Karisa Karmali of Self-Love and Fitness: “Self-belief”

Self-belief is not just believing in yourself, it’s being the final voice and authority in your life. This means allowing yourself to craft a vision for your life that is greater than your present circumstances while understanding that success looks different for everyone and that is okay. For me, self-belief means considering trustworthy people worth […]

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Self-belief is not just believing in yourself, it’s being the final voice and authority in your life. This means allowing yourself to craft a vision for your life that is greater than your present circumstances while understanding that success looks different for everyone and that is okay. For me, self-belief means considering trustworthy people worth considering, but filtering out external noise. When I started to stand my ground and step into my power, I got the courage to start the business. I had been sleeping on this idea for six years! Owning my light and knowing that dimming it would not make any bully / toxic person like me more, it would just block my blessings and ability to inspire others, I stepped into owning my fullest expression of who I am.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karisa Karmali.

Karisa Karmali is Founder of Self-Love and Fitness™, an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, an ISSA Certified Online Fitness Coach, and a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach. Self-Love and Fitness™ is also an online retailer of fitness equipment. Her website is: https://selfloveandfitness.com/.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I want to share my childhood backstory so that anyone with a similar childhood (or anyone going through adversity) can feel less alone while reading it and hopefully be inspired. I was holding off on sharing it until I found the right platform, and here it is, finally!

I was taken away from the home of my family of origin at the age of four (due to abuse).

After being taken from my classroom in the middle of a lesson, I landed in my first foster home. While I did not know this at the time, it was the first of many. The first foster home I was placed in felt strange (very off). I felt dread and anxiety upon entering this home. I felt out of place from the moment I stepped into their house. When I was not at school, I would sit in my room and color to be away from the foster parents.

I was treated differently than their biological children. They treated me like a burden and acted like something was wrong with me. I kept quiet and just kept surviving, hoping that one day I could live on my own.

Even on school days, I was not given breakfast, so I would rely heavily on the breakfast program at school.

Before I became a Crown Ward in my late teens, the short-term homes were temporary and designed this way in order to see if the situation at home would become safe eventually (as if it ever was), and it did not.

When I walked into the next foster home, it was also interesting. The new home appeared perfect around the social workers, but treated me differently behind closed doors.

This is the home where I was told to dim my light and ambition to make the foster sisters less insecure around/about my presence.

I did well in school and I used learning as my escape. The plan for me was to eventually claw myself out of the foster care system, which thankfully, in my experience, was safer than my home, but still scary. I would always make excuses to stay at school later to avoid going back home to this foster family. I went all-in with making notes for my homework, textbooks, organized systems to study better, using school as my escape.

I did most of the chores in their home, while they were sitting and watching television. I was also body-shamed daily for being skinny.

They would call me a “nerd” for wanting to do well in school to make sure my tuition got paid for through scholarships. It is not as though I had other options to finance my tuition though. Another thing I did to get away from them for as many hours a day as I could is that I sold bracelets door to door and make-up as well.

One day, as I was walking back from the school bus stop to the home, one of their biological children pushed me to the ground in a parking lot nearby because her friends also wanted to be friends with me. I still have a scar on my knee.

In high school, amid multiple home changes, I was bullied for the fact that I was a foster child. Some of my anchors to cope with it, other than school, were swimming, walking, dance classes, and any type of physical activity.

I only landed a decent foster home in my late teens while I became a Crown Ward. At that point, I started to understand that (for me) family can be based on ties of the heart and loyalty above all else, and similar personal values.

When I was finally able to be on my own, I started shaping my identity, self-worth, self-confidence, self-love, and self-esteem from within, which felt freeing.

As I was writing this, I realized that many other people may have gone through similar things and may be afraid of sharing their stories and that is okay. I was waiting for the right platform and I am grateful this interview came up. That being said, I wanted to ensure that I felt organically compelled to share it and did so only because I wanted to. I also do not want people to think that sharing their story is all or nothing, it is perfectly acceptable (and good enough and helpful enough) to share the parts that they feel safe sharing, they are human too and are worthy of that self-compassion and balancing our privacy with sharing. Of course, the positive thing is that it can help people to know that others have survived abuse, and portions of our stories that resonate with them can be used in their toolbox.

From my personal story, the main takeaway that I want others to see is that self-esteem and self-worth are from within, and we can build it ourselves, it does not need to be instilled in us from external sources.

Anytime our self-worth is shattered, we can stay bodied (or grounded) in many ways, maintain our self-identity, and rebuild our identity as many times as needed through resilience and self-compassion.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” ― Steve Jobs

When we listen to our inner voice, we are also sure of our worthiness. This means that it does not matter whether someone feels threatened by our talent, passion, work ethic, competence, or our mere existence, when we are sure of our worth, no one’s hate or no level of other people trying to impose their thinking onto us can shake us for very long.

