Bruna Nessif (Interview)

Art by Sam Liacos.

Life coach, dating columnist, and author of Let That Shit Go: A Journey to Forgiveness, Healing & Understanding Love on ending hurtful generational cycles and practicing self-compassion.

Art by Sam Liacos.

What does emotional wellness mean to you? 
Emotional wellness is the foundation of self-love for me. We were always taught about physical wellness (eating right, exercising), and now we’re barely scraping the surface of mental wellness, but emotional wellness tends to always get ignored, when in actuality, nurturing and embracing our emotions is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself, and in turn, others.

How can we take better care of ourselves emotionally, in regards to our mental health? 
As with most things, awareness is always the first step. Acknowledge your emotions without judgment or shame, which is usually the hardest part. We’re our own worst critic, so while we can be the compassionate friend to someone else, we are often less nurturing with ourselves. That’s why I always try to treat myself the way I’d treat my best friend, especially when it comes to self-talk. It’s so easy to fall into patterns and negative dialogue in your head, but you would never say those things to someone you love, so why do you say them to yourself? Giving yourself grace, patience, and compassion is not easy, but it’s necessary.

How would you advise one to find a balance in the “new normal,” in regards to the pandemic? 
The pandemic has thrown everyone off center in so many ways. The truth of the matter is we’re all coping right now, so I would urge people to make a mental check-in on how they’re choosing to cope and if it’s healthy. While it’s necessary to stay informed, limit your media consumption each day, because that takes a toll on your mental health. Make sure to fit in activities that make you happy each day. That can be as simple as doodling, meditating, or watching your favorite show. And above all else, rest! Don’t fall into the “hustle” hole. Yes, we have “time” these days, but don’t overlook the fact that we’re also dealing with a lot emotionally, so don’t feel the pressure to always be productive. Rest is just as, if not more, important than your to-do list.

How have you seen emotional hurt (such as heartbreak) manifest across other forms of wellness? 
Personally, I’ve found that spiritual wellness often goes hand in hand with heartbreak. I think people like to fantasize that a spiritual awakening is this beautiful, rainbow-filled fairy tale, where butterflies flutter to you and the trees sing to you. And hey, maybe that happens too, but most of it is diving deep into your shadows and facing aspects of yourself and your life that are really fucking uncomfortable and ugly. You end up breaking your own heart by reliving certain memories or coming to terms with certain truths about yourself. But, it’s all part of the process, and it’s all aligned. Your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional wellness are like one super-gang that make up who you are and how you show up each day, and if one is completely neglected, it’ll affect all the others.

As some are learning and unlearning generational beliefs and behaviors, what is key to keep in mind? 
Something I’ve often repeated to myself during these cycles is, “It’s not your fault. It’s not their fault. It just is.” That doesn’t always sit well, because it feels like it’s bypassing sometimes very hurtful experiences, but that’s really the case when you break it down. Sometimes we resort to self-blame, thinking that if it’s our fault, then we can fix it and everything will be better. Other times we point the finger, thinking that if we place blame, we rid ourselves of the pain and guilt. But, how often has that really worked? Some things, much like generational beliefs and behaviors, were just an unfortunate circumstance, and there’s no pretty explanation for it other than that. Everyone did their best with what was given [to them] at the time, and while we may not always understand it or agree with it, we can’t change it and we can’t change them. All we can do is change our relationship to it and choose to move differently. Instead of spending so much energy and time on figuring out who to blame, focus on where you want to go moving forward. End the cycle with you. Turn the page. Start fresh.

Self-care is a complex concept for women of color, specifically immigrants and first-generation Americans. How do you practice self-care? 
This is an ongoing lesson for me as a Lebanese immigrant. For so long, self-care seemed very selfish, but again, that was just cultural and generational beliefs overshadowing what we now know to be true, which is that self-care is crucial for our well-being. The generations before us didn’t have as much of a luxury to practice self-care. Their priority was survival. Self-care seemed superficial and unnecessary. Their sacrifice is what has given us the ability to practice self-care to our ability today, so why wouldn’t we honor that? I make it a priority to practice self-care by putting my needs first. I participate in activities I love each day, I take my time with my baths or skincare routine, I decorate my home in a way that sparks joy (shout out to Marie Kondo), and I take care of my body, my mind, and my emotions. I hold myself accountable, and I literally care for myself the way I would want someone else to. By doing that, I’ve set an example for my parents who weren’t able to do that, and now have the opportunity to.

What are your thoughts on the connection between self-care and self-love? 
I think the two are synonymous. How much do you truly love something you don’t take care of? How much do you really care about something you don’t love? Self-care is self-love in action. You show yourself and others how much you value and love yourself by how well you take care of yourself.

What do you recommend to remain vulnerable during such uncertain times? 
Honor whatever comes up. This experience has forced us to be vulnerable. The thing is certainty was always a myth, but now we see it quite tangibly, and suddenly you’re forced to ask yourself, “Who am I without all of these external things that gave me purpose and value?” That can be a very debilitating question to answer, but also, such an important journey, because the truth of the matter is none of those things ever really mattered. They didn’t add or take away from your value. You are valuable just by being you, and I think that was always an uncomfortable thing to recognize. We live in a society where we have to earn our place. We’ve become so consumed by capitalism that our productivity and achievement became our identity. OK, well, now all of that has gone to shit. Are you still worthy? Fuck yeah. You always were, and you always will be. Take this time to tap back into your heart and get reacquainted with who you are before the world told you who to be.

Many women I’ve spoken to have not been feeling like themselves lately. If you can relate, how do you move forward? 
Oh girl, I feel like a different person each day sometimes. Ha! Again, it goes back to judgement and shame, two things that I think women crucify themselves with on a daily basis. We already get enough of  it from the outside world, don’t do it to yourself too. Be curious with whatever comes up. Ask yourself questions and journal. What am I feeling right now? Why? What might this mean? Practice observing your thoughts instead of automatically owning them, and see where they lead you. Maybe you don’t feel like yourself, but maybe there’s a part of you that’s been begging for your attention. Hear what she has to say.

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