How I Take Care: Therapist Naiylah Warren
We're navigating a world in which marginalized people—specifically Black and Indigenous folks—are impacted at a higher rate by COVID-19, climate change, and racial injustice. Now more than ever: The need for therapists from and for these communities is crucial.
Naiylah Warren, L.M.F.T., is one of many who have heeded the call as a Black therapist in a predominately white industry. She's a practitioner through HealHaus, a wellness organization based in Brooklyn, NY, and a staff therapist with Real. And her career is an example of how powerful it is when women of color are at the helm of therapy and healing practices.
In this How I Take Care interview: Naiylah discusses restoration through spirituality, overcoming negative self-talk, and how her self-care journey has evolved to invite emotional intimacy into her friendships.
On the importance of self-care as a Black woman:
I was able to just recently put it into this sort of mantra: Self-care is a responsibility, not a luxury.
For me, self-care has been something I've always really been passionate about because I've never liked the idea that we lived in a culture that did not prioritize taking care of ourselves.
Until recently, there hasn't been a large conversation around how to take care of our minds and our emotions. That's really important to me and something that I've always practiced as a person of color and as a Black woman.
'Self-care is a responsibility, not a luxury.'- Naiylah Warren
In the role that I've played in society and the way that society has projected a lot of things onto me as a Black woman—there is that perception of strength or that stereotype of being super strong. That stereotype of making sure that everyone is always OK or always being the person holding space for everyone else.
But there really is no conversation around where you go to restore. Where do you go to heal?
I think that self-care just naturally became a part of my life. I just believed in my core that taking care of yourself is important and not just in a physical way. That was always important to me.
On how she's learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings:
I always intellectualize my feelings. I always catch myself doing it and not really allowing myself to feel my feelings. I realized this in moments or situations that happened in life that really made my feelings unavoidable. I realized I needed things to help me move through them and to help me cope.
For me, spirituality is something that I've always utilized. It's what I've leaned on during the times when my mental health was compromised or I was going through emotional turmoil or pain.
I would look to my spiritual practices and focus on practices that would help me to cope and move through those feelings because I knew even then that there was no overnight cure. There was no special thing. There was no one thing that I could do to move me through those feelings.
So it became a practice. It became questioning: What are all the things that I can do to help me move through this discomfort?
A light bulb went off when I realized that feelings are really unavoidable and that, in order to really heal, you really do have to sit and feel it and move through it.
I think having that experience before going into the field really prepared me to understand how important it is to just ask ourselves: What can I do to help me sit in this now? What can I do to help me distract myself or not? What can I do to help me avoid it, but what can I do in acknowledging how I feel? What can I do to help me cope with this moment with a little bit more grace and ease?
On the restorative power of mantras:
Mantras are really important and helpful for me because it also is very cathartic. It allows me to get those feelings out. It allows me to process them in real-time.
For me, it's really helpful just to say a mantra out loud. I think that's why I believe in therapy so much, because it's so powerful to talk about what is happening out loud in real-time as it's coming up. There's just something really restorative about that. That's really important to me.
On embracing emotional intimacy in friendships:
I'm just so lucky to have such amazing friends around me and people who I feel like I have intimate, but platonic, relationships with.
I was really resistant to that as a young adult because I never really thought about friendships in an intimate way. Friendships, for me, were superficial. It was like: This is the person that I grab food with or the person that I want to go hang out with.
Friendships were never something that I realized could be a tool to help me move through difficult times—especially since I played into that role of being the strong one. It helped reinforce that role that I was playing. Eventually, I realized it really doesn't help me to play that role at all.
'Friendships were never something that I realized could be a tool to help me move through difficult times.'- Naiylah Warren
I think things like anxiety, things like depression—they feed off of isolation and they feed off of this lack of connection that we’re experiencing right now. Even when I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed and retreat, that's me sort of engaging in that same behavior of isolation.
There is a way to embrace intimacy and friendships and have someone you can really share how you're feeling with and share if you're scared, excited, or angry.
Seeing that I had people who would show up in that way for me was really important to me. Being able to accept that was huge.
On how her spirituality has helped her find her self-compassion:
I think I've learned to be kinder to myself just from just practicing spirituality.
It's helped me take a sort of a bird's eye view on my existence and on my purpose and on the way that I show up in the world.
It also has helped to create some distance between the way that we all may tend to personalize certain experiences or relationships. It has helped create distance between me and the things that were causing that discomfort that would then lead me to self-criticize, which happens to so many of us.
For me, all of these things are constructed and they are a part of a bigger plan and a divine plan. And it's all intentionality and purposefulness that's helped me to take a step back and think about what these experiences are bringing to me. How are they asking me to step up in a way that is not self-criticizing, but in a way that sees things as opportunities for growth?
On how parenting yourself can help switch up your self-talk:
When you do have those moments of self-criticism, it’s important to understand what it looks like when your self talk switches to a more supportive role.
What does that sound like for you?
For me, it sounds like my inner-voice telling me it's going to be OK or that there was a reason this happened. It sounds like: You are only human. That's all you can be. You showed up exactly the way that you could right now. You're going to be fine. Everything is OK.
Using really warm and comforting language is helpful—like almost mothering yourself or parenting yourself in a way to help move you through that. Because when we use that critical language, it really stops us from being able to act and problem solve.
It's not until we move towards a place of more compassion for ourselves that we're actually able to invoke change and progress and movement and growth.
'It's not until we move towards a place of more compassion for ourselves that we're actually able to invoke change and progress and movement and growth.' - Naiylah Warren
Because people don't change their lives when they feel like shit about themselves. Usually, they change their lives when they start to feel better about themselves, when they start to feel like they have things to live for that they are growing.
So really changing the way that we speak to ourselves—we'll start to ultimately see a shift in our achievement and fulfillment, I think.
On the things bringing her joy right now:
Not to be such a work nerd, but I really do get so much joy at the company that I'm with now. We did a support series for Black women and gender-expansive people. We also did a series for people of color and another for allies.
It brought me so much joy to be able to just hold that space. It wasn't formal or structured. It was just about needing to heal and talk. And I just love how organic all of that was. That was just beautiful to me.
But also my skincare routine has brought me joy. It has been super grounding in this time to just be intentional about me and having it come from myself.
There's something about having the routine of the cleanser, the serum...there is something so intentional that really just puts me back into my body.
It's been really grounding for me to start and end my day and connect back to myself with some intention. It’s time I have away from my phone and there’s just something so ritualistic about it too.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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