Foster kids are taught to accept abusive people around them, and taught not to stand up for themselves, and not trust their inner voice, and so on, which is why this quote has significance for me.

I have had insanely accurate intuition ever since a young age, but there were still people who felt the need to impose their dogma. I held onto the fact that the only person who truly knows my vision is me and while I am not dismissing the need for well-vetted and trustworthy mentors, I am referring to those who feel a need to behave like a messiah in other people’s lives. Adults are capable of making their own decisions and there is a difference between caring vs. controlling. I will stress that caring is not the same as controlling, and in this context, I am referring to controlling people.

One of the foster homes I was in told me daily that I would not amount to anything and even when I was bullied in high school for being a foster child and mocked for my ambition, I did not internalize the lies. I felt extremely sad; however, I knew that it was not true and that I could do something with my life. I do not let anyone’s words, actions, insults, behaviors permeate my aura and this Steve Jobs quote helped me!

I always warn people that if someone is trying to control your priorities and life from a place of disempowering overzealousness, look within and stay detached and clear on who you are, what you want, and what your purpose is. Every human deserves to be in control of their own beliefs, body, priorities, and mind. Listening to your intuition is ultimately how you become the main character of your life, rather than be subservient to other people’s ideas or expectations. As long as you are not going around causing anyone harm, you should be able to follow your priorities and ways of living! I think there is a link between trusting our intuition and our levels of self-respect and self-belief.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

The three traits below have created perseverance within me.

The three traits are resilience, innovativeness, and self-belief.

  • Resilience in real-time as an action verb:

When I was sexually assaulted in a business partnership two years ago, I used self-love and fitness as anchors during the event to mitigate the health ramifications of extreme anxiety and stress.

I was in such denial that what had happened was a sexual assault, meaning sexual contact that I had not been asked for my permission for it to happen, and the denial made me not leave sooner. My refusal to believe that someone would ever do that was so strong and I felt so insecure at that moment and for a long period after. That being said, the denial that someone would even do that was so strong.

I understood the entire way through that I had my self-worth from within… I processed it through self-love and fitness at the moment so that the healing process would happen at that time, not years later. I did not know that this helped me stay grounded within my body at the time! Many of us detach from our mind, body, and soul when wrongful acts are done to us; however, fitness was a way for me to continue to belong to myself and rely on myself for my empowerment through a strong sense of self-worth.

To me, resilience is a daily practice and that is what fitness and movement do for me. It activates resilience in the body, mind, and soul.

  • Innovativeness:

Narrowing down the store suppliers quickly gave me time to be able to get my ISSA Personal Training Certification / Online Training Certification, and my NASM Nutrition Coaching Certifications at the same time. I found innovative ways to automate certain processes, while still ensuring quality client service (which is not automated, but everything else is automated so that I can focus on clients).

I figured out how to make a new coaching practice work, while managing an online store, by using only the resources and the time I had. Competence and knowing the biology behind each health recommendation are key for me. The dangers of selling workout plans and nutrition without the training are high for the client who is on the receiving end, so being a professional, not an influencer, was extremely important for me. The issue is that I had very little time to do everything, so I got creative with the applications and business tools I used to make it all work at the same time.

I have always been more interested in longevity, rather than trends, but the innovation came from the way I dealt with using little to no resources to build it except a few amazing suppliers and Shopify.

  • Self-belief:

Self-belief is not just believing in yourself, it’s being the final voice and authority in your life. This means allowing yourself to craft a vision for your life that is greater than your present circumstances while understanding that success looks different for everyone and that is okay. For me, self-belief means considering trustworthy people worth considering, but filtering out external noise. When I started to stand my ground and step into my power, I got the courage to start the business. I had been sleeping on this idea for six years! Owning my light and knowing that dimming it would not make any bully / toxic person like me more, it would just block my blessings and ability to inspire others, I stepped into owning my fullest expression of who I am.

I also made sure my virtual programs reflected my standards of personalization and thorough attentiveness. I got a lot of opposition for building plans from scratch from those who are accustomed to pre-made programs; however, I stuck to my principles and it is paying off for the client which is all that matters to me.

I never once allowed myself to cave into the way that other people do business in this industry. While my service delivery model and inventory may be flexible, my standards for personalization are not. These standards and principles go against the trends of diuretic quick-fix pills and short-cuts for sure.

In sum, these three traits have created a healthy mental shield that didn’t allow external circumstances, opinions, and the limiting beliefs of others to diminish my self-worth. I may have suffered a lot, and my sense of self-worth may have been bruised temporarily, but it was never permanently shattered.

