Episode 25 - Toxic Positivity and Spiritual Bypassing
Dr. Farah Islam on the Truth about Spiritual Bypassing & Toxic Positivity
Aug 20, 2021
Dr. Farah Islam on Toxic Positivity and Mental Health
Episode 25 Transcript:
Saba Malik 0:00
Toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing. They might sound like two big terms, but they’re actually very common amongst people who have mental health challenges.
Asalaamu alaikum and welcome to episode 25 of the MentallyFitMuslims podcast. I’m your host, Saba Malik. And I cannot believe that alhumdulillah it’s been over a year that I’ve been podcasting, and talking to you. Thank you so much for joining me and giving me your precious time.
Check out my website MentallyFitMuslims.org because I’ve started adding transcriptions for the episodes I’ve done in the past. So if you really love reading, and you want to just read some of the juicy quotes, check out those show notes.
Also, remember to check out my memoir, MorningWind https://mentallyfitmuslims.org/morningwind-memoir/. It’s a memoir of moods, madness and everything in between. It’s available on Apple podcast with a premium subscription.
So today’s guest is Dr. Farah Islam. And I was reading her biography to my husband, and he said, she’s basically doing what you want to do. So I said, hey, why not have my future self. Farah Islam has a PhD. She’s a mental health advocate, educator, and researcher. She explores mental health and service access in Canada’s racialized and immigrant populations. Her research is oriented towards community work and breaking down the barriers of mental health stigma. She’s also a senior fellow in the data and psychospiritual department at Yaqeen Institute. I know it sounds really cool! She’s also taught courses in Muslim Mental Health at the University of Toronto, Islamic Online University and Islamic Institute of Toronto. She currently serves on the expert Advisory Committee for the Muslim omen’s shelter Nisa Homes. All right, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dr. Farah Islam.
Asalaamu alaikum Dr. Farah.
Dr. Farah Islam 2:14
Wa alaikum asalaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu sister Saba. I’m so excited to be here with you today!
Saba Malik 2:20
I’m so happy to have you as well for that. It’s such an honor. I saw you online when Yaqeen Institute was doing a panel discussion, and it was on mental health. And when I saw you mentioned two terms, which was spiritual bypassing and toxic positivity, I could not believe I had heard someone talk about two things that I had been experiencing for the past 10 years.
It was like, my mind was trying to grasp what this was because I was dealing with it but I didn’t know such a term existed. And when I saw you talk about it, I said, “Wow, there’s someone else who is feeling the same thing, who gets that.” I thought if Farah is feeling that and she can voice it, and she has that professional background or research background, then It exists. It’s not in my head, and I’m not making it. So that’s why I wanted to have you on, and I’m so thankful that you agreed to come on. So how are you doing?
Dr. Farah Islam 3:25
Alhumdulillah, I’m so good. I mean, I love how you mentioned that as well. You know, it’s so wonderful when we actually get terms, or we put words to what we’ve experienced, that actually resonates with us. I feel these terms of toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing, they’ve only come about in the last couple of years. And it’s just so amazing to talk about now, especially now, within the context of our Muslim community, talking more about mental health and talking about mental health stigma. So I think it’s a fantastic opportunity, Alhumdulillah. Do we want to define them a little bit just for everyone tuning in?
Saba Malik 4:04
Yeah, that would be a great place to start. I want to know how you define it and what your research background and professional background has taught you about these two terms.
Dr. Farah Islam 4:14
Sure. Okay, inshaAllah. In terms of toxic positivity, that’s basically what we do when we’re going through a difficult time or hardship or we’re listening to a friend going through a difficult time and we explain it away, or we try to kind of coach them out of it. We say things like, “Keep your head up. It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna get through this” and we go into “coach” mode. We put all these positive, wonderful words to it, because we think that it’s going to help that person be more resilient, it’s going to get them through that difficulty but in reality, what we’re saying is that, “I’m uncomfortable with the pain that you’re going through, whatever dark time you’re facing, and I want to put on “pretty sticker onto it.” I want to put a happy face sticker onto it and I want to just move on because I’m uncomfortable. Of course, it sends a very difficult message to our poor friend who’s going through that.
