Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives

Ep13: Breaking the Chains of Trauma, with Miriam Njoku

June 02, 2021 Season 2 Episode 13
Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives
Ep13: Breaking the Chains of Trauma, with Miriam Njoku
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever been told you can’t do it, or you’re not good enough for something you really wanted? What if you got that message in your whole life starting from childhood? What if abuse or racism you’ve endured created trauma that affects your work or relationships?  How do you heal wounds that you can’t see?

Miriam Njoku knows the struggle all too well. The abuse that she endured as a child and teenager and the racism she experienced at school and at work caused trauma that would cripple ten people, let alone one. Yet somehow, Miriam not only survived all this, but she also found resilience and strength in herself that allowed her to succeed in the world’s eyes. What we couldn’t see was the continued damage from internal wounds that were never healed and led to her shame and even workaholism. Thankfully, Miriam found the healing she needed to be a whole and healthy mom, writer, podcaster, and African woman.

Miriam left a flourishing career in banking and international development with organizations like the United Nations so she could become a trauma-informed coach, helping people free themselves from the burdens of childhood trauma. She’s also working to destigmatize mental health in black communities through activities like her podcast, Overcoming Your Story.

If you’re looking for ways to heal from your past traumas, or if you want to support someone who needs that healing, Miriam shares ways we can do that using her own personal story. 

And if you speak French, finally, I have content for you in your language. Thanks to Miriam’s bilingualism, please stick around to the end because she has a special message for you. 

Content Warning: This episode contains references to childhood abuse and trauma, sexual abuse, and racism. Though not graphic, some listeners may be disturbed by the painful stories. Miriam has endured so much that we had to break it up, and she’ll talk specifically about workplace racism in the next episode.

Full transcript available here.

Contact Rosie and find JEDI resources at:  changinglenses.ca/

In this episode, we talk about:

[01:17]  Miriam as a Black African in Cameroon.
[03:13]  Miriam as a Black African in Switzerland.
[04:39]  Systemic racism in Swiss schools. 
[09:42]  Miriam’s traumatic childhood, and what happened to her mother.
[16:28]  Her desire for education as a reaction to abuse.
[21:06]  Hiding shame beneath a veneer of perfection.
[25:50]  How we can help – indications of possible trauma in others.
[28:24]  Trauma’s impact on motherhood.
[30:49]  Encouraging trauma victims to ask for help.
[33:43]  A message of support in French.

Guest Bio and References/Links

Miriam is a Trauma Informed Coach, an African, a mom of three daughters, a blogger and writer.  After graduating from the London School of Economics, she built her international career in the fields of banking and international development, working for organizations such as the World Economic Forum, Lombard Odier Private Bank, JP Morgan, the Mastercard Foundation and the United Nations. She now uses her passion for psychology and dedicates her time to coaching others to free themselves fro

If you enjoy the podcast and want deeper ways to Change your Lens in work and business, check out the free resources on my website, changinglenses.ca. I also offer workshops and keynote speeches on JEDI topics like Decolonizing Corporate Workplaces, recruiting more inclusively, anti-Asian racism, and many more. How can I  support your JEDI journey? Contact me at changinglenses.ca.

Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.

If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors.

Ep13:  Breaking the Chains of Trauma, with Miriam Njoku

Transcript

 

Miriam: No one believed me when I said I wanted to go to university. They laughed, you know, they say you cannot come from Africa and go to university. 

Rosie: In your own family. 

Miriam: Yeah. My white side of the family. I missed Cameroon terribly in Switzerland. Even though my life was horrible in Cameroon, but I had made such great friends who had supported me. I felt I knew myself because my color didn't matter. 

Rosie: Have you ever been told “you can’t do it” or “you’re not good enough” for something you really wanted?

What if you got that messaging your whole life, starting from childhood?

What if abuse, trauma, or racism you’ve endured created triggers that affect you suddenly at work, at the store, or in your relationships?

If you break your arm or your leg, you wear a cast. If you get a papercut, you use a bandaid.

But what if your injuries aren’t visible on the outside? How do you heal pain that you can’t even face, and others can’t see?

Miriam Njoku knows this struggle all too well. The abuse she endured as a child and teenager, and the racism she experienced at school and work, caused trauma that would cripple 10 people, let alone one. Yet somehow, Miriam not only survived all this - she found a resilience and strength in herself that allowed her to succeed in the world’s eyes.

