Habiba Zaman: On Helping People Align with Who They Really Are.
Just merely talking with Habiba Zaman made me leave the conversation feeling seen and heard. Her desire to learn more about people’s shared humanity, her curiosity for the world, and her commitment to healing herself and others has led Habiba to not only become a trauma therapist but now a published author. We talked about her book Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You and so much more. Can you tell me about your background? I have a pretty colorful background. I was born here but I was raised in Bangladesh by my grandparents. I’ve been in Atlanta for twenty-five years. I went to Georgia State University for my Undergraduate and Graduate degrees and pursued my passion in counseling.
What led you to know counseling was for you from a young age? I’ve always been interested in humans. I love being able to be part of people’s stories and be a witness to everything. The trust that people put in my hands is very important to me. I feel honored. Even when I was a kid, I was always an advocate. I fought for everyone’s rights, even at five years old if someone was bullying someone, I would stand up for them. My grandparents nurtured that in me. My father was a freedom fighter for the revolution so, fighting for what you believe in, is in my blood. As I grew older, being so sensitive to humans and what they’re going through and internalizing a lot of what they’re feeling became a lot for me to take in. There was a lot of change and upheaval when I was growing up. I really was in a dark place and there was a lot of trauma. There were many things I couldn’t cope with at a young age. I’m so grateful that my own son’s outlook and worldview on life, and on mental health and humans, is so different than what my worldview was at his age. My school counselor was the one that steered me in the direction of counseling. Her name was Mrs. Bunch. She came up to me and she yanked me by the arm and she just stood there and looked at me, as if she was looking into my soul. Me being the human that I am panicked. I went mute. I wasn’t used to having a voice or to speaking my thoughts. She said ‘Whatever it is, it won’t matter in five years.’ I was so good at being invisible, but she could see I was struggling. For her to see straight through me, it struck me to the core. On top of that, she made me feel like I could change things for myself. I started taking the steps I needed to take to get out of the situations I was in. I knew without the shadow of a doubt I wanted to do that for others. How did being raised in Bangladesh impact your life? I was there from when I was two to eight years old. I lived in a house where the grandparents were the queen and the king. There were so many people living in the same household. There was this sense of family that was so different than what I witnessed once I came to the U.S. There was always someone there. There was never an emptiness. On the other hand, I always wondered why everyone had their parents and I didn’t. Coming here to the U.S., I had my mother and father, but I would come home from school and I was alone.
Can you tell me about your work as a therapist? I’m a trauma therapist. I chose this profession because of personal experience and knowing there were lots of things to heal from, like attachment and identity issues. There were parts of me that felt like I didn’t belong, even in my own family. I knew I had to heal that before I could heal others. From an early age, I integrated myself into services where I could help people feel less alone in their own community. Not just in a sense where you look different, but if there’s a standard you feel like you don’t meet. That became my drive long before I knew what my passion was and my purpose.
I want to hear about your book, Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You. What led to the spark of ‘I should write a book?’ Once I became a therapist, I bounced around different hospitals and group homes, trying to figure out what worked for me. I created my own practice where I did individual counseling but I also offered empowerment groups where women can be women. I met a colleague of mine, Shalon Irving, who ended up being the co-author of the book because she would come to these groups. Two years into our professional relationship she said ‘We’re gonna write a book and you’re going to do what you do here, but for everyone.’ I had the hardest time in English class in high school. Not because of English but because no one liked my style of writing, but Shalon was so encouraging with my writing. She said I impacted her more in two years than in her fifteen years in therapy. We started meeting weekly and I told her ‘I don’t write,’ but she said, ‘Just talk to me the way you talk to everyone else.’ So, we got started and it took us about a year. The book helps you figure out who you are and why you are the way you are.
The whole book is about your sense of identity and creating that strong sense of being undeniable joy. This book gives people the courage to be vulnerable too. It’s the first of eight books. What’s the main takeaway of the book? I want people to really be secure in who they are. I like to ask people: who are you when I strip away your titles? If you were to take away any of your accomplishments, how do you view yourself? This book helps you to be so secure in who you are, that even if life changes if circumstances change if everything goes to hell in a handbasket, you can still say, ‘this is who I am.’ I want people to feel rooted into the ground. That was the theme that I had come up with and worked towards. Is there a pattern that you’ve recognized in people you’ve worked with over the years? I see the same realization pop up: that they don’t know who they are, because they’re unhappy. People feel like their life is good, they have a career and education, they followed the path they wanted…but they’re still unhappy. It’s usually because the life they wanted is not in alignment with who they are. Are you working on anything else at the moment? Something I did over COVID was I created three programs: a Values Clarification program, a Boldly Setting Boundaries program, and a Writing Your Own Narrative program. I’m also nearly finished with my solo book which is all about learning to love yourself. It follows this pattern of how you learn to love in the first place. It covers how you define love, where did you learn how to define love the way you did, and going into the love life you have now. Not just romantically, but with yourself. You can learn more about Habiba and purchase her book here: https://www.habibazaman.com/