Then spiritual bypassing is the spiritual counterpart to toxic positivity, if you will. Maybe we’re not putting a happy face sticker on it, but we’re putting a spiritual sticker. “Oh, you’re going through a difficult time? Pray more. Have more sabe. Have patience. Go do this, go do that.” And, again, we’re not listening to the person going through the hardship or the pain.
The thing is, we do it to ourselves too, right? I’m sure. Saba, you’ve been in situations where it’s such a difficult time, or you’re in complete despair, whatever it is, and you tell yourself, “Hey, I’m gonna get through this. I’m okay. It doesn’t matter. Just shove it away under a rug. You tell yourself not to focus on it.”
Yeah, tell me Saba. When you’ve been in those situations, does it help you?
Saba Malik 6:05
No, it doesn’t. It’s funny when you mentioned the smiley sticker because a lot of times when I see the bipolar word online, and you search for pictures of it, you know what it is? It’s a smiley face, and then a sad face. You got to be kidding me!
If you think that’s what mental health challenges are, so black and white and you can just use a punctuation mark, to show such a nuance, such a complex disorder and other disorders, then that person does not know what is going on. That’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s just a very new thing, especially in the Muslim community, to have a meantal vocabulary. I think that is what really struck me when I was listening to you. Once I heard it, and I learned it, I’m on this path to define it and learn from you. It takes that blame away from you. You stop self blaming because you know that this term exists. That knowledge really brings relief.
Dr. Farah Islam 7:29
I love how you mentioned that as well. Having the space to put words to what we’re experiencing is so important. We make those smiley face, sad face. We absolutely oversimplify things, constructs that are difficult and complicated and nuanced.
Unfortunately that’s part of being human. When we see something that’s difficult for us to understand, or we fear it, or it’s too complicated, it’s too messy, we would rather gloss it over with a pretty happy face or make it pretty for ourselves, because it brings us that discomfort. So inshaAllah this mental health journey that all of us are on, being more woke to ourselves and being more woke to what we’re going through does require getting into that messy, nitty gritty, complicated, dark, turbulent stuff, and digging around in that mud, and trying to really understand, what are we really experiencing? SubhanAllah.
Saba Malik 8:34
In your professional experience, what do you think makes someone avoid those difficult, uncomfortable emotions? What makes someone oversimplify things in their head, especially when it comes to their own experiences? Why does someone have a tendency to do that, or even as a group of people, as a family, seeing someone struggle with a mental health issue. Why does someone use that glossy sticker and just slaps it on them and says, “This is what it is. We figured out. It’s fixed.” Why do we have a tendency to do that?
Dr. Farah Islam 9:08
It’s so true. It’s one of the most human of tendencies. As human beings, we would do anything to avoid pain and when we go through those dark times, whether it’s trauma in our in our families, or these dark periods of time, we would rather shove it away, put it into a closet, put it under the rug, and pretend that it didn’t happen. We think that is easier for us but of course, in the long run, that trauma, that darkness, those parts of us that still hurt us, will still continue to jab us from the inside. We haven’t really actually put it away because we haven’t processed it. That idea of having to process it, face our demons, face our darkness. It’s scary, it’s painful, and it’s understandable that as people, as individuals, as families, we try to run from it rather than to face it.
Saba Malik 10:07
That’s true. It is difficult. One quote that really struck me is when you said, “Lean into the discomfort.” How can someone do that? Lean into the discomfort because it can be very scary. With COVID and recovering from it mentally, socially, psychologically, it is very scary to go down that path, especially if you’re alone. And you basically are alone in your head.
How can a practicing Muslim, or someone who’s spiritual, increase their reliance on Allah? How can someone get away from that spiritual bypassing even to themselves? What are small, tangible little things that someone can say to themselves, little habits that they can put into action? How can they have a grasp on this spiritual bypassing and toxic positivity because it can be a very big thing, especially for someone who recently got anxiety, or depression. They might not know that they’re doing this to themselves and that brings them sadness.
I find sadness is okay, but when it gets into despair, that is a very, very dangerous beast. As Muslims, part of our belief is having hope in Allah and despair is from the Shaytan. He wants us to despair. So how do we get a grasp on the sadness and not move towards that despair? What are things that you would recommend to somebody who’s experiencing depression or anxiety, especially in this COVID period we are coming out?