What we couldn’t see was the continued damage from internal wounds that were never healed, and led to her shame, and even workaholism.  Thankfully, Miriam found the healing she needed to be a whole and healthy mom, writer, podcaster, and African woman.

Miriam left a flourishing career in banking and international development with organizations like the United Nations, so she could become a Trauma Informed Coach, helping people free themselves from the burdens of childhood trauma. She is also working to destigmatize mental health in black communities, through activities like her podcast, Overcoming Your Story.

If you’re looking for ways to heal from your past traumas; or if you want to support someone who needs that healing; Miriam shares ways we can do that, using her own personal story. And if you speak French, finally, I have content for you in your language, thanks to Miriam’s bilingualism. Please stick around to the end, because she has a special message for you.

[Content Warning]

Listeners, I do need to warn you: this episode contains references to childhood abuse and trauma, sexual abuse, and racism. Miriam has endured so much that we had to break it up, and she will talk specifically about workplace racism in the next episode.

But first – a quick intro and land acknowledgment.


[intro music plays]

Rosie:Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.

I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.

Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website, changinglenses.ca.

Now please, enjoy the episode.

[intro music ends]


Rosie: Hello, Miriam. Welcome. It's so good to see you. I'm so happy to be having this conversation with you today. 

Miriam: Hi Rosie. Thank you for inviting me. It's such a great pleasure. We've been planning this, right? 

Rosie: Yes we have. Yes, I'm super excited. And before we actually get into it, because I know some of the topics we'll talk about today are pretty sensitive. I want you to know that this is a safe and comfortable space. I want you to feel safe and comfortable. And to be able to be honest and real and vulnerable in our conversations. So I commit to you and our listeners that this is a safe space, and I invite you to keep me accountable, to being respectful and nonjudgmental. And to definitely let me know if I say, or pronounce anything incorrectly. 

Miriam: Thank you for that invitation. I know it is because I've had other interactions with you, but thank you. 

Rosie: Thanks Miriam. So Miriam, I just want to dive right in, because there's so much I want to talk about in your story. And first off, I really love the fact that you say in your self-described bio, that you are an African. And you mentioned that before you even say you're a mother. I don't know if that was intentional or anything, but what does that mean to you to be an African. 

Miriam: I think it's the major part of my identity. I was born in Cameroon where I grew up for 13 years before moving to Switzerland. And I define myself first as an African. Not necessarily as a Cameroonian, but as an African cause I think we all come from somewhere and Africa is my home. Africa shaped me. Africa gave me my values. Africa showed me that my skin color did not define me and I am so grateful for that, because I think I have a step back when it comes to other people trying to define me. I know of a time when my skin color never defined me. And I'm grateful to Africa for that. 

Rosie: Wow, that's awesome. Thank you. I've had the pleasure of actually visiting a few countries in Africa when we both worked together, right, at the same organization. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I definitely had stereotypes and certain ideas before I went to Africa and realized that it's not how it's portrayed in movies. I won't say anything more because I'm curious what you've experienced in terms of common myths. Either against yourself or against Africa in general, that you encountered when you went to Europe and North America 

Miriam: Growing up in Cameroon, my life was very difficult. I had a very, very difficult childhood, but there were two things. So there was my personal history, my personal story, and my families story. And the story of like being black. So in Cameroon, I never had a problem with my skin color. That was not the most defining thing. It was being honest, working hard, trying your best, just being a human being. 

And for me, when I moved to Europe, I stopped being a human being and I became a black person, or a black woman or a black girl. I was a teenager. And that didn't come with positive stereotypes. I wouldn't have minded if it was maybe just to label me and it didn't have consequences. What I noticed straight up at school was that they wouldn't, for example, give me a test to see my level of education, because they told me kids who come from Africa, they don't go to school. So they know. 

I was totally confused. So I was speaking English in Cameroon. I came to Switzerland, I had to learn French, but for me it didn't mean I became stupid. I still had knowledge, but just in one language and not in the other. I just had to translate the knowledge into another language. So for me I just thought it was a matter of time before I knew the language. And then that translated in knowledge, but I was not given that opportunity. My teachers, they wanted me to do an apprenticeship. And I knew coming from my childhood trauma, that the only thing I had going for me was school.

