Nijiama Smalls' mental health was wearing her thin, her marriage was heading down an unhealthy path and she was experiencing larger then life emotions. That's when she knew it was time to embark on an emotional healing journey, and through that process, she found the means necessary to share what she learned with other Black women looking to heal. She's now a certified trauma expert, life coach and the author of The Black Girl's Guide to Healing Emotional Wounds, a self-help book dedicated to helping Black women heal from trauma.
"I had some wounds—some emotional wounds," Smalls told Blavity. "As I was going on my own journey to heal and building my self-awareness, I thought, 'wow, I really want to share this with other women who may feel like me and may think like me or who may have grown up like me.' And the way in which I chose to share it was in writing the book."
The book is a 130-plus-page guide that features scenarios and responses, action items and space for guided journaling. The text is also infused with Christian rhetoric and spiritual advice, however, Smalls contends that while she wholeheartedly believes in the power of prayer, it is not meant to be the sole means of healing.
"I really believe it takes all the units to help us to get to wholeness," Smalls said. "I'm a believer in having a therapist, a life coach and a community. I am a big believer in prayer—I pray every day—whatever works for you, keep it at your forefront. It all goes hand-in-hand. All of it supports each other and helps someone."
The journey to healing is so much deeper than just speaking about it, Smalls said. She writes the ways in which each part of the conscious body is connected in the path to healing.
Your soul consists of your mind, will, and emotions," Smalls writes. "Your mind is the most powerful of the three because it powers the other two. The way that data is interpreted in your mind determines how you behave and react—fight or flight. The way that data is interpreted also determines how you feel about situations. In order to change our behaviors, we need to cleanse our souls.
The fruits of Smalls' healing journey not only produced her book, but it helped her to appreciate something for which women are often ridiculed—being emotional.
"There was a time when I hid from being emotional because I think our society makes it sound bad, but I realized that my emotions and the emotions of women, in general, are what makes us unique," Smalls said. "I really learned how to embrace being emotional—yes, my emotions do need to be regulated and yes, whatever is hurting does need to be healed—but I learned to really appreciate the emotional parts of me."
Locking into unpacking emotions and understanding them is such a major component of any healing journey, Smalls reiterates throughout her book. This is a way to identify a trait that may stem from past hurt.
"One thing Black women experience that we don't identify as hurt is the way we attach ourselves to other human beings," Smalls said. "We are quick to say, 'oh, I love hard,' but loving hard, while it can be good, is sometimes an example of where we have an inner wound. Sometimes we love hard because we didn't get what we needed in our childhood, so we're holding on and we're so giving, and forgive and forgive, and take back and take back and excuses when sometimes, we really need to take a step back and choose ourselves in that situation."
Smalls points to family matriarchs as an example of many women not being able to see a woman they admire choose herself, as well as the pattern for which women may choose partners unknowingly based on receiving love from someone who shows up in a familiar, albeit unhealthy way parents may have shown up for them. As such, breaking cycles is a pivotal portion of the messaging she shares in her book.
"Just as important as passing down generational wealth, we need to also pass down emotional health," Smalls said. "I'm a firm believer in the ways in which we react shows our wounds. If we're always ready to pop off or curse someone out and we don't have the ability to self-regulate, that's a sign that we have some wounds. It's also combined with the toxic learned behavior."
This is where the Black girl comes in. Smalls said that part of the book title came to her while she was practicing shadow work, which is an introspective psychological practice often done as a means of unearthing prior emotional wounds as a means to heal them.
"It's about healing the Black girl that's inside of us because even though we may be grown, there's still that Black girl there that is still hurting, still wounded, so it's really about reaching back and healing that little girl," she said.
Her website features several resources intended to accompany the book or be used independently. There's a Black therapist search tool, life coaching, an emotional health quiz and even tangible items like the newly-added holiday wellness gift box. Visitors can also sign up for the email list to receive weekly healing materials.
It's all about building the necessary circle of support to assist women on their journeys. But men shouldn't feel too left out because the next book, which she is co-writing with her husband, will be geared toward healing the entire family.
"Life is tough and you need to have a community of people around you who love you to help you heal," Smalls said.