Dr. Farah Islam 11:48
That’s beautifully stated. Let me also just say this: I’m not a therapist. I’m not a clinician. I’m coming from an education background, teaching people about mental health and stigma. One thing I always recommend is if you are going through a difficult time, or you are in despair, absolutely do reach out and seek help.
We have amazing mental health services now and wonderful professionals. I’ve been doing this exercise myself and I do recommend it. We went through a really difficult dark time together. All of us did as a world. We went through COVID. We went through this idea of lockdown, and socially distancing ourselves, doing things that are completely unnatural to us as human beings. I think it is a very necessary and important exercise to look back on what was your COVID “resilience story?” What did this period of COVID and lockdown do to you? What were those dark periods? What were the highlights? Where did it take you? Where were your emotions? How was it with your family and your relationships?
Explore it. Write about it and be honest with yourself. You want to get to the real honest emotions, really dig down deep to what you really felt. Was it fear? I think for a lot of us, it was this sort of fear of uncertainty and this fear of, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Sso when you’re able to sit with yourself and understand what your real deep fears are, you can begin inshaAllah to climb out of those fears, and to have that tawakul in Allah. However, it does require you to sit with those difficult feelings and emotions that you may have buried and put away. And for me, it has been a lot about writing to myself. I also started seeing a therapist. It is such an amazingly powerful and empowering journey. And I do recommend it.
It was a dark time for us as a family. We went through some very difficult times and add COVID on top of all of that. So therapy was a very important way for me to really process.
We judge our emotions. We think that these are good emotions: being positive, being resilient, being hopeful. And these are bad emotions: being angry, being in despair being. Yet the thing is as human beings we feel all these emotions and Allah subhana ta’ala gave us those emotions, so that we can tune in as messages to what we’re going through. Judging ourselves for having bad emotions means that what we’re going to end up bottling our “bad emotions” and trying as hard as we can to focus on the good.
However you can’t do that. Let’s say you experienced a death in your family, or something diffcult like COVID, if you only try to tellyourself to just be happy, don’t worry but you are worried, you’re not tuning into what you’re experiencing.
I find that the problem with toxic positivity is that we’re deceiving ourselves. We’re painting this beautiful picture, sunset, mountains, whatever we want to see. Yet, we are blinding and barring ourselves from the difficult reality that’s actually in front of us. It cripples us, because we don’t deal with the issues that are actually at hand. We can’t even see them.
The whole idea of having rose colored glasses or having rose colored blinders is that the lens is opaque. You can’t even see through it. That’s absolutely not helpful. It doesn’t let you see what’s in front of you. So while we think we’re fostering resilience and strength because we are muscling our way through our tough times, we’re actually making ourselves less resilient because we’re not facing the actual darkness that we’re going through. So the exercise (your COVID resilience story) really is about digging to the root of what you’re experiencing. What is the real, honest raw emotion you’re feeling? Maybe it presents itself as anger. Maybe you’re angry because you lost your job due to COVID so sit with yourself, talk it out with someone you love, trust, whether that’s a therapist, a family member, a friend, or just yourself. Write it out, explore it.
“Wait a minute. Let me think about what the root of this fear is. I’m scared of what it means for me to lose my job. Do I lose my identity? How am I going to take care of my family? What’s going to happen to my career?”
And maybe at the bottom of it is just sadness that you lost that (job). Acknowledge what you’re experiencing. Feel it and don’t deny it or judge it. Do not to bury it or rationalize it away. I think that’s what we often do subhanAllah. Just be honest with yourself. Be raw and honest.
Saba Malik 18:01
It’s funny when you talk about the rose colored glasses because I remember five years ago, I had written a blog post mentioning the sentence, “Leave me alone. And don’t mind me if I put on my rose colored glasses, because everything is great with bipolar. Nothing is wrong. Look at the positive.” I did that for a while but then I said I am lying to myself. This really sucks. It’s hard. How long am I going to denyand just show a happy face that I’ve got this? I’m strong, I’ve conquered bipolar.