I have never seen myself as a victim, I have always seen myself as a warrior, and this is where my drive and capacity to manage a lot at once comes from and my only goal in sharing my story is to inspire others to turn pain into power and build out their life from a place of self-belief.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

I have overcome foster care, sexual assault, and multiple bouts of burnout, so I can say that emotionally processing those events while they happened made a difference. It is not always possible to emotionally process trauma in the middle of trauma, but it helps the events have as minimal as possible an impact on our goals and wellness. While these events did affect me deeply, I minimized the level of distraction through playing sports in my childhood and fitness in my adulthood.

Although I said this earlier, I cannot stress the importance of anchors enough! I mean that finding something to pour grief, sadness, loss, and anger into can help with transforming the negative emotion into something more neutral. Channeling pain and sorrow moves us from a victim (even if we truly are the victim in that situation) to survivor, all the way to adversity slayer!

I think the fact that the processing (emotionally) of the events themselves having to start while they were happening in real-time was the biggest factor for me. It is one thing to heal after the fact, but starting the healing process while it is happening (even if I was not conscious about this at the time) can help us stay grounded within ourselves.

Although this does not apply to life and safety endangering situations, and I do not mean to stay grounded during the actual act of violence or abuse, I mean shortly after rather than years later.

Grounding ourselves, so stay within our mind, body, and soul as we often disassociate ourselves amid intense pain, within the realm of possibility, can be through writing, singing, dancing, movement of any sort.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

For the childhood portion of my life, all of it was insanely scary. I would say that the scariest part was when I was in the foster home who acted nice in front of strangers, but bullied me behind closed doors. Another scary thing was me being sent to school without getting breakfast in the morning and relying on the school breakfast program.

For the sexual assault, the fact that he had so many friends that were easily duped by his charm, and barely anyone believed me was scary. All of my so-called friends at the time who were also friends with my assailant made excuses for him. Thankfully, this sad excuse for a business partnership was not my only income source as I had another job at the time, but I was still afraid as this was still a large part of my income. I was scared while my hair and neck were being touched sexually without my consent, even less acceptable is that he came from behind me so it is not as if I could have used any self-defense tactic.

The other scary part is that the few women in the room made me out to be the troublemaker. They even defended their sexual jokes, innuendo, and sexist behavior towards me by calling me unreasonable, easily offended, and too sensitive. Now, I understand that most of them were miserable and I see now that ethical places of business / ethical people who are prospects for business partnerships, that respect the law, truly do exist. Mind you, this is a place where they would rub the shoulders of the few women in the room during meetings and call it normal. After writing this out, I understood why they hated me so vehemently, even if I was a business partner. This was a cult! They would hate anyone who did not fit their mold, regardless of how unethical. I will spare you of all of the details, but cults typically silence those who speak out against their lack of ethics and shun them. They behaved like carbon copies of one another and had trained their echo chambers to defend their fooleries. I am starting to think that most of the foolishness was planned ahead of time since it was laid out so well.

I thought I was never going to recover the income and hair loss. I have recovered both my lost income and hair and then some! This event was the catalyst for me to start my business. The funny part is that I was told I was too ambitious for a woman during this business partnership as I was talking to them about possibly leaving before I left,

so I will do exactly that, and continue to be too ambitious. I will continue to talk too much, I will continue to uphold my self-respect, personal space, mental space, and I will only surround myself with people who respect dignity and equality for all genders.

I got to a point, after leaving that unethical and gross business partnership, where I was relieved to never imagine what my future would have been like if I had continued to associate with a place like that.

To be so insecure and feel like a perceived threat has to be eliminated is a low level of self-esteem that I don’t wish on anyone and that I hope any harasser can heal from their need to destroy others. Evil is rooted in pure misery and needing to amuse oneself at the detriment of other people, which doesn’t make it okay, but provides other survivors with the perspective that the survivor was never the problem — the perpetrators are the ones with the real problems.

Many of us are ashamed of what happened to us, but there is no need for that. We are not victims, we are adversity slayers.

How did you react in the short term?

For the sexual assault, I lost hair the same day of the assault, and my lawyer friend helped me. As I was contemplating taking my life because I did not feel safe in a business setting due to being a woman and this person tried to take my power from me and my confidence as he had none of his own, my friend gave me the best advice I ever got. She said: “Never let them take your Crown, Soul, and Spirit, as they want that life force energy, they feel a need to bring others down to lift themselves.”

At that moment, I decided that I would not let the pain overstay its welcome. I also decided that I will never again allow unethical people to destroy me, my confidence, life force energy, and my joy. My friend restored my faith in life.

I turned to extreme sports to cope throughout that time, but my love for fitness in general also helped me through.

