Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self

Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self

by Thema Bryant Ph.D.
Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self

Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self

by Thema Bryant Ph.D.


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A road map for dismantling the fear and shame that keep you from living a free and authentic life.

In the aftermath of stress, disappointment, and trauma, people often fall into survival mode, even while a part of them longs for more. Juggling multiple demands and responsibilities keeps them busy, but not healed. As a survivor of sexual assault, racism, and evacuation from a civil war in Liberia, Dr. Thema Bryant knows intimately the work involved in healing. Having made the journey herself, in addition to guiding others as a clinical psychologist and ordained minister, Dr. Thema shows you how to reconnect with your authentic self and reclaim your time, your voice, your life.

Signs of disconnection from self can take many forms, including people-pleasing, depression, anxiety, and resentment. Healing starts with recognizing and expressing emotions in an honest way and reconnecting with the neglected parts of yourself, but it can’t be done in a vacuum. Dr. Thema gives you the tools to meaningfully connect with your larger community, even if you face racism and sexism, heartbreak, grief, and trauma. Rather than shrinking in the face of life’s difficulties, you will discover in Homecoming the therapeutic approaches and spiritual practices to live a more expansive life characterized by empowerment, healthier relationships, gratitude, and a deeper sense of purpose.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593418314
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/15/2022
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 97,464
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Dr. Thema Bryant is a clinical psychologist and 2023 president of the American Psychological Association. She is also a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dr. Thema earned her doctorate from Duke University and completed her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. With more than twenty years of experience in trauma recovery, she has appeared as a mental health expert on television, radio, and print media. Dr. Thema raises awareness about mental health issues on The Homecoming Podcast and her social media platforms.

Read an Excerpt

Part one


Longing for Home


Chapter One


Ring the Alarm: I Need a Homecoming


There's a feeling here inside . . .


I wish I was home.


-"Soon As I Get Home," as sung

by Diana Ross in The Wiz


Home is not a place. . . . It's a feeling.


-Cecelia Ahern


I was a Black girl in Baltimore, about nine years old and still playing with dolls. The phone rang, and I answered it. The person on the other end didn't give me a chance to identify myself. There was no time to say, "This is not Pastor Bryant." The caller was already crying and halfway through her story before I could say, "Hold on a minute. Let me get my dad." This kind of call was not rare because I grew up as a pastor's daughter in a community that had more trust in and received more comfort from ministers than therapists. A few years later, when I was a teen and people would call while my parents weren't home, I would offer a listening ear or any words of comfort or assurance that came to mind. I guess you could say my first time working on a crisis hotline was in my home as a teen. I appreciated these moments of bearing witness and being present with people as they tried to navigate the valleys of life. I had already experienced some valleys myself and understood the value of being heard, seen, and supported. When I learned that this was not just a role for pastors, but that for some people this was their life's work, I made the decision to become a psychologist.


As a psychologist, I have worked for over twenty years with diverse people who had a range of concerns, from workplace stress to family conflict. As a social-justice-oriented therapist, I am mindful that many of the challenges people face do not originate solely within them. Systemic oppression and biases influence our lives in critical ways that can affect our mental health. I love being a psychologist-for me, it transcends the limits of a career. It is a vocation, a sacred calling to facilitate the process healing.


Whether working to help people cope with daily sources of stress or major life events, I have found the most challenging persons to work with are those who don't want to be in therapy and don't see any need to grow, heal, or change. One's motivation for change greatly influences the experience one has in therapy. Lack of motivation is especially evident when I think about clients I have worked with who were mandated to attend therapy by a judge or who were required to come by a spouse or parent. These clients did not see a problem with themselves or with the way they were living. One of the first things I have to do in such sessions-whether with an abusive spouse, someone with substance use disorder, or an argumentative teenager-is address motivation. When clients are not willing to engage, they will attempt to spend the entire session talking about why they don't need to be there, how great everything is, or even what is happening on their favorite television show. We have to do the work of motivation before we can begin the deeper work.


