I am a firm believer that abuse leads to a lowered immune system, and that survivors are more prone to health challenges. A study found heightened inflammation in adults who had been victims of childhood trauma, and it’s this kind of inflammation that’s the baseline for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
It was because of my trauma and living in squalid conditions that I had contracted intestinal worms and developed a number of food allergies. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I was a certified group fitness instructor. Newly licensed at 17, I was quiet, pale, anemic, and sported a bloated “pot belly.” I would suffer for many years in my fitness career while struggling with solutions for mood, insomnia, lack of muscle tone, and digestive imbalances. In spite of this, I could cue well on beat, move with correct posture, and teach with a focus and determination beyond my sickness and circumstances.
As a young Asian woman, my parents felt insulted by my pursuit of fitness as a career. Although I cannot speak for all Asians- for my parents- I was to be a banner for their fame and a burden for their shame. To them, life was about money, honour, and materialism, not about happiness, which to them was synonymous with laziness and a wasted future. I existed solely to achieve, give them bragging rights, and make them look good. I wanted to sing instead of practice the piano, but they associated singing with loose women who gyrated in scanty clothes.
Because they had also associated my choice of fitness with women in scanty clothes, they had successfully curtailed my efforts to major in Kinesiology. My aerobics teaching had now become part-time. My father had made it known that I didn’t have the physique for it and to him my body was gross. As for my chosen major in university, we argued over the fact that I chose English Literature. Our argument ended with my father beating on my door, forcing me to unlock it, and yelling loudly into my ear that I was “ugly, stupid, and worthless.” Later that night, he had threatened to commit suicide by holding a pair of scissors to his throat—all because I wanted to major in a subject that he did not like.
I had wanted to study English Literature because my other dream was to be a writer. Unfortunately, this was further derailed by my parents going on a strike of silence that lasted two weeks. I ate in quiet, my simple questions went ignored, and I entered and left the home without them saying “hello” or “goodbye” to me.
Then, one day I received a breakthrough: “We’re allowing you to take English,” they announced, as if it was something I required permission for. Adrienne Clarkson, our former Canadian Governor General, had degrees in the same subject. She was Asian, successful, and prestigious, which appealed to their egos and narcissism. By majoring in a subject that they disapproved, I would not make them “lose face” because in the end, it was all about them.
It wasn’t until long after I graduated, I sought therapy from Esther Kane and was forced to ask myself deeper questions. What did I really want to do with my life? Was it something that my parents wanted me to do, or was it something that I wanted for myself? What actually were my goals and values? In therapy, I came to see clearly that my parents were not healthy people, and that in order for me to seek love and validation, I would have to re-parent myself and learn self-compassion. We also returned to those traumatic memories and improved them by soothing and protecting my little self. As a result of all this work, I can happily say that I am a much more confident person. Now when I see dysfunction, I no longer blame myself for the abuser’s problems. I recognize it, and want no part in it.
In the end, I continued with my dream and pursued a full-time fitness career. I have since taught entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms, older adult clients, and young ladies at an all-girls Jewish school. In addition, I have given nutrition consultation to those with Lyme disease, allergy sufferers, and chronic fatigue patients.
Currently, I am combining both my passions of fitness and writing, and loving it too. I have learned that it is not about the negativity that your parents have pushed onto you, but about your gifts and life path. Abuse may create detours, but in the end, survivors can and will find their way back.
If you would like to find your way too, here are a few tips:
Work through your trauma
I had to quit seeing my business coach so that I could afford quality therapy. She didn’t understand the importance of therapy or how it could influence a person’s business. The truth is trauma influences EVERYTHING, including your inner security, financial decisions, and conflict resolution. If you have trauma, it’s important to heal from it so that you can go forth untethered.
Be a good kind of stubborn
There’s a fighter in most survivors of abuse. Esther likes calling me a “little scrapper.” If you’re a boxer, scrapper, or fighter in life, use your grit and skills towards achieving your dreams and long-term goals. Being tenacious is important in the face of negative people telling you that you can’t do it or that you’re not good enough.
Stop caring about what others think of you
My favourite piece of wisdom: What others think of me is none of my business. The more you care about what toxic people think of you, the more power you’re giving them. I’ve also said to Esther before, “There are a lot of people in this world with a lot of issues.” Why do you need approval from people with issues?
In the dirt, there’s a diamond. In abuse, there’s resilience emerging. Be strong, courageous, and most importantly, be YOU. Own your gifts, and pursue your dreams!
Hanifa Yip is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a certified fitness professional with over 20 years of fitness teaching experience. She recently released a book called Healthy with Hanifa: A Woman’s Guide to Holistic Health & Fitness, which is available for purchase on Amazon and Indigo. If you would like some free advice, please follow Hanifa on Twitter.