In terms of coping with the childhood portion of the trauma, I would take dance classes, martial art classes, dance classes, and color a lot to create a mental vacation.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

Not only does emotional processing on this level help us not internalize loss or abuse, but it helps us not allow loss or abuse to be a statement of what our future will resemble. We take our power back, and we take control of our lives through the act of processing it fully and letting it out.

I am not recommending anything for anyone else as I am not a qualified mental health professional in any way, but these are the tools I used for both for my traumatic childhood and the assault, in no particular order:

1. Traditional therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy /Neuro-Linguistic Programming were helpful based on rewiring the subconscious mind.

2. Emotional Freedom Tapping, Reiki, and Hypnotherapy were very healing on many levels.

3. Anxiety medication was useful for me for a short period, that being said, a fitness routine and a good diet made a huge difference for me and still do. I am not advertising fitness and nutrition as a cure for anxiety, but for me, they are helpful.

4. Listening to Abraham Hicks on YouTube provided me with an interesting perspective on energy healing; however, these notions still did not replace the science behind trauma and anxiety, I think that both science and spirituality make sense in the right combinations.

5. Writing down my thoughts and feelings has also helped me to maintain a focus on solutions. Although some may say not to talk about topics that make us feel bad like abuse and such, I find that releasing the emotions is critical if we do not want the emotions to come back as mysterious diseases later.

6. Spending time reconnecting with myself and carving out quiet time, as much as possible, has also helped me. Planning vacation days where I do not need to use an alarm and allow myself to sleep as long as my body needs work wonders.

7. I have also kept my circle small and used discernment around this as I believe that the people we choose to surround ourselves with can have an impact on our healing.

These are simply the methods that worked for me, but I highly recommend a personalized approach based on what feels right for each person individually because healing is not linear. No single method should ever be sold as the “best method” or the only cure.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

I think it is about learning to live with the memories better, there’s no need to throw glitter on trash to delude ourselves into finding silver linings prematurely in traumatic situations. Many people believe that they need to find a silver lining in order to heal, while this may help, it is not mandatory and you are not a failure at healing if finding the positive takes you longer. Sometimes, the only silver lining is succeeding despite obstacles. There is a line between finding blessings in disguise and simply accepting facts.

I was told by someone to just get over the assault from two years ago and move on, rather than being given a safe space to feel my feelings in full… I only processed it a year later, but this person was not trauma informed or empathic. This is when I became adamant about making it known that we should feel our feelings in full and not allowing this is absolutely mean and unhealthy, self-compassion works a lot better!

Silver linings are not critical to healing, but some people may prefer to find them, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It may help some people but making healing depend on finding silver linings truly adds insult to injury and can delay the uprooting of deep pain. Why? Silver linings come to us on their own, and this usually happens years later or in due time. There is no need to rush the finding of silver linings, especially if the person has not fully grieved the situation. Whether or not it is an actual loss, there is a period of grieving the loss of what a situation could have been if it would have worked out better than it did in reality.

To me, healing is simply reworking the memory and reframing it as the flashback happens.

Resilience in action for me is fitness and mental reframes for my anxiety daily through anchoring my thoughts into self-loving beliefs. I hold onto my future vision regardless of past trauma, nightmares, and flashbacks. The flashbacks were chronic for a while and yes, of course, they still happen! No one can magically erase their memory. That being said, the memories no longer control how I feel about myself and how I feel in general because I am the boss of me, they are not doing to dictate my self-esteem levels — only I can do that.

I believe that it is possible to stay as resilient as possible and think critically during the tough periods while they are happening (to a certain extent, while I also understand every situation is different).

When self-trust, self-worth, and self-assurance are cultivated from within us, we are not shaken for as long as we would be without those strong anchors.

While the circumstances around us may shake us deeply, our self-love does not drop since we do not internalize the circumstances or things done to us as a statement of our worthiness as a person.

My healing truly began when I stopped being in denial of how much pain this caused me. My healing also began when I stopped taking the blame for his actions (and the actions of the group of frat boys who cheered him on as he groped me and touched me sexually without consent).

My healing also began when I realized I did do more than enough to stand up for myself and he still chose to continue the behavior. Patterns speak louder than words, and accepting the ugliness of it all is what ultimately freed me from denial and gaslighting myself into thinking it was not that bad, it was that bad. Of course, I had no say in who was hired as part of the team. I also started to heal more deeply when I became self-responsible for my healing, even if the wounds were not my fault.

I realized that suffering because of someone else’s chosen behavior did not need to continue past a certain point.

After this shift, I must have accomplished two years’ worth of work in the last 8 months, which is great as in the end, I used it all as fuel. I turned the adversity designed to destroy me into my biggest advantage, which is partly where my drive comes from.