School was the most defining thing in my life. I come from a family where people cannot read and write. And because my uncle forced me where at one evening I had to sit with my book open on my lap and look into that book. I couldn't speak unless I was spoken to. So sitting there with the book at first, I was bored. And then I started reading in this book and I got better and better at school. So when things were not falling apart, crumbling around me, I had school for me. It was what defined me and I come to Switzerland and they tried to take that from me. So for three years, I went to every single school in my little town where I immigrated to, because they will put me in a level, like people who would do an apprenticeship. For me it's crazy because they had determined already at 11 years of age, which kids could go to university or which kids could not go. For having been through all the system. All the immigrant kids, they were bonded in the path that led them to working in stores and then the next level where people who would go to technical school and do an apprenticeship. So I was with those people too. You had Swiss and immigrant kids there and I was thinking, wow, at 11 years of age, if you're not lucky as an immigrant that your parents can advocate for you because they don't understand the system where you're lost already, actually, because you're already streamed into a path that we block you later from going to university.

Rosie: Wow, so we've heard some of that in the media here in North America now. Like the stories; people who have black skin have experienced this their whole lives through generations, but we're just starting to hear this now as a white society. And it's very telling that it's not just North American, that in, which city was it in Switzerland that you immigrated to?

Miriam: So I immigrated to a small town called Yverdon-les-Bains, near Lausanne. Yeah, where I lived for 10 years, AndI knew that I was not seen. Miriam was not seen. It's the black girl. The blackness was seen. And I was defined by that all encompassing blackness, and they couldn't see Miriam who likes school in Cameroon. Who in a class of 100 was like the best student or the second best student.

No one wanted to hear that. They knew that people from Africa don't go to school. They actually told me that. So it made me very rebellious. And I was out to prove something. I was really obsessed. I was working around the clock. I wanted to prove to them they were wrong. And I think it shouldn't have been like that. But in that year before going to high school. I was actually the second best student in my class. Even though I was learning French, German, Math and everything. 

My teachers, they apologized to me. They said they never knew it was possible. At the time I didn't realize the violence because you have to see that my teachers for three months when I came to that level, with the rich kids and everything. Every Monday, when people were going out for recess, my teacher told me to stay back and she would ask me, do you want to go back to the level you were in before? You know, I would tell her, no, I don't want to go back because they kept putting pressure on me that I would fail, I was not in my place, I should go back to the level before. And I refused, and at the end of the year, I was the second best student. So I caught up with everything and I passed my exam to go to high school. And in high school, I started at the beginning. I was not catching up. 

Rosie: That's amazing. I'm so proud of you. So I'm just thinking, cause for our North American listeners they may not be familiar with the schooling system. So when you say secondary school, how old were you when you went to Switzerland? Started schooling there. 

Miriam: 13 years old. 

Rosie: Okay. So in North America, that would be our Grade 8 starting to go into high school, right. I didn't realize at first when you said at first when you said the level. So physically the classes were separated with basically like the rich kids that were going to beat the bankers versus who the teachers thought would be the dumb kids that would just not have a great career. Wow. 

Miriam: Yeah, and I visited everyone because they put me with the kids who would like stop school. And there you found all the immigrant kids. It was maybe one or two Swiss kids, but all the immigrant kids were there. And actually that class was a great class for me because I felt very comfortable. The teacher was really good. My classmates were amazing. At the end of the year, I was like building friendships, you know, but I had an obsession. I wanted to go to university. I didn't know what I would study, but it was too important for me. It's as if going to university would give me the value my parents didn't give me.

Rosie: So can we talk a bit about what  it was like for you growing up in Cameroon? I feel like I almost started at the wrong end, but I was just so fascinated by that African identity that you brought with you to Switzerland. I want people to dispel the myth that, first of all, Africa is just not one big uniform place were everybody's the same. It's made up of many, many different countries, very different cultures. And so what city were you in? In Cameroon? 

Miriam: I was born in Northwest Cameroon, but I grew up in many different places. And even in Cameroon, it's very diverse. Even my story I wouldn't say it's all over Cameroon; how my personal story played out because I grew up seeing kids who had good parents, who were taken care of. I was very envious of them. I wanted to be in their shoes. But my mother was married very young at 14 to a man who was a polygamist in our village. They forced her into marriage, I would say. And she had her first daughter that she lost at eight months of age. And then she had me. 

