Your story is your strength | Tiffany Southerland | TEDxVillanovaU

Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Denise RQ I was 25 years old and living out
my dreams in Philadelphia. I moved to Philly
after I graduated from Cornell, to get my master’s degree
in social work from UPenn. After I got my master’s, but because I hadn’t spent enough time
in school yet, as you all heard, I went across campus for law school. I was lucky enough to move to Philly
with some of my friends from college, so if we weren’t writing papers
or doing problem sets, we were having a pretty amazing time. But that’s just
the front-facing part of my story. Between the academic achievements
and student version of carefree living, I was having trouble turning the page
on a really difficult chapter in my life. Until this point, I lived like many people who’d experienced
some form of trauma early on in life: in compartments. The brand of trauma I experienced was sexual abuse
at the hands of my stepfather. For a long time, I thought I managed
to keep that part of my story separate from everything else I had going on. There were things
that were OK for public sharing, like birthdays, academic success,
professional experiences, those things went right here
in this compartment, and eventually they went on Facebook,
in Twitter, in Instagram, and all the other social media. Then, there were things
about relationships, past and present, family and otherwise. I only really talked about those
on an as needed basis, so I kept them right here, close by but off to the side. And then there was my other stuff: my insecurities, my pain,
my unaddressed issues, those things filled the messiest and probably the largest
compartment of all. So I kept them tucked in the back, because I wanted them
out of sight and out of mind. I believed that certain parts
of my life and story, didn’t really impact other things
that I had going on. I mean the hard parts of my story
weren’t really part of me anyway, definitely not in the same way
that being from Hempstead, or going to Cornell, or being raised
in a Jamaican family were part of me. Imagine if people knew
about the messy stuff: the abuse, my mother and father’s battles
with drug addiction, the pain I felt not knowing
where my mother was for some years in my childhood, if people knew about those things,
and if I took ownership of those things, then I would be different. To me, taking ownership
of those parts of my story, meant being defined
by the hard parts of my story. But here’s the problem I faced. The hard parts of my story
started to show up in my life in ways that I couldn’t imagine
and definitely couldn’t anticipate. It was almost like my past
became prologue, and slowly changed what I had come
to understand about who I was, and who I wanted to be. And of course it all comes back to a boy. (Laughter) Why wouldn’t it, right? But what started as the ending of a really complicated
and draining relationship, opened the doors to feelings of loss,
abandonment, shame, and so much confusion. And after a while, I started to realize that something was off
about the strength of my reaction, because this was just a breakup. So why was I so angry with myself? Why was I questioning my value? Why did I feel like
I have done something wrong? I asked myself these questions
over and over again for months, and I couldn’t come up with any answers, and when I tell you I was frustrated, I was so frustrated and so exhausted! But as frustrating
and as exhausting as this time was, it showed me that I couldn’t move
forward with my life, by accepting some parts of my story, and trying to box up and bury
the parts of my story that I didn’t like,
or didn’t want to deal with. At this point, I didn’t really know
what else to do, so I prayed, I prayed for the courage
and humility to ask for help, because I had to make a choice: I could either continue to live my life
in boxes and compartments, or I could embrace my whole story
and do the work that I needed to do so I could heal. Eventually, I started therapy, and I learned that my feelings
after the breakup confused me, because they reminded me
of how I felt as a little girl. Alone, ashamed, and unsure of my value. So what I had to do as a little girl, I couldn’t really talk
about those feelings and emotions, but I still needed a way to control them
and manage them on a day-to-day basis, so I learned to divide up my life
based on experiences and emotions. After the breakup, I needed
that same sense of control again, so I did what came naturally: I compartmentalized, and I stuffed
my emotions back into that messy box. But this time, the box started
to fall apart on me. And the box started to fall apart, because I couldn’t ignore
what was inside anymore: the pain that I felt on a daily basis, my need for validation from other people, my fear of not being worthy of love. I had to acknowledge that my past
was keeping me from turning the page, and I had to decide that I wanted
something different for myself, because I just wanted to experience joy, I wanted to feel true confidence not the counterfeit brand that I’ve been
parading around and for years. I wanted to love myself, I wanted to be a good woman to myself, so I could eventually be
a good wife to my future husband, and a good mother to my future children. I didn’t want to be silenced
by what had caused me so much pain, and I was finally ready
to own the strength in my story. As we go through life, sometimes we shift, suppress,
or even deny parts of our story to put distance between our past
and where we hope to be in our future. But when you take ownership
of your whole story, not just the successes and the good times but the pain and the struggles
that you experience too, then you will see
that your story is your strength, not a set of limitations meant to keep you from imagining and achieving
the life that you want and deserve. When you see your story as your strength, you can live like you know
the truth about who you are, and you can refuse to be defined
by what’s happened to you, and instead, be inspired by it. And when you see
your story as your strength, you won’t have a need for all those boxes
and compartments anymore, because you will be open to being
more of who you are, more often, and you will live your life in a way that encourages other people
to do the same. Imagine that. Thank you. (Applause)

7 Replies to “Your story is your strength | Tiffany Southerland | TEDxVillanovaU”

  1. This is a very empowering talk. It's one thing to ask for help and another to not only accept it, but to then be willing to share lessons learned from your adverse experiences with others. Continued success to Tiffany as she radiates resilience and inspires people to see obstacles as opportunities for personal and professional development.

  2. Have watched MANY inspiring videos on YouTube but, your story is by far, one of the best! This is my third time watching it. Thank you for reaffirming that I NEED to tell my story and not be afraid. My story IS my strength!! Peace!

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