Creating my own business means that I can shield myself from such people should I ever have to escape a similar situation, and it gives me a platform to give back to foster children attending university, so it is interesting how it all came together. I am not saying that ethical businesses and possibly ethical partnerships do not still exist, but I think for me, it is imperative to have my own thing regardless.

Usually, people stay in abusive relationships for the same reason they stay around abusive business partners. What is the reason? Finances of course. When we take away their financial stronghold on us, we can be truly free from ever having to tolerate belittlement, abuse, sexism, or any other form of abuse, be it blatant, or subtle.

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

Fitness/exercise for sure had a part to play as these anchors allowed me to create an emotional shift and stay grounded within myself.

I also reconsidered who I was surrounding myself with and ensured that the people in my circle were truly on my team. I had a few people tell me that harassment was a normal part of business life and that I should have just sucked it up and dealt with it, rather than severing the relationship, which was truly shocking. This time of my life was a time of so much change, including re-evaluating my inner circle and only investing my precious time in truly mutually uplifting bonds.

Also, my definition of forgiveness based on my personal lived experience and wisdom, not that of others, helped me create that emotional shift.

I began to understand that forgiveness is not for them, and it does not mean reentry, it does not mean reconciliation, and it does not have to be proven to anyone. You don’t even have to tell abusers or people that are dangerous to you that you forgive them to their face, you shouldn’t do that or feel that you have to for some false sense of closure. The closure is from within. What created the shift for me is letting go of the burden of the wounds so that the memories sting less and less as the days go by. Setting myself free from the burden of the wounds also happened when I set myself free from the bad situations physically, which helped me set myself free mentally. It is typically not likely that anyone will heal in the same environment that caused the issues to begin with.

These are some of the principles of trauma-informed healing that I have learned that helped me create a mental shift:

1. We cannot heal what we do not feel, regardless of how ugly the emotions are.

2. Humans are supposed to feel the full spectrum of human emotion! There is nothing wrong with feeling anger, it is all about how we use that emotion to help us grow (once the processing time is over).

3. Removing the stress from putting a deadline on healing increases the shock absorption powers of resilience. When we feel resilient, we have the confidence to know we can ride the waves of emotions and healing. Resilience takes the fear factor out of healing. We cannot ignore the pain, we need to move through it and look within first to truly heal, that takes resilience.

4. Composure within a storm does not mean not crying and hating the storm, it simply means not losing sight of inner worthiness.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

The first one is Randy Taylor, author of Life Before Can’t. Randy Taylor taught me a few things, one of them is that the only person whose approval I need is my own. As long as I live in integrity and harm no one, being myself is truly enough.

Moira Hutchison, from Wellness With Moira, taught me that forgiveness is for me, not them. Forgiveness happens on an energetic basis, and it is for my own peace. I was able to understand, eventually, that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation and these two concepts are entirely different. I have learned to prioritize my safety and put that above proving to other people that I am a forgiving person since reconciliation has nothing to do with the peace that forgiveness brings.

The book “Overcome Your Villains” by Heather Monahan has also helped me reconnect with my inner voice and own my power. It has helped me become more self-honoring.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

For the sexual assault, I used it as fuel. While it happened two years ago during a business partnership, which was supposed to become my full source of income, I had another contract job at the time. Only recently did I use the last year to make up for three year’s worth of work. I crammed in all the time I had lost in the past two years within this one year.

I realized after the fact that it was the sense of power and control he was after. He targeted me because of my competence and confidence, not because of my weakness. I thought it all happened because I was weak, but I realized that when I tried to push off his advances at first, it made me a threat since I was not a docile little doll. When they try to break down the most confident person, it gives them a greater sense of victory. Regardless of this traumatic event, I did not have a choice but to simply continue working. I had kept my dignity and self-respect by walking away. I worked out six or seven days a week to process the emotions. I also see working out as something that helped me transform the emotions into confidence and rebuild myself, especially when my confidence and will to live were temporarily eroded.

I was not going to stop my destiny for him and his cronies. When I decided to stop letting them dictate my self-esteem, how I saw myself, and how I saw my future, I no longer wanted to allow the suffering to extend past the necessary timeframe and for the events to overstay their welcome.

Bullies who get their power from sucking it out of someone else are not worthy of me pausing my destiny and bright future. They are also not worth another minute of my time and I share this experience to empower others who may have the misfortune of encountering unethical people.

For my childhood, this is where my unstoppable drive comes from. Except for needles and blood tests, not much scares me for too long. I hated my life and childhood for the longest time, but what fruit will I bear if I see it as a negative even if it is innately negative? That does not serve me at all! It also does not help others at all! I realize now, the only reason I can handle this many ideas, business ventures, and so on, is due to the expanded mental capacity that my childhood gave me. I am starting to understand that now.