And in that context, there was a lot of pressure on her because a women who didn't have children. It was as if it was the worst thing, you know? And so they were putting a lot of pressure on her. So I came into the world as a tool. I would free my mother from all that pressure. So I would say that's why I'm very anxious today because I'm sure it was not fun for her.

So when my mother had my sister, she ran away. She took us and she ran away with us. And then she left us with our great-grandmother. My mother was not raised by her parents, she was raised by other people. So there's this cycle of not raising children in my family. And that causes so much trauma. There's always this doubt of your identity. If your connected, if you're accepted of your worth. You always kind of struggle with your worth, right? So we grew up for many years, five, six years with our great grandmother in the village. 

Rosie: Were great-grandmother, were they also really young when they got married and started having kids? 

Miriam: Yes, Yes.

Rosie:  I see. Not as an excuse, but I could see why like a 14 year old or 15 year old is not ready to be a mother. And even your great grandmother would have been maybe 40 something, right? In a way you could say she was the only mature person; hopefully mature. To be able to raise kids, but that doesn't take away from the fact that your mother wasn't your mother as a child. 

Miriam: Yeah. I always have this saying in my head that a child cannot be a mother. And that's who my mother was. She was a child and she was overwhelmed. The day she was married off, she was in school that day. So she was in what we call here in North America, elementary school. We call it primary school in Cameroon. So she was in her last year and the police came to school, calling her name. And she came out. They said she had to come. And they took her to my father's compound and there were people there ready to start a ceremony and I think that was a recipe for disaster I would say. So yeah, we grew up changing a lot. So from my great-grandmother, we were raised also by an uncle and then three years with an alcoholic woman before moving to Switzerland and before moving I didn't want to move anymore because through all of this, the hope was that my mother would come and take me one day. She never came. She visited and it was really painful because she came and went. But she never came and took us. So by the time she wanted to take us. I had been my own caregiver for years. So I didn't want to go. I didn't want any new surprises. So I told my mother, please rent a room for me in Cameroon. And let me go to school. That's the only thing I want. I want to go to school. 

Rosie: Wow, I'm so sorry Miriam that you went through that as a kid. To the extent that you feel comfortable cause I know right now that's part of your really brave and important work is helping others and helping yourself to continue that process of healing from your childhood and what you went through.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the experiences as a child. Maybe what is most memorable to you that informed your desire for education and even a bit, the person who you are today? 

Miriam: My desire for education. You know, when at three and a half years old, all of a sudden, not that they died, but you lose your mom and dad. You're placed with your great-grandmother you had not seen until that day, because I hadn't seen her. She was in no state to be taking care of small kids. She was very old. She had white hair. She walked with a walking stick and she was bent and she walked very slowly. So in all of that, no one ever explained to me what was happening. I was just thrown in situations that you're trying to understand by yourself. Kids have to have a mirror. Parents, caregivers that reassure them. I didn't have that. I think the only thing that I hung on to was my great grandmother. She was very, very loving. I was very rebellious. She beat me a lot because I was always escaping into the forest and she was scared. But at the same time I really felt loved. And thank God because after that period, it was all chaos. It was chaos. And the school thing. At first, I didn't want to go to school. I learned to read way after other people had started reading. I was angry. I was an angry small child of five, six years old. And since I was not doing well in school that's why they sent me to my uncle. And at my uncles, he was very abusive, physically, very strict. The slightest thing I did he would beat the hell out of me. So I had to sit there every evening when I had finished my chores with my school books on my lap. At first I was bored. I was rebelling in my mind that I don't want to be here, but since I had no choice, I started reading the books and I saw that the more I read. The better my grades got in school. So it became the only thing I did well. Because there was no reflection I was a good person from my environment. No one told me you're a good kid. I did not have any sense of self from a caregiver. Giving me that identity, that Miriam you're this or you're that. I didn't have time to experiment, play, even know what color I like. I didn't have time for that. I was in chores and yeah. So school was the only kind of thing that I did by myself. No one intervened and it worked out. So that's why my identity was so tied to school. 

Rosie: Wow. I can completely see that. And so your grandmother didn't know how to read or write either?

Miriam: No.

Rosie:  All of the adults that you lived with, none of them could read or write. Even your father

Miriam: He could read and write, but I only lived in his compound until I was three and a half but he could yeah. 

