"My journey was that I did not recognize initially that my behaviours were a certain way because of what I experienced in my childhood. Once I was able to connect those dots, everything changed."
Content Warning: This article contains some graphic descriptions of physical and racial abuse that may be triggering for some readers.
Michael Anthony is the author of the best-selling book Think Unbroken and is a coach, mentor, and educator for adult survivors of child abuse. Michael spends his time helping other survivors get out of "The Vortex" to become the hero of their own story and take their lives back. Michael hosts The Michael Unbroken podcast, teaches at Think Unbroken Academy, and is on a mission to create change in the world. For more information, visit: www.linktr.ee/michaelunbroken
SWY: If you don’t mind sharing - What is your experience with childhood and youth abuse and trauma?
MA: I grew up in a very abusive household. My mother was a drug addict and an alcoholic. She actually cut my finger off when I was four years old. My stepfather was like the most abusive man you could ever imagine. He was the dude you’d always pray that would never be your stepfather. We were often in poverty, so I was growing up being homeless for various periods of time. Also, we were living out of strangers' homes, while being a part of the Mormon church as well. So, then there's this other level of chaos that started to intercede in my life at the age of 8 to 10 somewhere in that window. At the age of 12, my grandmother adopted me because I put a restraining order against my mother and my stepfather because of all the abuse in the home. This entered a really interesting juxtaposition in my life whereas I headed in my teen years; I was living with my grandmother who is white, and I am biracial (Black and White), and she is super racist. So, I have this whole other level added to my abuse, while also going to school in a predominantly Black neighbourhood and Black school. There was a lot of fighting, a lot of arguing. My life for me, for my first 18 years, was just pure chaos.
SWY: You are an author of a new book called Think Unbroken. Can you tell us more about the premise of your book?
MA: Yeah, so Think Unbroken is a book that I built to be a companion for people who are going through the process of understanding and working through trauma, particularly childhood trauma. I recognized in my own journey over the course of the last 30 something years that something in all the literature that you would come across was missing. It was this practical guide in which you have this introspective self-reflection. So, I built out Think Unbroken to be a companion in the sense that it is not about my story, but it is more so about the tools and ideas and premises that I have either created or found throughout my experience of healing, that I kind of summarize down into a single book. So, it is an actual book. I always recommend that people buy the book because you write in it. It is like an actual practice to work through this book. I just felt like yes, it's great when you read mindset books and trauma books and self-help books, but nothing has really kind of intertwined the three worlds. So I built this book because I felt like it's what I needed on my own healing journey that didn't exist.
SWY: What do you think are some of the benefits others will gain from reading your book?
MA: I think if anything, the benefits that you'll get from reading Think Unbroken is a better understanding of who you are. It is such an introspective look at yourself. I wrote this book to make it impossible that if you actually read it, and do all the exercises, and then read it again, which is what I recommend, on the very first page, that you will have a better understanding of who you are. It will provide you with tools that can become practical as a part of your daily life to help you create change, and more so understand behaviour patterns and how you've gotten to the place that you are. Most people don't recognize that their behaviour is indicative of their past. We are the sum total of all of our experiences leading up till right now. My journey was that I did not recognize initially that my behaviours were a certain way because of what I experienced in my childhood. Once I was able to connect those dots, everything changed. So, my hope is, as you kind of connect the dots through reading this book and doing the exercises, that you'll get a better understanding of who you are.
SWY: You explain that “For generations, the world has been plagued by the ramifications of the effects of childhood trauma” - Can you discuss what some of these effects are and ways you believe we can diminish these effects?
MA: When you look at generational trauma as a whole over the course of society's history, it all kind of points towards this idea that we have to punish those closest to us so that other people don't instead punish them. A lot of this derives from slave mentalities, being that if you beat your child, then perhaps the slave master won't kill your child. This is not necessarily only in the aspect of American slavery, but this dates back to Ching Dynasty and before then because as humans, we are terrible people who have enslaved each other for our own selfish reasons since the dawning of time. Now we are in this place where we have access to more information than we have ever had. So, because of that, we're able to put ourselves in a position of looking at that we understand that generationally, we have beat our kids. Then we get to this place now that our kids are growing up, they are emotionally reclusive. They don't know how to connect with people, they find violence being the way that we communicate. Most people who are in domestic violent relationships as adults were in domestically violent relationships as children. As a great example, when my brothers and I were young, we used to beat the crap out of each other, because that's what we saw our parents do. We thought that was the language of love. That was our communication. So, as you start to recognize that in fact, that does not hold true, there's no love and pain. So, you kind of begin this process of eliminating those previous actions and say, okay what do we really need to do here. When we look at trauma based on generations leading up till now, it's been violent. The way we talk to people, the way we handle people, even the way that we handle and talk to ourselves. So, as we move forward if you can interrupt that as it is very much about reframing the process. You get to this place where now you have the ability to interject a new conversation. I don't think realistically that'll happen in our lifetime. It sucks. I wish it would, but I don't think it will. Eventually, you get to this zero total number and what that means is you're at this place where it's less than 000.1% of people are impacted by childhood trauma. To preface this, today in America literally today, right now, this moment and tomorrow, and the next day, five children on average will die in their homes by their parents or caregivers. I would say the majority of people do not recognize that right now within their community. There are children starving, or being beaten, or being locked in closets and cages. Literally, that is not an exaggeration, and it could be happening next door. So how do we get that number down to zero?