It gave me the mental skill and the ability to continuously push myself mentally and in the gym, past the point of muscle overload. While I ensure that I rest enough, I enjoy constantly expanding my capacity.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

What I learned from the assault:

I am not promoting suffering as a necessity for learning lessons, evil does exist in the world, unfortunately; however, imagine what my life would be like today if I still worked with this person? I would have been held back, and it could have slowed down my dreams even more. It was a minor inconvenience in comparison to what my life would be like had I stayed in that partnership long term. I lost money, it is absolutely an injustice that I could not be seen as a business professional, rather, I was viewed as a pawn, but I think it forced me to finally start a business. I had been wanting to start a business for such a long time!

I think this assault allowed me to “10X”, as in multiply, my driven nature. I waited years before becoming a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach, as I was always distracted by the ventures of others. I constantly wanted to be a brand ambassador for others, but this forced me to create a source of income that I own fully and a source of creativity that is mine alone. I used to feel like I was not good enough to have my own brand, but the assault was the catalyst for me to start my own brand and finally believe in my own power, capabilities, and worthiness.

In that entire partnership with the man who assaulted me, I was made to feel subservient and below him. I learned to pay attention to the early signs now so I can walk away sooner if needed! I learned to never allow anyone to make me question my worthiness and this means my right to refuse to tolerate nonsense. Of course, I stayed due to financial need at the time and not wanting to lose the time I had invested.

I know ethical people do exist now, and having been exposed to the opposite of that, my standards have risen even higher. Part of healing is to ensure to only surround ourselves with people who match our values. There are people out there who are secure enough within themselves to not be threatened by someone else’s drive, confidence, and self-assurance. If someone else does not have the bandwidth to be as driven and hard-working, that is fine, but it is not acceptable to interrupt, harass, and demean those who are out of that person’s own insecurity.

I have always thought of sexual harassment as the eroticization of bullying and as a power play! People play it off as some sort of attraction, and it is not about that, at all. That is simply a way to rationalize pure evil. They prey on confident people sometimes, as it is more satisfying for them to weaken those who are strong. No one who is genuinely attracted to someone else goes out of their way to disrespect them. They use power to coerce and intimidate using sexual harassment and sexual innuendo as the tool to instill discomfort in the target. Knowing that I know now, I am sharing this bit of insight so that other people can see the early subtle signs sooner and work towards removing themselves from toxic people and situations, hopefully, faster than I did!

What I learned from my childhood:

In choosing not to allow the state of powerlessness as a child to permeate or control your future, understanding you have a choice now as an adult is a powerful step in healing.

How exactly do you heal? I do not know, but this is me sharing how I did it. I made sure to align with the truth of what happened, in all of its ugliness. This inconvenienced the people who would have preferred that I did not see reality for what it had been. You cannot heal what you do not face! If this has ever happened to you, those who are inconvenienced by your truth or refuse to believe reality, may not be for you.

If how you feel/saying how you feel severs a relationship, that’s not the right environment or relationships to be around while healing anyway? Your peace matters more than those inconvenienced by your truth/story/healing.

Some prefer to shame the person who has been through the trauma for wanting to take their time to heal and face reality because their story is hard to believe so they expect you to expedite your healing process and live a life of untruths, blatant invalidation, self-disrespect, half-truths, and facades.

I think what I am trying to say is you have a choice over who you keep around you as an adult, make sure you surround yourself with the right people while fully processing your pain, in all of its depth.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

After years of implementing methods, I distilled down my “5 things you need to heal after a dramatic loss or life change” to the acronym S-P-A-C-E (base on what worked for me, but this is not a recommendation for others as I am not a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist).

S-P-A-C-E is not only about losing the mentality that anger and triggers are bad but giving ourselves grace and self-compassion around healing. Repressing normal human reactions and emotions in toxic situations can exacerbate anxiety and depression, in my personal experience.

S-P-A-C-E fully nixes the myth that healing is a one-time deal that people can graduate from as if it had a deadline, rather, it reinforces that not only is healing a daily practice, but we can build our futures while healing. Healing does not make us weak, we can build our lives despite it. It can be used as fuel.

It is about gracefully healing, rather than thinking rushing through will truly heal us. Not only does healing have no deadline, rushing our healing will not provide quality healing. Healing is sacred and it cannot be rushed. Healing is not some prize to be won or some goal to reach for as if this was some sort of a race. Healing is flow, healing is a process. The mindset shift happens when we start to see the need for healing not from a place of “we are broken messes”, rather, from a place of “there is resilience to be cultivated within this process and healing can be beautiful.” We do not need to rush healing as that almost makes people want to run away from facing it.

