We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Nikki Eisenhauer a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Nikki , looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Was there a defining moment in your professional career? A moment that changed the trajectory of your career?
Years ago, I was sitting in my brick and mortar office, in a session with an adult woman who’s energy was that of kicked dog, downtrodden, beaten down by a lifetime of predatory abuse, starting with her father’s sexual abuse on her toddler body. She was sitting on the floor, head heavy and bowed, voice and mannerisms stunted and stuck in childish, sheepish, passive expression as if to say “I was born broken or I wouldn’t have been chosen to be hurt. My story is one of brokenness and I see no way out.’
I am a trauma therapist by profession and a survivor with the life experience of growing up and putting her adoptive father in prison for childhood sexual abuse. Something washed over me in this moment, an awareness that the fragility a survivor feels is an incorrect assessment born of the shame of being chosen by a predator for abuse, born of the unworthiness felt when another human being betrays a child’s precious innocence and treats that developing mind and body like an object. An objectified child often grows into an adult utterly lacking in personhood, worth, and esteem.
‘What if you looked at yourself differently?’ I asked
‘What do you mean?’ she mumbled, curiosity slightly sparking.
I wanted that curious spark to catch, to burn down all of her shame that shouldn’t have been hers to carry. Abusers have a dark magic, an ability to cast a spell onto the abused that makes them carry the responsibility and shame that the abuser refuses to carry.
I said, ‘I don’t see brokenness when I look at you—I see an Emotional Badass–I see your strength, your resiliency, your ability to deal with the truth–what if you thought of yourself as an Emotional Badass instead of a broken victim?’
Her head perked, and perked profoundly.
‘I never thought of it that way,’ that curious spark, catching, beginning to flame. As the words left her mind and mouth, she sat taller.
‘I like that,’ she said, her childish voice becoming more adult like, shame burning away as we sat with each other.
‘I like it, too! You really are an Emotional Badass–so strong!’
About 4 years later the idea had formed to take my work to a broader audience beyond one on one counseling and psychotherapy sessions and I decided to create a podcast. I was searching—and it was a year’s long epic search–for what I would name it. Finally one day in exasperation, I said to my now producer of the show, ‘What about Emotional Badass?’ and he excitedly responded, ‘That’s it! How long have you been sitting on that!? Emotional Badass, that’s it!,’ and I told him the story of how one day I told a deeply wounded client that I didn’t see a victim, I saw an Emotional Badass.
Emotional Badass: Where Moxie Meets Mindful was born in 2018 and has been downloaded over 4 million times all over the world. I end every episode saying ‘I am an Emotional Badass, you are an Emotional Badass, and together we are where moxie meets mindful,’ and I mean it, deeply and truly. Childhood abuse survivors are some of the strongest most resilient people who walk the planet–I am proud to be one and I am proud to be living my calling to help other survivors shed their pain and step into their massive, mindful, and moxied strength.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
It’s true that most people are drawn to a mental health career to figure themselves out–I am this cliche. I jest that I’ve had more therapy, from both sides of the ‘couch’ as client and as therapist, than anyone else in the world. I believe we heal the world one person at a time, starting with ourselves. I have been a full time psychotherapist since 2006 specializing in trauma, addiction recovery, grief and loss, and highly sensitive people. I rebranded as a life coach and podcaster in 2015 and am honored to use my clinical and personal experience to help people leave survival mode and learn to love life and live with peace, fullness, and joy. I am also a yoga and meditation teacher.
My short personal story is usual and unusual–immature parents, a nasty divorce, my father fully abandoning me by age 9, chronic anxiety and depression. My mom remarried a very kind man who groomed and sexually abused me, my 2 sisters, and a childhood friend. My mom knew of previous allegations of abuse towards other small children and did not keep me or us safe. I lived with my grandparents who were functional parents to me from age 6-12, my formative years, both dying before I graduated high school.
As an adult, I had a lot of confusion, pain, and grief to sort and figure out. I often felt like I had no road and no map in the quest to become a healthy adult. Mentally and emotionally, I had to do more than pave my own road—-it seemed I had to make the bricks from scratch, too! I struggled to find what I needed–emotional resiliency, critical thinking, mental coping strategies and healthy mindsets, calming my nervous system, and so much more. I began to feel a strong calling to work on myself and help others on the journey to living well.
I was a good student and fell in love with my introductory psychology classes as an undergraduate student in New Orleans, my home town. Hurricane Katrina hit while I was mid graduate school in a counseling program; I returned to New Orleans the same year, completed my counseling internship in an addiction and trauma facility as baptism by fire into the mental health field—every single person in Southern Louisiana traumatized by the impact of the storm, and an epicenter of what would come to be known as the nation’s opioid epidemic. I had worked my way through school as a French Quarter bartender and this gave me much life and people experience and insight as I began my career in addiction and grief work.
