Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of partner and family violence, including physical and emotional abuse that some readers may find disturbing.
Does our past shape us, make us or break us?
We all have a past, some more traumatic than others. Regardless, what has happened in our past can significantly impact our future. The impact can be an adverse effect that can cause ongoing issues in our life, or we can work within ourselves to turn our scars into stars.
Like many growing up in my era, my childhood was full of adventure and freedom, but also came with some massive traumatic events. My parents separated when I was young due to domestic violence, affairs and an extremely toxic environment. Back in the late 1980-1990s, counselling wasn’t like it is today. I remember feeling lost, broken, confused and unloved. I acted out at school, fighting with children and being picked on by older children. I started drinking at a young age; I was 11 when I first got intoxicated.
I went through a party stage at about 13 and started dating. My relationships were rocky. I know it wasn’t all the men’s fault, as I didn’t know how to love or be loved. I ended a relationship of three years at 23 and met a man I thought was the one. Boy, was I wrong! The relationship ended after a toxic roller coaster of abuse, both physically and verbally. I remember vividly sitting in the police station, asking a male police officer to remove the restraining order against my ex as I had just found out I was pregnant. The office told me he could not sleep at night if he were to remove this. He explained my ex had an extensive police record. While I was in labour with our child, he called and said he hoped I died while giving birth. He also said if I put him on the birth certificate, he would “slit her throat in front of me and kill me”.
I was a mess, but I made the decision to work within myself, to create a better life for my daughter. I knew I had to be strong for her; I knew I had to create a life that she deserved. I decided to book my first counselling session, so I could start to heal. I was scared, I felt vulnerable, and I felt like a failure. I believed it was a weakness asking for help. I was an adult with a child of my own; why couldn’t I get myself together and “get over it”. Why? Because that’s not how trauma and emotions work. I learnt that asking for help when you are struggling is, in fact, a sign of strength. You are saying, “I am not ok at the moment, and I need help.”
I had another relationship after this, and we brought two exceptional children into the world. Unfortunately, this relationship ended, but we are trying our best to co-parent for the sake of our children.
Without a doubt, the best thing I have ever done is have my children; the second-best thing I have done was learn to love myself. Accepting me for who I am and loving myself regardless of my weaknesses has probably been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I still struggle with it to this day. But I am trying to live by what I teach my clients. They come in with this inner voice that tears them apart. When I ask them, “would you speak to your best friend the way you talk to yourself if they were in this position” they look at me stunned and say, “of course not”. I then ask them why they believe it is ok to speak to themselves that way. It is a real awakening moment and usually has a profound impact on them. It helps the client to understand that they deserve to treat themselves with the same love, compassion, empathy and understanding that they give out so freely to others.
My advice to you, stand firm and keep your voice. Even if it means you are standing alone, and your voice is shaking. Do not let anyone tell you how you should feel or what you should accept. People throughout my life have tried to convince me that I was not good enough or didn’t have what it takes to achieve what I wanted to achieve. But here I am, a mum raising three beautiful children. I run a private counselling practice, and I am also one of the directors of a Counselling Collective company whilst studying for a university degree.
Don’t get me wrong; there are days, sometimes more than I like to admit, when my depression, anxiety and past trauma challenge me. But I know that I’m on the right path when I see the light return in my client’s eyes and when I hear that they are achieving their goals and living their best life. People still try to challenge my inner self and question who I am. But when I see my children caring so deeply for each other, for me, their friends, and even strangers, I realise they had to learn that from somewhere. When my son who is three wakes up, wipes the hair out of my face and then kisses me. The childcare workers tell me how when they are having a bad day, he will stick by them and show them, extra love. My five-year-old protects her family and is compassionate, caring and kind. My eleven-year-old will give the last spot in line to a stranger; she has a massive heart despite the challenges she is thrown.
You may be wondering how I did it. Well, it took work, and it still takes constant work. One thing I recommend is finding an incredible therapist. You need to find one you can trust that gives you a non-judgemental space to see you for your authentic self. That looks at your strengths and reminds you how truly unique you are. I go to counselling when I need to, and I also practice what I preach. I have had some incredible counsellors and some not so great. But I believe I have learnt from every one of them. One lesson I learnt; was the type of counsellor I do not want to be. But I have one therapist, who lives in my mind as an active voice. I only had one session with this counsellor but that one session was life changing.
Then it would help if you found your tribe; this could be family members, friends, work colleagues. Anyone who brings out your true, authentic self and loves you for it. These people are the ones that will remind you how wonderful you are and love you harder on the days you forget to love yourself. On the days when you think you are not good enough, look at the people in your life and ask yourself, “Would I have such amazing people around me if I was not a good person.” I like to remind myself that I am not only putting myself down, but I am also hurting the people who love me on these low days. It helps to put things in perspective and realise those inner voices are not actual; they are voices from past trauma, voices that do not want to let go. Your tribe doesn’t need to be big, and it might only be one person or many. But make sure that the people who are in your tribe are authentic and want you to succeed. There is a saying, “if you look at your friends, this will show you your future.” Meaning that the people you associate with is how your life will unfold.
One final piece of advice, love yourself unconditionally and wholeheartedly love yourself. It’s healthy and essential to constantly work on ourselves to be the best version we can be. You don’t have to think you are perfect or flawless, but you still deserve to love yourself, flaws and all. You have got this!
If this article resonates with you, here is what I want you to do:
1. On a piece of paper, write down the people who are in your tribe. Then pick up for phone and tell them you love them.
2. If you don’t have anyone in your life like this, that’s ok. But now it's time to find them. Think about what you love, what ignites passion when you think about it, talk about it or are doing it? That’s where you will find your people. It could be a hobby, career choice, sport, or anything.
3. Go to the mirror and say out loud to that beautiful person in the mirror, “I am sorry I have not shown you the love you deserve, but I promise you from now on I HAVE GOT YOU.” Repeat this as many times as you need to make it ring true.
4. Get post-it notes and write down one thing a day you like about yourself or one thing you did to make your world a better place. It could be smiling at a stranger, listening to a friend vent, or forgiving yourself for not achieving as much as you wanted to on that day.
5. Find yourself a fantastic Counsellor, someone that resonates with you and makes you feel heard, understood, and brings hope back into your life. If you feel that I am that counsellor for you, please feel free to reach out to me. I can offer Online, telephone or Face to face.
Rhani is the director and owner of In this together counselling services. She is a director and founding member of the Australian Coastal Health Collective. Rhani completed her Diploma of counselling with the Australian Institute of Professional Counselling in May 2020 and has continued studying with AIPC through a Bachelor of Counselling. Rhani is level 1 qualified in Gottman’s Relationship counselling and is currently studying level 2. She completed Grief and Loss training with Griefline in November 2020 and worked as a volunteer support member. Rhani studied a Diploma in Human resource management through Tafe SA in 2011. Rhani’s personal and professional goals are to continue studying the field of counselling and provide more attainable access to Mental health support for anyone and everyone while also removing the stigma behind Mental illness.