Rosie: But he obviously didn't bother trying to teach you how to do that. 

Miriam: Well, um, my father had 18 wives and when he died in 2005, he left behind 76 children. So I don't think with 76 today. Even if you could teach, I don't know how you could do that. You know? So, yeah. 

Rosie: Wow. My mouth is hanging open. Okay. 

Miriam: So but the whole time in Cameroon, my mom was involved in my childhood. In that she came and visited us every nine months, I would say, but she always left after five days. When my mom left for Europe. At that point, she had decided that her family were not treating us well. And she would leave us with a friend's mom, but she didn't do her due diligence because this woman was an alcoholic. I was relieved at first. She wasn't beating us. She was only insulting us. But the truth is with time, the verbal abuse is worse because that critical voice, that harsh tone, gets internalized and that's what I use to speak to myself for many, many years. It's not totally gone. It's still there. You know, it's less then before. I can talk about it, you know, all the shame and guilt, yeah. So that critical voice became my voice. My mom, she didn't come back to take us, but she went to Switzerland and there she met a Swiss man. They married. And then, because all this time she was undocumented. So when she married the Swiss man, she had documents. And six months after they married, we came to Switzerland. But three years had passed. So reuniting in Switzerland, she left small kids and now she has teenagers. Very angry teenagers, my sister and I, and actually there was no space to process what had happened to us. So we were again, left with our stories, locked in us. The pain, the confusion, there was no space to process. And I was just really very angry. And then all the racism in the family. I would say prejudice, not racism, in that no one believed me when I said I wanted to go to university. They laughed, you know, they say you cannot come from Africa and go to university.

Rosie: In you own family. 

Miriam: Yeah. My white side of the family. I missed Cameroon terribly in Switzerland. Even though my life was horrible in Cameroon, but I had made such great friends who had supported me. I felt I knew myself because my color didn't matter. Like I discovered racism in Switzerland and I don't know I was naive in Cameroon. I just thought, oh, we had the civil rights movement and then apartheid, you know, and I thought it was all over, it was in the past. We had understood. And then I come to Switzerland and I was horrified. I was horrified that racism still existed and the extent of it. So yeah. I begged my mom to send me back. Of course she wouldn't send me back to Cameroon. 

Rosie: Why did you want to go back to Cameroon so badly? 

Miriam: I felt with my Swiss dad it was not, it was not a good situation. He was sexually molesting us. We had a mom we didn't connect to. And there was racism. So I was feeling at this point, I can be my own boss because I know how to take care of myself. I've been a mom to my sister for years, like really a mom, you know. Supporting her, cooking for her, helping her with her homework, like everything like a mom. I'm like, I could just go back rent somewhere to stay and go to school because that's what I'm interested in. And I didn't have any interests. So, you know, I'm like maybe I will be in a context where I feel comfortable and then I go to school and then I try to build myself that way because at that point, I think we needed intense trauma therapy. My sister and I, we needed to. And we saw doctors, they updated our vaccines. No one saw anything because we were so quiet, so polite. So, you know, no one saw anything. No one saw anything and no one asked.

Rosie: Miriam I just  want to acknowledge again, just your courage in speaking so openly and giving of yourself to other people so that they don't have to wait as long as you did to get healing. So thank you for that. I see that, like you said, the words. What's that old saying sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Not true. 

Miriam: Not true.

Rosie: And worst can leave 

Miriam: We can strike all of that.

Rosie: Right! Exactly. And it's even harder because like you said you could go to the doctor. Your doctors didn't see anything, or we're blind to things that could have helped you. But even with physical beatings, there would be bruises and scars that people could see. With the all the other things that you went through, including the sexual abuse, including the verbal abuse, alcoholic abuse. Those leave invisible scars and pains, wounds. But they're very real, very deep. How did you see that some of those traumas affected how you behaved or thought as an adult?