Your decision to pick up this book means that you have recognized one or more areas in which you want to grow, and you already have some motivation to enhance your life. I'm glad that something about the idea of homecoming resonated with you. Let me first paint for you a clear picture of homecoming. Homecoming is a return to authentic living that is based on truth, self-acceptance, and an aligning of action with values and purpose. Home is more than a physical location; it is an emotional and spiritual space of belonging, appreciation, and love. When I am at home within myself, I have nothing to prove. I am free to be myself without pretense or performance. Homecoming is moving away from the detours and disconnections and coming back to the wisdom housed in our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits. Dr. Maya Angelou said, "I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. The ache for home lives in all of us."


To decide I need a homecoming means I have recognized that there are some ways in which I have been living disconnected or unaware of myself, my needs, my wounds, my knowledge, or even my dreams. So if you feel disconnected from yourself, the question arises: "Who or what has been dictating your life?" Some of you have lived out your parents' dreams and expectations. Some of you have lived in reaction to people who have hurt you, causing you to build a life based on revenge or the idea that you have to "show them" that you are valuable, important, or enough. Still others have constructed an identity and life to gain the approval of friends and even strangers, without ever checking in to see if you approve of yourself.


Rain, a Latina in her late twenties, feels stuck in her resentment. She is angry about what she did not receive as a child. The way her family mistreated and emotionally neglected her was hurtful, and she has faced many consequences from the pain of those formative years. The problem with being stuck looking back is that you never get to live in the present. The problem with focusing all of your attention on the people who let you down is that you can let yourself down by not paying attention to your own needs. Rain joins us on this journey, recognizing the signs that she is not at home with herself. She is ready to come home, to give herself what she never received.


While a handful of you may have picked up this book after one week of disconnection, most of us have gone through extended periods when we were not tuned into our thoughts and feelings. We can lose ourselves, subtly and slowly, without even realizing it. Those around us may not have noticed, either. Losing track of yourself while you take care of others may even be encouraged by your culture, religion, social circle, or professional field. An awakening to the reality of your disconnection is necessary to begin the journey home. This chapter will highlight some of the thought patterns and emotional weights that are signs that you have been living with some level of disconnection from yourself. I will provide you with the empowering skills to recognize these signs, and I'll offer some initial tips to begin charting the course back home to yourself. Recognizing and addressing these internal signs is important because not only is living an inauthentic life unfulfilling, but it can also become harmful to your physical and mental health.


If I didn't define myself for myself,

I would be crunched into other people's

fantasies for me and eaten alive.


-Audre Lorde


What are the ways you have been crunched, boxed in, or pressured by other people's ideas about who you are or what you are supposed to be?


When were the seasons in your life when you felt overwhelmed by the opinions of others to the point that it crowded out the sound of the still small voice within?


You are not alone in this experience. The details and context vary, but many of us have had seasons or lifetimes of disconnection from ourselves.


Charisma, a single African American woman, has felt disconnected from herself for the majority of her life. She grew up in an impoverished neighborhood where she had to be vigilant at all times. Her life vacillated between painfully silent and painfully loud. During the week, her teachers demanded constant silence in her overcrowded classrooms. Her father rarely came to see her and her mom had to work long hours, so Charisma was often home alone, focusing on schoolwork and house chores; the background noise of a television series did not reflect her reality. On the weekends, she would stay at her aunt's home, where many relatives, friends, and strangers were constantly coming and going. There was love and chaos, warmth and the constant whirl of opinions-the opinions of adults, that is. Children were not to involve themselves in grown folks' conversation. Charisma used to keep a journal, but one of her cousins took it and read its embarrassing contents to anyone who would listen. Charisma decided in that moment, when no one defended or comforted her, to keep everything locked inside. The challenge was that she became so good at locking everything away that she even locked it away from herself. Years somehow slipped past her, and now she is in her thirties-uncertain about what she feels, doubtful of what she can do, and unsure of what she knows. As she looks at the unfulfilling landscape of her years, Charisma realizes the thing she is missing is herself. She is ready for a homecoming.


