Chioma Nnani Talks Dealing With Abusive Parents And Healing From Past Trauma

I recently posted an open letter to Nigerian parents who move abroad, and that’s how I started chatting to Chioma. She made valid points of her own about her own experience of healing from past trauma. Read on to learn how she is actively working to break generational cycles by ridding herself of toxic people.

Hi Chioma, please tell me a little about yourself

I write multicultural fiction for women aged 18+ who aspire to be strong, independent and fulfilled. I was born in Nigeria but attended the University of Kent in Canterbury for my LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree. Then, I stayed in the UK for a while before relocating to Nigeria for good.

Among other things, I am a UK BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) award winner for “Blog of the Year”. I am also the CEO of The Fearless Storyteller House Emporium Ltd., based in Abuja.

Tell me about your earliest memory

I was so afraid to tell my class teacher that I needed to use the loo, that I soiled myself.

My earliest memory is when I was about 3 or 4 yrs old when I was in reception class 1 or 2. I was so afraid to tell my class teacher that I needed to use the loo that I soiled myself.

I went to a private school for my nursery and primary years; as far as I remember, no teacher had ever done anything to me to make me afraid. So, the problem was at home.

What was your experience at home?

I was abused in every other way outside of sexual abuse.

I grew up in a truly dysfunctional environment. Having been abused in every other way outside of sexual abuse, I didn’t know any different. I was told at least three times a day that “you are useless, fat, ugly, good for nothing and will never amount to anything.”

I used to secretly hope that I was adopted because the abuse was horrific. And I couldn’t tell anyone because, on some level, I thought everyone in my school was going through it. But, on the other hand, I also thought that nobody would believe me if I spoke up.

I now understand that people who abuse others are intentional about who they target. They are very good at masking their true nature in public. So even thinking about it now, I know that nobody would have believed me if I’d spoken up back then.

Even if I knew there was something wrong with the treatment I received from my parents, I didn’t know any different because I had nothing else to compare my experience against. 

I am so sorry you went through that.

My father was like, “but you’re useless, why would your principal or anyone pick you?”

During my secondary school years, I was appointed as a college prefect. But somehow, my father found out (I don’t know how) and was FURIOUS.

He actually asked me why anyone would make me a school prefect. He said something like, “but you’re useless; why would your principal or anyone pick you?”

Wow. 

He couldn’t get over it and kept asking who had chosen me and why. He found out after I was made a prefect and didn’t have a say before the fact.

I remember being terrified that he would go to the principal and ask her to demote me. I don’t know if he tried, but it would have been really embarrassing if I had been demoted.

He had reportedly done something similar when I was much younger, where I was to be given a bunch of prizes in school and after he got involved, I ended up with just two prizes, and the rest were given to other pupils who hadn’t earned them.

But to actually be demoted would have been traumatising because it would have been done publicly. But thankfully, I held onto my prefectship until I finished secondary school.

Did you ever get to a place where you were comfortable with yourself?

Until I was twenty, I believed I was stupid, ugly and all the terrible lies I was told about myself.

I was twenty when I went into a particular church and heard for the first time that I was “somebody and could be anything”.  It took a lot of repetition before it began to sink in that I could one day be a success.

Photo by Mert Talay on Unsplash

However, regarding my looks, because I had a condition that I now know is rosacea, it took me a while longer to stop hearing, ‘you are ugly’ every time I looked in the mirror.

Rosacea is a very real condition that affects the skin. Unfortunately, nobody knows what causes it. It has no cure, but I’ve identified how to avoid my triggers and deal with flare-ups as they arise.

But now, I can honestly say I’m happy with the way I look. So even when I have a flare-up, my overall assessment of my looks isn’t tied to whether my skin is perfect or not.

I have realised that looks are what they are; nobody can change them unless they’re willing to go under the knife.

Did you ever practice self-affirmations?

I didn’t practise affirmations in front of the mirror to boost my self-esteem; it didn’t occur to me at the time that self-affirming in the mirror was a thing.

And my insecurities about my looks meant I only looked in the mirror if I needed to.

I used to get my self-worth from my achievements and things I could control; I don’t anymore.

How did you eventually overcome that feeling of ‘not being good enough’?

She said that her father didn’t want her to go to school because he felt that educating a girl child was a waste of time and resources.

A while ago, I read about a Nigerian actress/pastor lady. She said that her father didn’t want her to go to school because he felt that educating a girl child was a waste of time and resources. He said this because he thought that one day she would get married and drop his name.

But the actress is unmarried now, and she’s pretty famous, and I think she’s got a PhD. She mentioned that his name is also well-known because of her achievements as she still bears his name.

I felt pity for her because it reminded me of a past version of myself. Now I ask myself, why should anyone have to perform to gain the love and approval of their parents?

The actress might be twenty years older than me, yet she is still carrying that burden of, “I gotta make my dad proud to prove to him that he was wrong and I’m worth something.” And of course, this is different from a person who says, “I want to make my father proud to reward his faith and investment in me.”