Often people tell me that I teach what they didn’t know they needed, what they didn’t know to ask for. I teach what has healed me and thousands of clients. I teach what has made me lighter, more joyous, calmer and accepting of my uniqueness, what has helped me relate to others through grounded strength instead of paralyzing fear and skepticism. I teach people about their innate human strength, sometimes despite what their feelings are telling them. I teach self love at the level of spirituality, in essence, I teach what I call Soul Care. For a wounded or neglected child-now-adult, it is everything to learn how to reparent the self with love, respect, kind laughter, ease, and as any healthy mother or father parents, with gratitude for the miracle of their human life, how to honor this one precious life.
I believe in the power of true vulnerability and of the ancient power of humans learning through story, through sharing of experience and insight. I believe we, humanity, is hungry, starving to hear real people share real resilience, without ‘the fluff’ or fear of judgement. I wish to be, and hope I am, a light of authenticity, modeling that it is truly ok to embrace the messy complexity of our individual and collective humanity.
I have strength in being able to break down and simplify our emotions, reactions, how our minds and bodies interrelate, family dynamics, letting go of old traumas, cultivating a quicker resiliency, silencing the inner critic and perfectionist, and maturing the inner-self to grow into an embodied, empowered adult. The world becomes a healthier, lighter place when its human’s are equipped with full emotional toolboxes of coping strategies for our inner and outer lives. The show, Emotional Badass: Where Moxie Meets Mindful, allows me to offer language that heals our inner child’s wounding so we can feel lighter and live freer.
Emotional Badass releases an episode a week. I love our patreon community where I offer exclusive episodes and monthly Q&A’s on topics like codependency, narcissism, sex, depression, peace, emotional blackmail, food is mood etc. I teach The Boundaries Course every October as a 6 week online intensive, and I offer one on one coaching, more courses coming soon.
Every struggle I’ve ever had has ultimately felt worth it–never while I was ‘in it’–but worth it as soon as I could get ‘to the other side.’ I am so grateful that I get to pass that wisdom forward and help usher people to ‘the other side’ of their deepest pain. Sometimes people ask me if the work is dark, heavy–and no, no it isn’t. The work of witnessing someone evolve is a kin to witnessing a birth–it is a blessing, it is astounding, it is a spectacular honor and full of light.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
I’ve had to unlearn people pleasing. As a woman raised in the Deep South with an abusive family, I learned to not rock the boat, to make other’s comfortable–and often at the expense of my own comfort. I learned to subdue myself in the vein of politeness, to dim my own light. I learned to shut up over speaking up, to go-along to get-along.
Maybe there are people who are truly happy and content living passively–and good for them! I had to learn that I didn’t have the temperament, the personality, or the desire to live passively. Living to please my culture or family dynamics depressed me, made me anxious, tight like a rubber band. I couldn’t people please enough and I wasn’t pleased at all with my self. People pleasing was killing me slowly!
At a point, I had to admit and acknowledge my true self and buck the cultural teachings that held me back, made me small and dreary. I had to grow into self permission to rock some boats–even flip some boats over!
I am a strong, loving, opinionated, wisdom-driven woman. I am direct, and I know what I want. It takes courage to buck whatever ‘original programming’ doesn’t serve us, or never did serve us in the first place. In embracing my true self I’ve learned to please myself over others. I’ve had to learn ‘sacred selfishness’ to grow my self worth and from that self worth I’ve grown my business and helped thousands of people on their own self development journeys. Sacred selfishness helps us be the best version of ourselves–and that person is able to help support so many others over the course of a life, the paradox of embracing ‘sacred selfishness’ over the traditionally shaming selfishness so often utilized in the human tribe.
Any advice for growing your clientele? What’s been most effective for you?
I lead with integrity and honesty. I am real, direct, kind and no-nonsense and I respect people’s time, energy, and financial investment.
My clients trust me to show up for the process of therapy or coaching on time, well rested, and with creative solutions to their struggles. We brain storm and work together and I admit what I don’t know, quickly, so we can find who or what information we need to move forward.
Trust is priceless and takes commitment and consistency to produce and keep. Trust is increasingly overlooked in modern markets in my field of wellness/healthcare and beyond. Through trust and my early clients experiencing relief from emotional and mental struggle while increasing life satisfaction, peace, and joy, I went from hanging a shingle to a full case load within the 1st 2 years of opening my business. Other than a website and a Psychology Today profile online, I spend $0 in marketing. My clients have been my marketing team and continue to be. Nothing comes close to word of mouth endorsement and it comes from consistently showing up as trustworthy and effective.
- Website: emotionalbadass.com
- Instagram: theemotionalbadass
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/emotionalbadass/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/emotionalbadass
- Other: patreon.com/emotionalbadass
I have rights to all these photos