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“Reflect on the discomfort and improve it” with Katie Maloney

Reflect on your own discomfort about having conversations about trauma. So many survivors are hesitant to have conversations because they don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. If we could break the stigma around conversations about trauma and approach it as we do so many other conversations, we would make strides in trauma healing. As […]

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Reflect on your own discomfort about having conversations about trauma. So many survivors are hesitant to have conversations because they don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. If we could break the stigma around conversations about trauma and approach it as we do so many other conversations, we would make strides in trauma healing.

As a part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Maloney.

Katie’s mission is to create a new conversation about trauma. When Katie first started working through the 18 years of childhood sexual abuse she experienced, she looked to trauma healing resources for guidance. But the only tools available about sexual abuse were either psychology books, heavily titled self-help books, or healing groups that focused only on retelling your trauma story. Katie wanted healing tools that felt like she was sipping coffee and eating cake pops while sharing stories with a trusted friend who understood what she was going through. She wanted to move forward from the trauma, not continuously relive it.

For this reason, she wrote her book Cake Pops and Coffee: A New Conversation About Trauma, founded Katie Maloney Coaching, and launched her Online Trauma Healing Program to help people find the parts of themselves that they thought were lost after experiencing trauma, and to truly move forward.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I usually like to ease people into my childhood trauma story but let’s jump right in! I was sexually abused by both of my parents until I was 18 years old. So to say that I had a nontraditional childhood would be accurate. I think it’s really confusing to people when I talk about my childhood because I did have good moments. There were times when my mother made me special peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches for lunch on my birthday or held me when I fell down. I think it’s important to share this because, for a long time, grasping the concept that there were both good and bad times throughout my childhood made healing even more confusing and difficult — and I know many other trauma survivors struggle with the same thing. Sometimes we feel like those nice times take away from the validity of the abuse. Or we question whether those nice moments were real because, how could they be real when they were surrounded by so much abuse? Both “good” and “bad” moments can exist simultaneously and I think recognizing that is a really important step in the trauma healing journey.

Beyond that, my upbringing has always been what has fueled me in the work I do now. It’s what motivated me to work really hard in school, move to another city when I was 18, write and publish my book, and launch my business. Of course, I look back and wish that my little girl self didn’t have to go through what she experienced. That said, I am beyond proud of how I navigated those experiences and became the Goddess Boss that I am today.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

As an Author, Speaker, and Trauma Survivor Coach,I NEED to change the conversation about trauma. Only recently have platforms that encourage you to share your story become popular. For a long time, finding support in sharing your story felt impossible. However, resharing your story over and over again can actually be re-traumatizing. So, although these movements and organizations that encourage you to share your story have been foundational, it is now time to evolve and start new conversations that focus on moving forward after the trauma, not just the trauma itself.

Additionally, the current resources and books available about trauma are so incredibly heavy. Just the titles and covers of books about trauma are so off-putting that I feel overwhelmed before I even start reading. I’m like, “Friends, I already know how terrible trauma is, I lived through it! Can we be inviting and open when we have conversations about healing, please?” When we were designing the cover for Cake Pops and Coffee: A New Conversation About Trauma, it was so important to me that people feel happy as soon as they see the cover. We used this really beautiful bright blue background and colorful cake pops for the cover.

I did that because I truly believe that the way we approach conversations about trauma, starting with just the titles and covers of our books, needs to be more inviting and lighthearted.

