am going against the current, so to speak, and acting out, out of frustration, my energy starts to become negative. It is in this negativity that I have to choose my words to reflect positivity to change my trajectory. I try to speak and align in a way that brings the light to me and from me. I am human, and yes, sometimes I lose it. However, the more you practice, the more natural and more rewarding it becomes.
- I choose to love strong: In whatever I am doing and whomever I love I want to do it strongly. My relationships are what are the most important for me. If one is not offering strong love, I have learned to let it go with love. This is not to say that I don’t love all kinds of people because I do. I just know what I need to feel and be loved. If someone is doing more of the taking, I let them go from my close circle until they are ready to give love too.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
There are so many. Some books that have helped me along the way are:
Many Lives Many Masters-This book taught me that our pasts and perhaps our past lives play a role in our current lives. It expanded my ideas and gave me room to believe that everyone we meet is for a reason.
Adult Children of Alcoholics-I had no idea that my father’s alcoholism had played a role in the way I thought. It wasn’t until I found this book on accident at an ACOA meeting (for college credits) that I started to understand how the effects of having a parent with this disease can play out in your life.
The Inner Child Workbook-A therapist told me about this book. I learned more about myself than I could have ever have imagined as I poured my pain into this guide book. It is a must for anyone still dealing with childhood issues.
The Female Brain-This book is fascinating!
Co-dependant No More-I found this book in the book store in my twenties and devoured it. Although I am not the quintessential co-dependent, I did realize that I had developed a lot of those habits with my mom after losing my father. Reading the book gave me the kick in the ass I needed to fly the coup and go explore the world.
You Can Heal Your Life-Loise Hay was way ahead of her time. I refer to this book often and respect the mental, physical, and emotional connection. Our thoughts really do influence every other part of our lives.
I love to follow Brene Brown, Devon Franklin, and Gabby Bernstein for spiritual guidance. The Harvard Business Review is also a stimulating follow for anyone in business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
My first book, “The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives”, inspired the Fatherless Daughter Movement. It consists of a non-profit, a documentary and a platform for the 1 in 3 women out there who identify as being fatherless. I define fatherlessness as the lack of an emotional bond between a daughter and a father due to, but not limited to: death, divorce, abandonment, abuse, addiction, or incarceration. Fatherlessness is an extremely prevalent issue but not one, as I found that our society is ready to bring to the forefront. We desperately need our fathers, and I am dedicated to helping this issue get the attention it warrants. Who else is in? I need someone with a platform and wallet much more significant than mine to join me in my plight to heal.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Your past does not have to define you; you can use it to redefine who you want to become.
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
Yes. I lost my father tragically when I was 13 years old. He was murdered, and we never found out who did it. Most of my childhood dreams died when he did. Instead of dreaming, I lived in fear. I had to let go of the ordinary things a teenager dreams of like love and the wanderlust around what I would do with my life. Instead, I went into planning mode. I gave up my idea of moving to California to pursue writing and settled on nursing school because it seemed to offer stability. I settled in love, and instead of looking for my equal, I married the first guy that came around and could offer what I thought was normalcy. Although I only practiced nursing for eight years, and my first marriage was a bust, they both taught me so much about myself. In both, I did find stability, and they allowed me some time to rest and just live for a while. However, as with all childhood trauma, the past came back bubbling up to the surface the minute I tried to step out and go it alone. It was in those years of alone time that I found my footing. I began to love myself, and in that love, my storytelling voice came back to life.
It took me a lot of years, heart work and perspective to finally understand that I did not have to live in my past anymore. I faced my childhood trauma, took what served me, and let go of the rest. It was a grueling process, but I came out so much stronger. I used everything that tried to break me and built my new foundation brick by brick.
Today, I use my past to help others find their voices. I no longer hide from all of the pain. I now use it for power and purpose.
It is a good life.