Miriam: Hmm. Yeah. Thank you. That's a very powerful question. I think it came first from the shame of the life I lived. Just shame of saying this is like, I couldn't answer simple questions from, I don't know, university mates when someone would say, oh, is your father still in Cameroon? I wouldn't answer that. How many siblings do you have? I don't want to say I have 75 siblings. No. So at one point I found an answer with that question. I would say my mother had two daughters, you know, and that was it. Because I was just so ashamed. I was ashamed someone would meet my mother and they didn't speak perfect french. I was so ashamed of that. So I wouldn't let my mother come to anything when that concerned my, my studies, where I was with my friends. I would try to avoid inviting people to my, to my apartment, where I live with my mother and things like that. So yeah, the shame, the shame and the guilt, you know, like just this feeling that I was broken. And after my bachelor's I had a scholarship or several scholarships to go do my master's at the London school of economics. And that's where things started crumbling for me because this sense of inadequacy of not fitting in was even stronger because these were like kids from some of them working from really, uh, extra ordinary backgrounds. I just felt, I couldn't tell my story. So I had a polished version I would tell people. Not to alarm them because I was afraid of pity.

I felt if I told my story, people would pity me and that was worse than I don't know. That was the worst thing for me, the feeling, I'm like, I don't want to say to anyone this happened to me and they pity me, I didn't want pity, but what I didn't know at the time was that I could also have maybe compassion, you know, empathy. I didn't know about that. I only saw pity. I didn't want that. So, I would say a light version. Yeah, I grew up in Cameroon then I came to Switzerland and I went to school and then I had my bachelor's from the University of Geneva. And then I got accepted into the London school of economics. And then I got a scholarship and here I am.

Rosie: Right? Everything's good. It's like you had the same history as other rich kids or kids who didn't have a traumatic background. 

Miriam: Yeah. So I cancelled all the trauma from my narrative of myself. At the time I took a lot of time polishing myself. I didn't look like my trauma. I didn't look like my past. I put fake hair because at the time, all black girls, I wouldn't like show my natural hair. So I had this long flowy hair I had all the time that I would brush. I put makeup, not too much, but I put makeup. I was very, very slim. I kept myself like that on purpose. I always dress nicely. Even if it's to go buy a baguette opposite my building. I will take one hour to dress myself.

It was a way of hiding my traumas. Hiding. Putting a shield so that no one would see what was behind. And that's how I lived in my twenties. You know, when I graduated university. Starting work was another, yeah, that was a transition that was not easy. And we're going to talk about that. 

Rosie: We are going to talk about that. Yes, there's so much here that I think we definitely need a part two. So we'll save that for part two, because I think there's, there's going to be a ton there too. Miriam, I'm just, I really relate to everything you said about hiding. And everything looks good on the surface, but people on the outside look at you, they just, by the time you got to London school of economics, I bet they just saw a bright, beautiful, successful young woman. White people probably thought she beat the odds. She left that poor place of Africa. And she's one of the few black people who could do this or whatever they thought. All they thought was somebody successful and they never bothered to find out beneath or you, you wouldn't let them also because of your trauma. I'm wondering for, I mean, things have come some ways around even mental health and how supportive people want to be or more aware that there's stuff below the surface that we don't know. Because it's not safe for people who have experienced trauma, they are not going to just tell people this right. But as a person who wants to be compassionate and maybe is just not aware. For friends and family of people who may have experienced trauma. What are some signs maybe that they could see? Do you have any advice for people who want to be supportive to people they care about who've experienced trauma. 

Miriam: Yeah, I would say if you have that friend who always, they never show anything, always so polite. They always have the right thing to say, but something that wouldn't actually show their real feeling about something, or who are very calm, you know, very put together.

I just felt as I never really shared my real opinions. I shared what I thought would be acceptable in the moment. But I think if someone looked a bit close to even my story. There's one person at LSE I told my story too and from the get-go he told me, there's something with your story it doesn't add up.

I was like, I was so upset. How can you say it doesn't add up? It's my story. I know my story. What he meant was that what I'm saying there's, there's way more to the story than what I'm telling him. And that person, he saw it from the get-go. And at first I was very upset at him, but he made the effort to build a bit of rapport with me and build a bit of trust. And he's the first person I told my whole story to. And today I will always be grateful to him because I think until then, I didn't feel as if I could tell somebody else the whole story. I think from there, I knew it was possible to trust. Not everybody, but to find people I could trust. So I would say patience. Patience, building trust because that's the thing with trauma. Traumatized people they lack trust. Sometimes I still lack trust in the world. I would say if you have that friend or that family member, you never know what they think they never dare show how they feel. They're always trying to be. Even sometimes we can feel they're not okay. But they tell you they're okay. Hm. You know, those could be signs and to get them to open up. I think it's by building trust, you know. By being there, building trust. Yeah. That's what has helped. 

