From an early age, I was determined to be a writer. My mother was a professor in Bangladesh who would often take me to her classroom as a precocious five-year old. I loved reading English poetry books aloud to her students. After coming to the United States, I remember announcing as a six-year old to my new teacher, “I want to be a writer.” At the age of 11, severe bullying led me to retreat into the fantasy world of writing and write my first “novella” on a black and white composition book that was passed around in my sixth grade class. Writing was an outlet and a source of light for the darkness that I was experiencing.
As embarrassing as it is to confess now, I continued to cultivate my burgeoning dream as a 12-year-old popular Harry Potter fanfiction writer who wrote over a hundred stories and gained a following of 367 fans who regularly reviewed my work. I was already quite the tiny entrepreneur, writing poetry, fiction and fanfiction on a daily basis instead of doing my homework. My love for literature caused me to study English Literature and Psychology as an undergraduate, where I balanced my passion for Shakespeare with Social Psychology.
Although I felt successful academically and professionally, my personal life was filled with chaos, pain and turbulence. Due to witnessing and being subjected to psychological and emotional abuse in my family, I had entered into emotionally abusive relationships with individuals who routinely picked at and compounded my wounds. I met predators that were narcissists as well as sociopaths along the way who traumatized me and re-traumatized me. The cycle had become difficult to break.
I knew I needed healing, yet I didn’t know how – or why – I was experiencing such pain. A high school boyfriend had subjected me to such brutal put-downs and condescending cruelty that I was unable to grasp, at the time, that this person had no empathy or conscience. It wasn’t too long after that I also met my first ever sociopath. These were my first experiences with what I would learn was “narcissistic abuse,” a form of insidious emotional and psychological abuse by an individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder. To my shock, the individuals I had met fit the criteria to a tee.
At the age of 18, while most teens were reading Cosmopolitan, I was reading Sam Vaknin to understand what a full-fledged “narcissist” was and how emotional predators with no empathy or conscience operated. I had been on a never-ending emotional roller coaster, experiencing the traumatic highs and lows of disordered personalities, and the only way I knew out was by understanding what I was dealing with.
These experiences were no coincidences, I knew, as they served as the portals to healing some of my childhood trauma. Yet I also knew that these predators were dangerous, and that the other survivors who were being traumatized by them, did not understand that they were not capable of remorse, empathy or change. This was when I began to more readily learn and identify the covert manipulation tactics of emotional abusers.
The more and more books I read, the more I learned about how deliberate these tactics were and how many emotional abusers were unlikely to change. I supplemented my coursework on psychopathology with books on narcissistic abusers and antisocial personalities by experts on this topic such as Dr. Robert D. Hare, Dr. George Simon, Dr. Martha Stout, Lundy Bancroft and Sandra Brown, many of whom had worked with these personalities as clients.
I also tapped into the infinite wisdom of other survivors, those who had been through the abuse cycle themselves. I regularly visited blogs on emotional abuse. I frequently spoke with other survivors as we supported each other on our journeys to healing. The fact that we were all transforming ourselves after this heartbreaking experience – or for people like me, a set of heartbreaking experiences – was exhilarating, frightening and emotional. It was also life-changing.
I began experimenting with diverse healing modalities like various forms of yoga, meditation, Reiki and CBT through my university’s mindfulness programs and even taught meditation to others for the first time during a club meeting. On my own, I also explored hundreds of different types of meditations available on the web and through podcasts—everything from self-compassion meditations to chakra cleansing ones. There was no limit to what I would explore and try in order to access a higher zone of healing.
Years of experimenting with these diverse healing modalities and researching everything I could about emotional abuse paid off – I learned and grew tremendously and began channeling my experiences of adversity into victory. At the age of 23, I finally decided to stop listening to my own self-doubt and pursue my dreams as a writer. I wrote my first self-help book for young women using everything I had learned on my journey and began a blog, where an article of mine, “Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head,” soon went viral with over a million views within the matter of months. Shortly after, my book also climbed the Amazon Bestselling list and became a bestseller in three categories, including Women’s Personal Growth.
A few years ago, I was an undergraduate freshman who was learning to meditate for the first time. Now I am a coach that creates meditations for survivors of emotional abuse all over the world to help them to heal. As I lived through the traumas of being with these toxic individuals in addition to witnessing emotional violence in childhood, I realized I was learning a lifetime’s worth of information about the complex dynamics of emotional and psychological abuse, as well as the effects of trauma. I wrote articles on topics that I wish I had read about when I first began on my survivor journey – pieces about biochemical and trauma bonding with our abusers, the manipulative tactics that these abusers used as well as research that dismantled the negative stereotypes about abuse survivors and the myths about emotional abuse.
At the age of 25, I am now the author of four bestselling books on Amazon, including a #1 Amazon Bestseller on narcissistic abuse. I have an award-winning blog, Self-Care Haven, with over 1.7 million views across all 196 countries and I coach clients from all over the world on self-care and detaching from toxic relationships. My blog and books are regularly endorsed by mental health professionals who share my work with their clients and I was recently interviewed on a popular Mental Health News radio show.
I have never let my age, my history of trauma or the doubtful voices of society, stop me from pursuing my passions – in fact, I use my youth and stories of adversity to show the world that anyone is capable of achieving their big dreams and sharing their wisdom. Through my ability to persevere through any circumstance, I have channeled my experiences of adversity into the greater good and I am blessed to have the support of survivors globally who resonate with my work as a survivor and thriver.
by Shahida Arabi, 25
Shahida Arabi is a #1 Amazon Bestselling author and a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia graduate school. Her books and award-winning blog, Self-Care Haven (selfcarehaven.wordpress.com) have reached survivors in 196 countries and has been endorsed by numerous mental health professionals and bestselling authors. She studied English and Psychology at NYU as an undergraduat
BUSINESS/CAREER GOAL: Author + Coach
SCHOOL: Columbia University (graduate), NYU (undergrad)
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