The Journey Home


As you come home to yourself, you begin breaking free from the mandates and dictates of others. Should-dos are the instructions that you have received from those around you or from the larger society. You may have received should-dos from your family, your teachers, the media, your friends, people you admire, and even people who despise you. We are bombarded with so many messages that tell us that because we belong to a particular family, community, race, gender, religion, age group, or whatever, we are supposed to live a certain way. Some parts of these scripts may resonate with us, while other parts don't ring true. As you shed the weight of other people's expectations and demands for your life, time, and resources, you come home to a life that resonates with, awakens, and animates you.


You have come to a place in your life when tolerance is not enough, just getting by is not enough, staying in the lane that others have forced you into is not enough. Homecoming is about living fully, abundantly, and taking up space-not adjusting to a life of dissatisfaction and discontent. I invite you to declare today, "I refuse to participate in the silencing of myself. I do not consent to the erasing of myself." As you begin this journey, you recognize how dangerous and costly it has been to live seasons of your life feeling disconnected from yourself. It has cost you self-respect, time, possibilities, and even your physical and mental health. As you come home, you have the opportunity to gain yourself back. So as you work your way through this process, the motivation, the goal, the inspiration is you. The truth is that you may have been waiting for a long time to be seen, to be appreciated, to be heard, to be loved. Coming home to yourself is giving yourself the things you have been waiting for, the things you thought only others could give you, and the things you thought you could never receive.


As Diana Ross sang in Mahogany, "Do you know where you're going to? / Do you like the things that life's been showing you?" These are important questions. As Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first woman bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, declared, "We're all going somewhere, but where is the somewhere of your going?" Many of us have spent years distancing ourselves from ourselves, but with each chapter of this book and each decision, we aim to make our homecoming the destination of our journey.


I invite you to take a sacred pause now and ask yourself where you're going. A sacred pause means taking a moment to breathe and check in with the silenced or ignored parts of yourself. What road have you been following based on your investment of time, money, and relationships? Where does this road lead? Is that where you want to go? I invite you to go within, instead of letting others be your compass. Sometimes people make decisions by popular vote among their friends and family. Instead, I invite you to awaken your internal compass, so you can begin to know what you feel, think, need, want, and dream. The only way to change directions is to start by being honest with yourself about the ways you have felt lost, disconnected, unfulfilled, or stuck.


To begin the journey, can you admit to yourself that you miss you? Do you miss living free from the heavy cloak of shame or grief? Do you miss sleeping through the night? Do you miss having an appetite without being consumed with emotional eating? Do you miss your laugh? Do you miss being yourself? I invite you to shatter the silence and speak truth with the words I miss me. Then breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the movement in your chest, rib cage, and abdomen as you take a breath. It is healing to be missed.


Some of you may miss the person you were never free to be. If you grew up with constant trauma and stress, you may never have been able to be at home with yourself, to be free from shame, and to experience healthy eating and sleeping. We will explore trauma and other major roadblocks in greater detail in part 3. If you miss the person you never were able to be, you too have experienced homesickness-a longing to connect with yourself as you never have been safe enough to do before.


Once you acknowledge being disconnected from yourself, you begin to recognize all of the ways you have been distracted from this longing for home-with constant television watching, social media scrolling, pursuing people, smoking, drinking, shopping, or even taking on extra projects to fill your time and focus. As you come home to yourself, you release the need for perpetual external engagement so you can sit with yourself and learn to enjoy your own company. You realize that if you always need to be high or constantly have to have someone else around, you are not truly at home with yourself.


You may also begin to notice the ways you have betrayed yourself through procrastination, neglecting your needs and abandoning your dreams. It may have seemed noble or necessary at one point. You recognize this self-betrayal not to beat yourself up but to wake yourself up. While you were taking care of others, who was taking care of you? Do you want to reclaim the forgotten, neglected, betrayed parts of yourself?


When you recognize that stress and trauma led you to distraction and self-abandonment, your attention shifts from worrying about everyone else to seeing the unrecognized gift of yourself. You begin to say, "Not only do I miss myself, but I also want to get back to me. I want to rediscover my wings. I want to hear my unfiltered roar-my true voice. I want to awaken my dormant gifts."

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