Rushing through healing and expecting to never feel triggers truly adds insult to injury and invalidates us. It is possible to lovingly move through a trigger, without being afraid of the emotion, all while channeling it into a healthy coping mechanism. As long as we are not making decisions from a place of a trigger or using unhealthy coping mechanisms, triggers warn us that our values are being validated so I do not believe the goal is never being triggered, the goal is to understand and move through all emotions from a place of mindfulness, acceptance, and a good relationship with trauma, rather than looking at trauma as an adversary as if it was realistic to avoid trauma and never suffer throughout our lives? Is pain avoidable? Probably not, unless we live under a rock.

S-P-A-C-E stands for:

  1. S: Self-responsibility means taking ownership and initiative for the inner work and showing up for yourself.
  2. P: Processing emotions fully means feeling them without judgment or repression and doing so on an ongoing basis.
  3. A: Acceptance of the depth of the pain means not sugar-coating anything and accepting how bad it was.
  4. C: Confronting the pain to find solutions is the opposite of hiding from it, it means focusing on solutions.
  5. E: Elevation of your body, mind, and soul through creativity/movement is about daily rituals that consciously keep your spirits high.

1. S: Self-responsibility means taking ownership and initiative for the inner work and showing up for yourself.

Self-responsibility can be used interchangeably with self-authority or self-love.

The moment I realized that no single healing method was going to be my savior or holy grail and that I would need to exercise self-trust in choosing bits and parts of a few different methods to merge them into what worked for me, is the moment the game changed for me. I realized that no one was coming to save me and no one else was responsible for my healing. Just me. This was simply me freeing myself from expecting the healing to come from external people, places, and things, which empowered me to own the trajectory of it!

Self-responsibility also applies to the fact that while the wound is not our fault, the healing is our responsibility to avoid being dragged down by the wounds themselves.

How I healed may not be how someone else heals. Essentially, developing enough self-trust to customize your own approach is basically what self-responsibility comes down to. Some days, you may feel like writing, some days, you may feel like exercising, and some days, you may feel like doing some other self-care ritual. It is important to stress that there is no single method that should be prescribed to everyone!

Part of doing the inner work is cultivating that self-trust to be able to discern which methods, at which times of the day, at whatever point in your life is what you need at that moment and this will change from one moment to the next. I do not drop what I am doing in the middle of an anxiety attack to start writing or meditating, I manage those moments of panic at that moment with more practical tools like self-talk, for instance. In another moment of panic, I might go for a walk, so it all depends.

When it comes to self-responsibility for healing, I do not mean that tools and resources do not exist, as they do, but what I mean is that they cannot do the work for you, and they cannot figure out what you need in every moment nor can they truly know what will resonate with you personally as they cannot know you better than you know yourself, that is where the inner work comes in.

While other people, like therapists, or coaches, may provide guidance, you are the person that is with you through the panic attacks and the actual journey right? For me, realizing that no one external to me has all the answers forced me to tune into myself and take the bits and pieces of guidance that resonated with me. It is not a bad thing to look for guidance in people who are trustworthy; however, ultimately, the person living through it is you and just because a method has worked wonders for someone else, that does not mean it will work for you.

Have the self-trust to choose what is right for you and make tweaks from one method to the next, go with your flow.

2. P: Processing emotions fully means feeling them without judgment or repression and doing so on an ongoing basis.

Processing emotions is key to ensuring that we feel them in full. Managing the triggers is far more humane, realistic, and healthy than trying to avoid triggers. It is important not to be misled by the myth that humans should avoid suffering and pain, the goal is to move mindfully through all moments, and getting to an objective and neutral place from a place of sadness and sorrow is a more realistic jump than going from super sad to super happy. When we do not feel, we cannot heal, and sometimes, repressed emotions can resurface as mysterious illnesses. Ask me how I know? I have been there! Back when I thought that avoiding my feelings was a good idea, I would have ridges on my fingernails and skin rashes.

I do not believe that people should be trained to never feel anger, we should talk more openly about healthy coping methods instead. Avoiding pain only leads to various forms of unhealthy coping mechanisms that can range from overeating, to overdrinking.

3. A: Acceptance of the depth of the pain means not sugar-coating anything and accepting how bad it was.

Accepting the depth and ugliness of the pain is crucial. This is critical to avoid allowing the people, places, and situations that hurt or harmed us to further permeate our energy, our heart, our soul, and our zest for life past a certain point in time. Accepting how we feel, accepting ourselves despite feeling that way, and accepting that what happened actually happened, is also key.

Avoid gaslighting yourself and not believing your truth that it is hurtful and that what happened is wrong. I was in denial of how much my childhood and the sexual assault hurt me; however, only when I started to come to grips with the reality that I needed to face the emotions did things start to improve for me.