"As a great example, when my brothers and I were young, we used to beat the crap out of each other, because that's what we saw our parents do. We thought that was the language of love. That was our communication."
SWY: Like millions of other childhood trauma survivors, you say you were stuck in “The Vortex” - Can you expand on what “The Vortex” is and some ways that others who may be experiencing something similar can find their way out?
MA: The vortex to me is this place where we exist within ourselves where we self-sabotage. Where we allow others to hurt us, where we don’t step up to the plate, where our own negative self-talk is impacting all the things that happen in our life, where ultimately we have become our own worst enemy. The vortex is that place where you wake up in the morning, and even though your gym shoes are next to your bed, and you know the things that you need to do to be successful in your day, you avoid them. You procrastinate, you hurt yourself, you don't step into what I would call your power. It's very easy to do that because a lot of it is embedded within this context and idea of being that the way we speak to ourselves, and the story that we tell ourselves becomes true. So, often that story is very negative and it's with these connotations of unworthiness. That's being in the vortex. That place where life just seems to suck for some reason. How do you recognize that? How do you understand that? How do you get into moving through it? It takes a lifetime of work. I believe that the number one most important thing that you can do in this journey if you want to begin to work through your past and heal is first, you have to acknowledge that, yes, something or some things really bad happened to you. That's step one. That's really difficult for a lot of people. Then step two is giving yourself permission to do whatever it takes to work through it. That's kind of in this idea that once you understand that what has happened to you is not your fault. That shame, that guilt, that thing that exists, then you put yourself in a position of saying, you know what, I recognize that these things were not my fault. However, caveat, it is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to get help.
SWY: What is one thing you want others to understand about being a male survivor of childhood abuse and trauma?
MA: That it's more common than you think. I mean, it's so incredibly common, you have no idea. The problem is we live in a society that teaches boys not to cry from the time that they're three years old, not to emote, not to be literal human beings and step into their emotions. Chances are that the men in your life or the boys in your life have suffered some really horrific events or some really bad events, and you'll never know about it because they're too afraid to acknowledge it. That's the Western society that we live in and the idea that men have to somehow not be impacted by our past and we have to dust ourselves off and move forward. So, the number one thing I think people have to recognize is that it's far more common than you would ever imagine.
SWY: Often times, male childhood abuse is overlooked when compared to female abuse - Do you believe that there is a stigma attached to being a male survivor?
MA: Yeah, I mean, there is a stigma, for sure, and that stigma is that you're weak. That stigma is that you are not capable of “being a man”. That is probably more detrimental and poisonous to the human psyche than anything else. With that, you're already faced with this wall that's 100 feet high that you have to step over, even to get to the next thing, because in our society you're put in this position of the second that you ask for help, it's viewed as a weakness. In the herd mentality of human civilization, being weak means that you get ostracized. So immediately people are terrified of the idea of ostracization. Because of that, they would rather sit with that shame, guilt hurt, anger, fear, whatever that thing is, than to put themselves in the position of being vulnerable. The risk-reward benefit isn't necessarily there in the macro version of it. When you're looking at it from 10,000 feet, you go okay if I put myself in a position of being vulnerable and seeking help guidance, whatever that is, and I get found out, I'm going to be the embarrassment of my community and my household, my friends, I will be an outsider. So that stigma carries so much weight with being a male survivor.
SWY: What were some of the most helpful methods you used on your healing journey? Do you have any suggestions for others who are going through similar experiences?
MA: I think the first thing that you do is you just have to give yourself permission to go on this journey. If you don't start with you, it's like the airplane, right? It's oxygen masks, you can't put on your neighbours until you put yours on. So, you have to be willing to step into a certain aspect of selfishness that is about becoming healthy. Without doing that, you won't be able to even begin this journey. So, once you're in it, once you're learning about it, things start to change and take shape, and ultimately, you will find the things that work for you. Whether it be therapies like EMDR therapy and CBT and NLP and all the acronyms. Eventually, you'll find those things that can be you know, done. It could be going to the gym. For me, it's been a combination of all of them. I felt like I had to reconstruct myself. That process for me happened through yoga and meditation, and physical therapy and massage therapy, and actual traditional therapy and men's group therapy, and learning about my body and nutrition and health. Putting boundaries, which is probably the second most important part of this, is creating these boundaries in my life around not only myself and what I allow myself to do, but also how other people interact in my day to day life. So, once you kind of established these working orders and call them standard operating procedures of your life, and you kind of systematize this approach of thinking, then you start to see some effects come into play. Eight years down the line things are different. So, the third piece of it, and I could go on all day about this, but the third part of it and just as important as creating boundaries, just as important as giving yourself permission, has got to be being patient. I have a theory that it takes you as long to get healthy as it did for trauma to kind of take over your life. So, you know, even though I'm a decade into taking this journey seriously, every day is about me putting my shoes on that sit next to my bed and go, alright, get to it. So, you know, I think there's a lot of it, but the patience and the permission part, the boundary part, it all kind of comes together to create this triangle of support.