Rosie: Miriam, you've touched on the important needs for children and how to care for them as a parent. How do you see that your past has informed who you are as a mother? How you mother your kids today? 

Miriam: You have powerful questions Rosie. 

Rosie: I'm genuinely interested. And I think mothers out there probably want to know this too. How can they, basically, how can they be a better mother to their kids right? Everybody wants to know that. 

Miriam: Yeah. So I have three daughters of seven, five and a half, one and a half. Full of energy. 

Rosie: You're a busy mom. 

Miriam: I'm a very busy mom. It wasn't easy becoming a mom because all of a sudden I was confronted with what am I going to transmit to my kids from my past, from my own personal story. It was an obsession at one point. What am I going to teach my kids? I had this obsession of giving to my children what I didn't have. And I was lost. But what I accept now is that I don't have to be a perfect mother to be a good mother. That's what they call good enough parenting. We mess up, we have slip ups, you know. If I have an outburst, I apologize, you know. Sometimes I see that I get triggered quickly, I take a break. Mommy goes to timeout too. Oh yeah. I'm an advocate for timeout for parents, you know. Take a minute, go to the room, breathe, you know. Drink a tea and then come back more refreshed and ready to engage with your children. I want my kids to know how to regulate their emotions first. To be able to recognize their emotions because I think it's as important as academics these days for me.

I'm also learning to manage my own emotions because I have many big emotions I haven't processed for years, because I know that what is happening for me inside is not what is happening for my child. So even if I'm triggered by my child, I know that, she's being a child. She's not there to trigger me. And so there's all this awareness. I'm letting them guide me. They have three different characters, their personalities are different. So I adapt to the way I see they want me to love them. And I love them in the language, in the way they would receive it as love right. And I also just tap a lot into my intuition of how I feel about things. And I would advocate for asking for help. That's one thing too with trauma, we don't ask for help because we think it's too much. What will other people think? We think it's showing weakness or showing that we are not okay. It's the worse thing that can happen and asking for help is important. Even if you haven't been through trauma, even for other parents too. Sometimes we know, oh, this is what I want to bring my kids and we don't know how to do it. We just ask for help. There's help out there to support us. I read a lot of books. I'm in groups on Facebook where I can ask questions or, you know, to get support from other moms. Yeah. You can have a chat with anyone from around, or we can question these things. Do we want this? Is this what we want to keep doing? It takes a lot of bravery because sometimes like now, if I come and I say this in my family, everybody be like, what are you talking about? We knew, we knew you were weird, but really your becoming weirder by the day. You see what I mean? So it's, it's not easy. 

Rosie: Yes, and that hits on something important too because even in your own family you can feel kind of outcast, right? Or you feel like you don't quite fit in. I really, really resonate with that. I'm more bothered now by what I felt was a lack of encouragement, right. And just positive reinforcement, you could do it. We're proud of you. You're a good kid, whatever that is. In Chinese culture there's a lot more humility. I think false humility and all well-intentioned, but it's also. I question how much of that is good child psychology right? So, yeah. 

Miriam: Yeah, because a child needs a mirror. A mirror, the adults, the caregiver, you know, they're that primal attachment. So it's very important in a way a child is built. Even recognizing their emotions, feeling safe. The caregiver gives that to a child. If we don't give that, we feel there's something wrong with us. We are not good enough. We do so many great things, but we don't feel them. It's not attached to us. Other people see them that, wow, you did this. And then we're like, well, yeah, you know, everybody does that. So it's not, you know, not accepting that actually. Yeah. Everybody might do it, but you did it. And it counts, you know, 

Rosie: Miriam you've already given us so much. And our English speaking listeners, I think will find this very enriching. I've often thought about our French speaking Canadians, who I sadly can't offer as much to because my high school French is pretty bad, but would you feel comfortable sharing a little bit in French to our French listeners, a word of encouragement that you would really want to leave for people, especially people who have been affected by trauma.

