From All Angles: Fostering Emotional Wealth

By Regina Louise

In a recent TEDx Talk, I spoke on the importance of having a benevolent witness to our stories. Someone who will not, as John Bradshaw said, “shame us for our shame.” I cannot share my story without first sharing my shame message. Simply put, I am not wanted.

While some of you may have an intellectual reaction to that phrase, others of you will have an emotional or somatic (body-based) response. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either response; your feelings are your feelings. That’s something I wish at least one adult had said to me as I navigated childhood.

In the absence of a guiding hand, my personal mantra became: “There is nothing wrong with me.” It was something I held onto when my shame message threatened to upend it all and I was seduced into believing that I wasn’t good enough, nor worthy of existence, regardless of the family, friendship, community, clubs, organizations or affinity groups I belong to.

Although assessment tools exist to measure the effect of trauma and adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and their impact, there are no assessments — at least not to my knowledge — that measure the impact an absence of love has on an orphaned, Black, girl-child deprived of her constitutional, God-given, inalienable right to pursue happiness, to be claimed as someone’s own, to finally belong to a love intended just for her.

It is this fact that exasperated the reality of my shame message: I am not wanted. Facts.

Unbeknownst to me then, was that this idea of feeling not wanted informed everything I thought, everything I felt and everything I did as a child and young adult. I now recognize that I was a very insightful and spiritually aware child. I possessed an awakened temperament unlike anything other children my age seemed cognizant of. I sensed things deeply, somatically or within my body.

I experienced tightness in my solar plexus every day I arrived “home” from school. I paid attention to my feelings. I never called myself names for having an emotion, rather, I continually tried to talk myself into facing whatever I was expected to, without a road map.
A Cocktail of Chaos
More frequently than not, it was difficult to breathe in my household. We yelled and screamed ourselves into a cocktail of chaos, making dissociation the only safe place to be. I hovered, often, outside of and above myself. Scarcity and poverty arm wrestled for resources that were unavailable, thus remaining perpetually locked in breaking a cycle that was incomprehensible. Hunger’s fisted hand punched hard on the daily. These conditions, however, honed my capacity to perceive emotions, energy and intuition at a level that might otherwise prove imperceptible had I not had the journey.

I was the one who blew the whistle on the adults who neglected me because of intersectionality’s impact. This act of courage and efficacy — speaking up — permitted me and empowered me to believe in myself.

Author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl is most often attributed to the quote: “In between impulse and reaction is a space where freedom and choice exist.”

It was in solitary confinement that I came to embody the qualities this quote espouses. Choice. Freedom. The irony of foster care is, when children experience it, there is the pressure of living between belief systems they did not ask for, but were unwittingly ascribed to them. As a result, they might not feel empowered to have a say in how their lives will turn out.

There were no door handles inside the closet-sized room I was forced to live in. No windows. A toilet. A bed. Many days, after crying myself dry, I prayed to God for a mother I hardly knew, believing I’d live forever. On the day I decided to put that scripture to the test, I stopped fighting. Instead, I began paying attention to my breathing, and even when it frightened me, my own breath coming in and going out, I stayed with it as best I could.

Each day inside the security housing unit, I faced my emotional dysregulation by focusing on my breath until my body calmed.

Hyperventilation became less of a destination, and I held onto myself by clutching and holding my knees close to my chest and rocking myself for as long as my insides needed. I whispered kind words to the physical disturbances that threatened to drive me mad in the dark and dank isolation. I did not know back then that I was self-soothing, that I was engaged in a form of self-love that would become the buzzword, the zeitgeist of personal growth of the twenty-first century.

Conversations of Hope
“Speak into the light,” a small voice insisted. Dog-tired, a cleared-out heart, I looked up from the child’s pose I’d slept in, to the only light I detected. Over the threshold, it wafted. Sometimes coming in strong and, at other times, faint; however, the light was always there. I just wasn’t aware of it. It was into the particles that danced beneath the heavy-clad door and over the strip of well-worn stainless steel that I began my conversations with hope.

I apologized for any harm I’d done myself — the cutting and the self-starvation whenever I felt unseen and unheard. I asked forgiveness for the times I even thought about not wanting to live. I made amends, in my head and heart to those whom I’d injured unintentionally or otherwise, and I made a pact to get myself together enough to one day tell my story to anyone who would be interested in knowing what it was like, for ONE. UNWANTED. BLACK. GIRL. CHILD. A child left to navigate the enormity of a world that also mirrored her unwantedness.

If I were to break it all down into a quantifiable formula, I’d say I navigated myself into myself, by first believing I could step into the life-force that coursed through my veins for as long as I’d remembered. I dedicated my life and my soul to identifying and healing the issues that were left in my tissues, resulting from epigenetics’ impersonal fingerprints.

It has been my honor and my pleasure to keep that pact I made while in solitary confinement. To tell my story. Tell it in the hopes that somebody, somewhere might find it and read it, and teach children to treat themselves better than their circumstances allow, no matter what.

I attribute many of the gifts I’ve inherited to my DNA or because of slowing down and engaging with difficult feelings, and not believing that all I am is an amalgamation of trauma and difficulty — to learning, understanding, teaching and coaching emotional intelligence.
It is a heightened level of EQ that prepared me for the world-at-large.
Teaching the pillars of EQ to youth in foster care could be a pathway forward to their own sense of personal excellence, empowering them to hold space for their own shame, and that of others.

EQ prepares humans to recognize, understand and express emotions effectively. A skillset worthy of fostering in the thousands of youth I’ve met on my journey.

There is agency in becoming a self-loving individual. And despite the trauma, I give you permission to heal and love yourself.

 

Regina Louise is a child advocate, emotional wellness coach, trauma-informed practitioner and a mindfulness practitioner. Louise is the author of several books, including “Hands on Heart: A 60-Day Guided Journal to Self-Love,” her memoir “Somebody’s Someone” and its follow up “Someone Has Led This Child to Believe.” Louise’s experiences include living in 30 foster care homes and time spent in solitary confinement in a level 14 residential treatment center. At 15, Louise was denied the right to a forever family when a California court deemed her Caucasian-Hawaiian prospective adoptive mother “unfit” because of their racial differences. As a wellness coach, she holds 30-day virtual workshops, guiding others through a groundbreaking journey toward the self with love. Follow Louise on Instagram at @TheRealReginaLouise. For more information, visit www.iamreginalouise.com.