Ep#23 Making Peace with Your Past with Sara Stanizai
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Sara Stanizai, Licensed Therapist and Owner of Prospect Therapy, a queer and trans affirming therapy practice with a focus on first generation American and immigrant mental health. As a queer first generation herself, she also facilitates an Afghan-American women’s circle twice each year.
Sara speaks to us about what it was like to grow up in an Afghani household in America and how her career as a therapist has influenced and healed her relationship with her father. She speaks on the role of imposter syndrome in the lives of first generation individuals and how she has dealt with imposter syndrome herself. Sara also offers powerful advice for entrepreneurs who want to expand their offerings to include group programs, highlighting the benefits of gathering and healing in groups.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
The third round of my women’s group is starting next week and that I actually got out of town this past weekend and got into nature to hike.
How would you describe your medicine?
Listening to people’s pain and problems and actually hearing the solution or their higher self from that. I validate their pain and hear what they need.
What is your ancestral lineage and how has that influenced your medicine today?
My parents are from Afghanistan, they were refugees and immigrants. My sister and I were born here in Los Angeles and my whole life has been a love/hate relationship with that part of myself. For a long time, nobody knew about Muslim or Afghani heritage, so I was happy to leverage my proximity to whiteness to fit in. Once 9/11 happened, that changed.
When I started my clinical work, I did a lot of work around integrating those parts of myself and feeling proud of them. Once that acceptance and peace was there, my group clicked into place. I feel the most Afghan and the most connected to my heritage when I’m being really curious, hospitable, fearless, and when I push people out of the way to do things myself.
What stories were coming up for you before choosing to say yes to serving this community?
Do I deserve to do this? I spent so many years not claiming this identity, what gives me the right to do it now? My relationship with my family isn’t fully healed so who am I to help other people with that? No one wants to hear from me. Afghan women don’t help each other. There’s competition. There’s only one way to be.
How does imposter syndrome show up with first generation? How have you been navigating imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is when the way you see yourself and the way the world sees you doesn’t’ match up. Using that definition, we all experience it at some point, but especially for first gen’s who are navigating how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves in addition to the differences between their home culture and the culture they grew up in.
The way I am when I’m home with my family is different than how I am when I’m out with my friends or when I’m performing social norms. When people don’t understand me, those messages become internalized and can make life a bit difficult. It can affect self-esteem, how I show up in work and relationships, and how much I give to others.
What was it like to grow up in an Afghan household?
It makes me think back to my awkward junior high self that has the urge to rebel. There was fear of being visible and having attention on us. We “needed” to blend in and I wanted to push against that. I was very quiet and obedient for a long time, though.
How have you witnessed healing in your own family since starting your practice?
I don’t necessarily know how much it’s influencing my family members as much as the people I work with, but I do think they’re noticing the healing that I facilitate with others and it’s pushing them to kind of do the same. As I’m getting older, I’m relating to my dad, who’s super traditional, in different, cool ways. It’s the best relationship we’ve ever had.
What are you doing to stay grounded right now and what are you learning to release?
I’m very extroverted, but I’m getting more comfortable with solitude and spending time in nature alone. I’m cultivating a beauty practice, meaning having beautiful things around me, which is very grounding. Another thing is journaling, which I used to hate to do. It forces me to slow down and helps shake things loose.
Do you have any advice for people who have one-on-one services who would like to branch out into group settings?
We all know the power of groups and how healing they can be, so embrace that! You’re missing out on things when you restrict your offerings. There are ways to expand your offerings while using the tools you have and branching out to leverage new tools.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would you say to young Sara?
I would share an affirmation that came to me in your program: You have always been who you’re becoming. Trust yourself as you move forward. You’re doing it.
Conclusion: Though you may have experienced or are currently experiencing imposter syndrome, know that you are uniquely powerful and deep down, you know who you are. Everyone else will catch up sooner or later. Additionally, gathering in groups offers a very different energy and healing experience than being one-on-one. Try out a group setting if you haven’t!
Action Integration: Reflect on the power of group healing. Do you offer group healing? Do you want to add group programs to your offerings? If you don’t offer it already, envision what that might look like in your community. If you do, reflect on the unique benefits that have come from your group offerings. Bonus: What’s one thing you could do to improve your group programs?
Learn more about Sara and her offerings:
Visit her website: www.prospecttherapy.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/prospecttherapy
Connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sara.stanizailmft