I always joke that I am deeply passionate about oversharing. But I mean it because my mission is to share my very real (and frequently awkward) stories of navigating healing from abuse so that others feel comfortable laughing about, loving, and sharing their own stories — in a way that is lighthearted, healing, and even humorous at times. So, that is why I wrote my book and started Katie Maloney Coaching.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I was inspired to write my book and start my business when I was 19 years old. I had moved to another city and was really starting to unpack everything I experienced growing up. I remember thinking, “Damn girl, you are doggy paddling through some heavy shit right now. But I love you so much. We’ll get through this.” I started looking to books and healing resources for guidance but, as I said before, all of those resources were so heavy and focused only on the trauma. I was upset because my story includes far more than just trauma. I laugh. I draw (debatably) too much attention to myself on the dance floor at weddings. I cry during Subaru commercials that feature happy families making s’mores around a campfire. I hang out with friends. I get way more aggressive with people in my car than I ever would with someone face-to-face. I have beautiful, lighthearted, meaningful, funny, significant moments in my life every day, and I needed trauma healing tools that included those moments too. So I decided to write the book I always needed. I still remember the day I sat down and started writing. Nine years later, my book was published. Around that same time I launched Katie Maloney Coaching, and a year after that I launched my Online Trauma Healing Program.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I don’t think that I ever had one “aha moment.” It’s more like a necessity for me to do this work. Every healing tool and practice I include in my book was developed in real-time during my own healing journey.

That’s part of what makes my book so unique — it’s not like I sat down 10 years after working through the trauma and said, “Okay, let me look back and try to remember what practices I used to get through all of that.” I didn’t do that. Instead, I wrote about what worked for me, in the moment, as I was trying to heal from the trauma. All of the practices and tools that I include in my book are the practices and tools that worked for me when when I was triggered or struggling with being intimate with a partner, or redefining touch so that I could experience pleasure for myself again, or healing voids, or releasing negative beliefs, and the list goes on. I KNOW these things worked because they worked for me. So, there’s never really been one singular “aha moment. “It really was work that was done out of necessity and I kept thinking, “If I need help with this, I know that other survivors need help with this too, so keep writing this book.”