4. C: Confronting the pain to find solutions is the opposite of hiding from it, it means focusing on solutions.

Confronting and facing the situation that happened, in a manner that is safe within the context of the situation, is also crucial. Only when things are faced can they be healed.

Sometimes, facing it means putting boundaries in place, sometimes, it also means moving forward and moving on without those situations in our future, when that is the healthier option. It all depends on the context, but for sure, we cannot heal what we do not face. Accepting and forgiving situations is for you, not for them.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation and it certainly does not warrant unsafe people a place in your future or re-exposing yourself to abusers in any way shape or form. You can keep the lesson, not the person. That is your choice and no one else’s.

The idea that we cannot focus on something unwanted because if we do, we will attract more of it can cause people to self-blame for having been the recipient of horrible acts of violence of all sorts! To find solutions or leave, we have to focus on the problem to an extent, handle it, while finding ways to maintain some levels of joy in our lives during those times (as best as possible).

5. E: Elevation of your body, mind, and soul through creativity/movement is about daily rituals that consciously keep your spirits high.

Same as the other components of S-P-A-C-E, they do not have to happen in any order and they can all happen interchangeably and at once, so it is not a step-by-step thing. The “elevate” step can happen alongside other steps. Elevate means elevating your body, mind, and soul with the physical movement that best resonates with you. It can be walking, biking, jogging, running, bodyweight exercises, yoga, Pilates, or lifting weights. Lifting weights saved me while processing the sexual assault. Within the realm of what is realistic for you, the importance of the gut-brain axis through proper nutrition also helps healing. The gut has a lot to do with mood regulation.

All of these concepts or steps come down to managing our relationship with trauma, while healing, which means that healing can start while we are processing it. Getting grounded in ourselves, while things are happening to us, can happen when we accept the existence of the trauma, rather than resisting it and trying to mentally remove ourselves from it, which is difficult; however, this can strengthen our resolve in the end and disallow the trauma to overcome our entire self.

Thinking about trauma, issues, situations, and talking about it is often banned by people who say that “what you think about you bring about”, which makes sense; however, we still need to process our emotions and put focus on the solutions. Sometimes, we are not at a place where we are seeking solutions and need to grieve the loss of our childhoods, loved ones, jobs, and so on. It is important to understand that talking, writing, processing situations does not bring more of that to us, we cannot just avoid our emotions in the name of not attracting more of it and I can assure you that mentally and emotionally processing emotions from a place of moving through it is not the same as putting your attention on it for the sake of it. I almost find that whole “what you think about you bring about” taken out of context when it comes to healing.

Elevating ourselves can also mean walking away from what is not meant for us.

Energy can be transformed through processing things, not avoiding them. Only when things are faced can we move in the direction of the next logical step in the context of each situation.

Improving our relationship with pain and trauma is about honoring ourselves, accepting and respecting our feelings and this is about creating that emotional freedom WHILE undergoing loss or difficult situations, rather than waiting until after.

To conclude, the S-P-A-C-E method is also flexible, it is not about the aspects or steps being done in a specific order and they can happen simultaneously. Not each aspect will resonate with each person or situation, but this is meant for inspiration and based on what worked for me, for both the childhood trauma and surviving assault. My hope is that elements of this method resonate with others in similar situations.

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?

I don’t think I can choose only one movement, I hope that mentioning two is not cheating.

The first one is to help as many foster kids as possible to be able to afford education. One way to do that is to continue similar ventures to my current one, where 100% of TRX sales on my website are donated to the Just One Person Scholarship at the University of Ottawa. I think that raising awareness for the stigma around foster care to stop as well as finding more ways to fundraise for education for youth in care would be the first movement.

The second movement would be around cultivating self-worth and self-love from within to create a strong foundation for resilience.

When we are resilient due to self-worth and self-love from within, no harassment, no bullying, and no amount of people trying to get us to dim our lights can stop us.

The movement would be about sharing ways to cultivate self-love and self-worth in practical ways beyond platitudes and this may encourage other survivors of abuse to use their stories to illustrate tools others can use (if they feel comfortable doing so).

Creating a movement around self-worth/self-love/resilience can help people see that they can rebuild their self-esteem and identity as many times as needed and that true resilience/worthiness is from within.

When resilience/worthiness is from within, no one external to us can change how we feel about ourselves for very long. When we have resilience/worthiness from within, no one can project their limiting beliefs on us.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

It would be Ariana Huffington because she has taught me through her content and her life that hustle and grace can co-exist, and burnout is not a prerequisite for success. The right opportunities will simply fit. This has helped me be more discerning. While a certain level of productivity may require some level of sacrifice, sleep should never be one of those things, and the more I read her content, the more grounded I become.

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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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