[Miriam speaking French]

Miriam: J'aimerais vous dire que quelque chose vous est arrivé et qu'il n'y a rien de mauvais en vous. C'est quelque chose qui vous est arrivé sur plusieurs années qui fait que vous vous sentez brisé. Mais sachez que si vous connaissez ce qui s'est passé et comprenez les effets que cela a sur vous, vous pouvez commencer à guérir de ces blessures d'enfance. Tout n'est pas perdu et j'espère vraiment en partageant ces histoires difficiles que vous allez vous sentir moins seul. Vous allez sentir qu’il y a quelqu'un d'autre là-dehors qui comprend, parce que pendant des années j'ai pensé que j'étais seule dans mon histoire, j'étais seule dans mon esprit. Je me disais que j’étais quelqu’un de brisé, que personne ne peut comprendre. Mais en fait nous sommes beaucoup là-dehors à porter ces histoires difficiles. Oser en parler et briser le silence, oser se mettre dehors, osé dire à un ami, un proche, un parent, un professeur, osé en parler en fait c'est le début de la guérison, de la liberté. Voilà merci.

[English translation:]

I would like to tell you that something happened to you and there is nothing wrong with you. It is something that has happened to you over several years that makes you feel broken. But know that if you know what happened, and understand its effects on you, then you can start to heal from these childhood wounds. All is not lost and I really hope that by sharing these difficult stories you will feel less alone. You will feel that there is somebody out there who understands, because for years, I felt like I was the only one with my story, I was alone in my spirit. I told myself I was broken, that no one would understand. But in fact, there are a lot of us out there carrying these difficult stories. Daring to speak and to break the silence, daring to put ourselves out there, daring to tell a friend, a family member, parent or teacher, daring to speak, is actually the beginning of healing, of freedom. Thank you.  

 

Rosie: [Speaking in French] Merci beaucoup Miriam.  [Thank you so much Miriam.]

Miriam: [Speaking in French]  Merci Rosie. [Thank you Rosie.]

Rosie: I caught bits and pieces of that. Miriam, I treasure you. I'm so thankful and grateful that you were able to come on this podcast today on Changing Lenses. You definitely lifted some blinders from my eyes and showed me a different way of looking at trauma. And a different way of even thinking about parents and kids and how that affects us as adults. So thank you so much. You were. You're a blessing. You're such a blessing to us. Thank you. 

Miriam: Thank you for inviting me. You said this was a safe space and it feels like that. So thank you. 

Rosie: That's the best thing I could hear. I can imagine there are lots of questions or people wanting to follow up or even get some support from you because that is what you do now. You offer support to people. I know you have a website and that's where people can probably go to first.  To find out more and how they can engage with you. We're going to, for you who's listening. We are going to have all of the links up on our show notes. So don't worry if you don't catch it all right now. But Miram's website is miriamnjoku.com. So that's Miriam M I R I A M N J O K U .com; and Miriam I know you're also in all of the socials. What's the best social to reach you on right now?

Miriam: Instagram. Yeah, Instagram. @_MiriamNjoku

Rosie: Okay. Wonderful. 

Miriam: And also LinkedIn. 

Rosie: Okay, great. Yes, LinkedIn and Twitter as well right? 

Miriam: Yes. Yes.

Everything. We can reach you in lots of different ways. 

Yeah, most definitely. And I didn't say it, but laughter has helped. I've laughed a lot in my life. Laughed at myself, laughed at others, laughed at how people work. Their mannerisms, the way of talking, I've been laughing, you know. It has helped, it has been very healing.

Rosie: Yes. I see you as a person of laughter. Like when I met you at work, we're all professionals. So we don't talk about personal things but, I just see you smiling all the time. You seemed full of life, full of joy, and just goes to show that whatever you've come from, there is healing, there is hope, and you're offering that healing and hope to other people. So amazing that you're able to give back out of your, out of bad circumstances come good things. Yeah. 

Miriam: Thank you, Rosie. Thank you for your kind words. 

Rosie: So we look forward to hearing you again, in part two. And to our listeners, we hope that you will join us for the next session cause we are going to talk more about how the past can also affect us at work and some of the discrimination and exclusion we feel in the workplace. So don't miss that episode. That will be coming up next. 

Miriam: Thank you Rosie.

[outro music plays]

Rosie: Thanks for joining us! I hope we helped to change your lens, and expand your worldview. And if you want to talk about today’s episode with a safe community, or ask me questions directly, please join our Changing Lenses Facebook Group – the link is in the shownotes. This episode was produced and hosted by me, with associate production by William Loo, and post-production by Cue9. Until next time, I’m Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.

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