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I think so many people get stuck in the “make it happen” phase of starting a business or writing a book and they get frustrated when nothing is actually happening. What I mean by the” make it happen phase is the time where all the pieces come together, you launch your business and you start “making things happen” by selling your products or attracting clients. But the make it happen phase is actually one of the final steps to launching your business. My make it happen phase began when I was finally able to launch my website and host my first workshop, or when my book was officially available on Amazon. But I did SO much work to get to the point where I could launch and publish and start making things happen for myself and my business. A lot of us get so stuck in the longing for our product to be finished or our business to be launched that we get frustrated and feel overwhelmed by the amount of steps to get there — and then we give up. So, my advice is to stop thinking about how you’re going to sell your product, or what your website needs to look like in order to attract clients. Start by writing the first page of the first chapter of the book. Start with just one step that will bring you closer to your goal. Then tomorrow, take the next step, then the next, and so on. I used to outline workshops after work at a job that I hated and I spent my weekends writing chapters for my book — all with the actual launch of my business feeling lightyears away. But, as cliche as it sounds, each of those steps that felt so insignificant truly did bring me closer to the “make it happen” phase. So, my advice is to simply start and continue taking steps every day or every week — then suddenly, one day, you’ll realize you’ve made it to the make it happen stage of your business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Two days after I launched my website, I received an email from the wife of someone I knew from years ago. She was a therapist. She was angry and kept saying “how dare you” start a business to help trauma survivors without having a psychology background. It really threw me for a few days. I took some of what she said to heart and made appropriate shifts, and I also ignored other things she said (a healthy balance for dealing with all feedback, I think). But the most interesting thing I have experienced since starting my business has been witnessing the shift of what people consider acceptable support for trauma survivors. Just over the past two years, the idea of trauma survivors helping other trauma survivors based on their own experiences and knowledge is not only accepted but adamantly encouraged. And I like to think that I was a part of creating that shift. It’s been so rewarding to see this shift because it means that this type of work really is helping survivors, so much so that it is becoming the norm in the healing industry. Now, I have therapists referring their clients to me so that survivors can expand their healing resources — that’s something that felt impossible two years ago! That’s been the most interesting and most rewarding thing that has happened so far.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made when I first started was thinking that everyone else had all the answers and were monumentally successful while I, without any business experience and just starting out, stood out like a neon sign. I would go to networking groups and I would spend days worrying about what I would wear, practicing my pitch, thinking of possible questions they might ask. Sure enough, I always felt like I wasn’t dressed well enough, my voice always shook when I pitched my business idea or the plot of my book, and I did look like I didn’t know what I was doing — because I didn’t, and that’s okay! I look back now and I laugh but I always want to swoop down and hug my past self and say, “Girl, you’re doing a great job. Just showing up here is huge. Everyone here started where you are now at some point in their career. Just take this time to practice your pitch, figure out which outfits you like and don’t like, work through your nerves, and learn something new. This event, these people, are not going to make or break you.” That said, I still have a lot of time to do something that will top the list of “funniest mistakes,” so I’ll keep you updated!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Absolutely. I have had so many people share genuine love and support. I am incredibly grateful for that. That’s one of the first things people say to me when they talk about my book. They say, “You have so many people who will show up for you. Like, they LOVE you and your book.” And it’s true. And I love them right back! One friend in particular invested in my business when I had nothing to share but my vision. I had just lost my job, I had no business background, and she had never even read my book because I was still finishing the final draft. But she sat with me, listened to my plans, saw that I had a calling and truly trusted that I could do the things I was saying I wanted to do. And she invested in me. I’m sure it’s a powerful experience for everyone but, as someone who grew up being told that I had nothing to offer, having someone tell me that they believed in me when I really had no proof that I could do any of the things I was saying I planned to do, was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. She believed in me unconditionally and that fueled me to work harder than I ever would have alone. For that, I am forever grateful.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I am going to get very real and open with you! (That’s kinda my thing). One of the things I talk about in my book is learning to experience pleasure for both yourself and with a partner, after experiencing trauma. Because I experienced long-term sexual abuse, my body was conditioned to orgasm during abuse. For this reason, as I got older and was away from the abuse, I couldn’t orgasm without imagining something degrading. I hated it. I really really hated it, but I had no idea how to stop. And let me tell you right now, there was not a book available that was willing to talk me through that in a welcoming, conversational way. So, when I published my book, it was incredibly important to me that I spend an entire chapter on learning how to heal the parts of ourselves that we didn’t even know were affecting our ability to experience pleasure — such as pelvic bowl healing meditation and meeting your yoni guardian, and eventually building up to learning to masturbate and orgasm while imagining positive, consensual and truly pleasurable scenarios. I also talk about how, once I learned to do that, I was also able to experience really present, loving, great sex with a partner. Obviously, that was a chapter where I had to get extremely vulnerable, and it was a little difficult for me, but I KNEW it would resonate with almost every single abuse survivor. Since publishing the book, I have received so many messages from people who read that chapter and said, “I just started crying because I never knew that other people experienced this too, and I had no idea how to work through it until now.” Intimacy really is such a huge part of our lives and it’s something that a lot of people can participate in without really thinking about it. But, for trauma survivors, sometimes there’s a lot more to it. For a long time, truly enjoying sex and feeling safe with an intimate partner felt out of reach for me. So hearing that I can make that part of the healing journey more accessible and even fun for survivors is incredibly rewarding.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Reflect on your own discomfort about having conversations about trauma. So many survivors are hesitant to have conversations because they don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. If we could break the stigma around conversations about trauma and approach it as we do so many other conversations, we would make strides in trauma healing.

Also, learn how to support survivors as they share their stories. I host a whole workshop on “How To Share Your Story.” It’s helpful for both survivors as they learn how to ask for what they need, feel empowered in sharing, and then navigate all the emotions that come with sharing your story. But it’s also really helpful for people who would like to learn how to show up for the people they love who have experienced trauma — how to listen, how to support, etc.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1.) Be prepared to get vulnerable.