Yes, that’s true.

“All I had to do for my own father to hate me, was to exist, and I still survived.”

Nobody should have to carry such a burden.

If a parent doesn’t love their own child because, to them, the child is not good enough, then nothing the child does will satisfy such parents. It will simply always be that way. 

In some ways, realising this set me free because I could be me and not so consumed with trying to please others or fit in. Now, I’m more like, “All I had to do for my father to hate me was to exist, and I still survived. And, you’re a stranger but think I’ll die because you don’t like me? It’s laughable.

How did your past experiences affect your approach to getting married?

My past experience just made me unapologetic about demanding what I wanted in my marriage – even down to how we got married. 

I am lucky to be married to a man I would have searched for if I had known what to look for. He’s gone to impressive lengths to keep me safe and ensure I have everything due to me. So this is a direct contrast to my father, who didn’t just want to strip me of what was mine but also allowed others to walk away with stuff I’d earned. For that reason and more, it’s pretty difficult to stay annoyed at such a man like my husband.

I am deeply saddened that I never got to meet my father-in-law because what he did was somehow create a man who is keen on breaking generational curses and cycles and proactive about doing that with me. 

That’s part of the reason why NO child of mine will ever suffer anything I suffered, and ALL my children will get EVERYTHING that became their right as soon as my husband and I were born.

My past experience just made me unapologetic about demanding what I wanted in my marriage, even down to how we got married. 

Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

Okay, tell me more.

I knew I didn’t want certain people around me and my other half at our wedding or in our lives. But some of them felt quite entitled.

I got married quietly (not secretly) shortly after I returned to Nigeria. Within my first year and a half of marriage, I identified and cut off all the toxic people I had accumulated over the years. 

When I was getting married, the people-pleasing part of me from secondary school would have been like, “oh, I gotta invite this person and that person, else they’re going to be upset.”

Or, “we have to do this in such a specific way because of what people would say or think.”

But I was able to confidently say to my other half, “I don’t like so-and-so, so I don’t want to see their faces in our wedding album.”

And, “I don’t want a white, expensive ball gown that I’m only going to wear once, or shoes I can’t walk in. I don’t want a veil or bouquet; I think they’re ridiculous”. 

And so on, because all that stuff isn’t me.

I knew I didn’t want certain people around me and my other half at our wedding or in our lives, and some of them felt quite entitled.

And that was one part of breaking the cycle of societal expectations that would have done nothing but add debt and aggro to my life. 

What role did your faith play in helping you come to terms with past traumas?

God is probably the only one who can get me to reinstate anyone I cut off; not even my other half has that power.

My faith helped me reaffirm that forgiveness does not mean the restoration of a relationship. People are what they are; their characters and their demons are not my responsibility.

If someone poses a threat to me, my husband or my children, I will cut them off. And anyone who tries to play intercessor or mediator will get the same cut-off treatment too.

God is probably the only one who can get me to reinstate anyone I cut off; not even my other half has that power.

While I forgive, I don’t forget. Furthermore, I don’t put myself in harm’s way to ‘prove my forgiveness’ or satisfy any sociopath posing as a ‘peace-making Christian’.

Photo by Mert Talay on Unsplash

Are any of the stories you write inspired by your past experiences?

Sometimes, I will hear a word, see a picture, or an interaction between two or more people and I know it’s going into something I’m yet to write.

I don’t set out to write about my experiences, but yes, some of what I write are things I’ve experienced. Some of it is also what I have seen and heard other people do. Sometimes, I will see a picture or an interaction between two or more people, and I know it will go into something I’m yet to write.

On the other hand, some things I write about (and this is where it starts to get strange) are yet to happen. For example, I was working on a TV series, and as part of the character research, I asked my husband some questions. I did this to ensure that the character I was creating was realistic and relatable. I then adjusted the character based on what my husband said.

Then, about a year and a half into my marriage, the story I had written seven years before played out in real life, scene for scene, emotion for emotion, pathos for pathos. I was amazed. It was the weirdest type of déjà vu I ever experienced.

Check out Chioma’s company, The Fearless Storyteller that offers creatives and legal professionals a platform to amplify their voices. Her latest short story collection, ‘Because Home Is,’ features real-life situations and highlights deep-rooted issues within the Nigerian community.

Because home is by Chioma Nnani
Because home is by Chioma Nnani

2 thoughts on “Chioma Nnani Talks Dealing With Abusive Parents And Healing From Past Trauma

  1. “My faith helped me reaffirm that forgiveness does not mean the restoration of a relationship. People are what they are; their characters and their demons is not my responsibility.”

    I am living out the lesson quoted above the hard way. there is a lot about Chioma’s story that I can relate to. God is the greatest healer but we have a role to play in sustaining the healing and not going back to the things or the people that broke us. Kudos to you, Ibukun. This is a life-transforming interview.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, God is the greatest healer. Chioma really laid it all bare and shared her journey with me. I learned so much from speaking to her.

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