Whether you’re showing your true self on social media, or asking for help from business leaders in your field, or crying to your friend because…well, you don’t know why you’re crying but you’re tired and you’ve been redesigning your website for the past three days, and the grocery store is out of the coffee you like, you’re going to have to get comfortable with being vulnerable.

2.) Know YOUR goal.

It’s easy to get caught up in the goals of colleagues or even our culture. When you do that, the benchmark for success will constantly move and you’ll never feel like you’ve accomplished anything (which you have!) So, get crystal clear on what your goal is. It will serve as an anchor when everything else seems to be spiraling. There was a time when I was beating myself up because I didn’t feel like I was making enough money and I didn’t think I had enough followers on social media. And my partner asked, “How are you defining success? Because if it’s only by the amount of money you make or how many followers you have, then you’re never going to feel successful. What does success actually mean to you for your book and business?” It was some much needed tough love!

3.) Don’t spend so much time and money on your website and logo because it is probably going to change within your first year of business.

I was working on a strict budget when I first started my business so I took all the photos for my website with my friend, and I did all the design myself. I spent days upon days choosing colors, fonts, and the perfect design for my website because I was so afraid that if I didn’t, my business would fail. Seven months later, I hired someone to redesign the whole thing. It’s your message that people are attracted to most, not the fonts you choose. As you start your business and engage with your clients, you will get a better feel for what your business’s aesthetic is and you’ll probably want to redesign your website anyway. So, spent more time developing the mission of your business and the message you want to send to people and less time worrying about your website design/social media pages.

3.) Let your business evolve.

My business looks totally different from when I first started and, for a while, that scared me. I felt like I was abandoning my calling by moving in a new direction with my business. But that’s not true at all. You will naturally serve the audience who needs you most and your business will evolve to meet those needs. Let it happen, it will be so much more fulfilling in the end.

4.) There’s isn’t an off-button when you own your business.

When you work for someone else, you work for a set amount of hours a day, and then you can go home and zone out and not really think about it until you go back to work the next morning. When you own your own business, you will wake up at 3 am with six different blog ideas, anxiety about a possible typo in a social media post from last week, and outlines for the next three books you want to write. You can’t really shut it off. You can find ways to allow yourself to rest — you HAVE to find ways to allow yourself to rest. But you’ll never really be able to stop yourself from thinking about your business.

5.) SUPPORT OTHER BUSINESSES.

Right this minute, release the idea that there isn’t enough space for everyone. I think so many of us are afraid to promote other businesses on our social media because we think it will detract from our own services but that’s not true at all. Supporting other businesses, even those in my own field has been huge for my business. When we make space to promote other businesses, we release the fear that there isn’t enough room for all of us — and that completely changes the energy around our own business. The world is huge! There is room for all of us, and building up other businesses opens up opportunities for collaborations, promotions for your own business, friendships, etc.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I include a practice in my book and in the work I do called, “Find and Save Your Past Selves.” During the practice, I guide you through how to go back to a time when you really needed something but didn’t receive it — maybe it’s a hug, advice, protection, etc. The main point of the practice is to show you that YOU have the ability to heal the most painful moments in your life. You have the power to save yourself from those moments. It’s one of the most healing practices I recommend to survivors. So, my advice to anyone who may be considering making a positive impact on the world is to think back to a moment you wish you could go back to. What was happening at that moment? What did you deeply need? What do you wish you could have received? I guarantee that whatever it was you needed at that moment, there are countless people in the world who also need the same. And because you experienced what you did, you have the power to bring that hug, advice, protection, love, or whatever it is you needed to the people who need it now. Go do it!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would absolutely love to have lunch with Lady Gaga. She has done so much for people by openly sharing her experience of sexual assault. By sharing her story, she’s normalizing conversations about trauma, which is HUGE. Also, connecting with your femininity and truly feeling safe being sexy after experiencing sexual assault can be really difficult — it’s something that I am still working on. The way she powerfully connects with her femininity is such a gift and I would LOVE to be able to hear how she’s healed to be able to do that.

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