Then you realize I really haven’t. I’m still frail. I’m still human. I need a therapist. I’m glad that you just mentioned therapist as a regular thing. If someone is gaining weight or they’re not eating well, they start thinking, I need to eat better, maybe get a trainer, maybe go to the doctor. There’s no judgement. I think we need to think about therapy in the same sense. It’s a trainer for your mental health. The more we talk about it, it just normalizes it.
Dr. Farah Islam 19:21
The name of your podcast is you, “Mentally Fit Muslims!” It’s about mental fitness. It’s a natural thing to take care of your heart, soul and mind.
Saba Malik 19:33
It was funny when I was naming it. I thought, “What’s it about?” It’s about mental illness and people who have mental illnesses, so I’ll call it Mentally Ill Muslims. I don’t want the illness to be the focus though.
There is even one psychiatrist he said, I don’t think we need to use the term “mental illness.” If anything, we can call it mental health issues, or just mental disorders. Mental illness is a big label. It’s a very heavy label. Once somebody falls into that, it starts to set the tone for their wellness and treatment. Define it as mental fitness or a mental. The vocabulary really plays a big role.
About the COVID resilience story, I think of this podcast because it was born during the COVID time.
Dr. Farah Islam 20:46
Oh, that’s amazing. Maybe you’ve been documenting your COVID resilience.
Saba Malik 20:50
I think I have and I wasn’t really sure that’s what I was doing.
Dr. Farah Islam 20:53
MashaAllah and this is something that got you through it and having conversations with wonderful people alhumdulillah.
My COVID resilience story was going back and thinking about what it was like when we first learned we had to be in COVID. Under lockdown, what that meant, all the difficult emotions, the turmoil that it put me, my husband and my family through.
I don’t know how it was for everybody but my husband and I approached this whole idea of lockdown and COVID very differently. He went busy, busy mode. He was trying very hard to put all these other elements in place. He was in work mode.
For me, I went into this mode to protect our family, work on our relationships. I felt we were not on the same page. That destabilized a lot of our families to begin with. For many families, the gender roles became very magnified under COVID as well. There were all these pressure or stress points, and we were all put into turmoil in different ways.
Saba Malik 22:11
It’s true. In the beginning I thought, I got time off. Everybody’s home. Let’s be super productive. I made schedules, timelines, put up calendars. I thought it would last three months: March, April, May. Come June, I should get this much work done so I have a really great summer. Yet, in June we were still in lockdown. I thought maybe fall, we can go apple picking because things will open but cases kept going up. Winter was the hardest.
This year, in March. I’m realized I don’t know when this is gonna end. I realize not that the first year was the toxic positivity. Now I have to lean into the discomfort. I have to face this. The spiritual bypassing came crumbling down to. I had to have a real conversation with myself, Allah and the people around me.
Just setting boundaries and having those uncomfortable conversations is a very difficult thing for me because stonewall. If I can’t deal with something, I just walk out. That is not a good strategy. In COVID, in lockdown, you cannot walk out. There’s no where to go. You’re stuck.
Alhumdulillah. I want to be able to look back at this COVID time and not apply that happy or that sad label. I’m just so blessed that alhumdulillah you came into my life gave me your time and I was able to talk to you.
Up till now, we talked about dealing with spiritual bypassing and toxic positivity. It’s going to take me some time to get used to these terms.
Dr. Farah Islam 24:13
They’re a mouthful.
Saba Malik 24:14
They are. However, it’s not as much of a mouthful as compared to what goes on in my head. The racing thoughts and everything else goes so fast. I especially want to teach it to the next generation. Let’s say you have a little child and they fall down. You say, “Oh, it’s okay. Everything’s fine. You’re fine. Don’t be sad. Don’t cry. Come on. Stop crying. You’re a big girl. You’re a big boy. Boys don’t cry.”
Dr. Farah Islam 24:51
Yes. Exactly the things we say.
Saba Malik 24:55
It’s taught from such an early point on because we haven’t made mental health and learning about it a priority. I hope inshaAllah, in the future, in our education system, we can have courses on mental health just like we have gym.
Even me saying the word “mental” connotates somebody who’s “crazy.” “Oh, your mental. You’ve gone mental.” We need to change the way we see this term and reframe them. What do you think?
Dr. Farah Islam 25:38
100%. So much of mental health stigma is rooted in our language because of our fears and misunderstandings. For many of us, mental health or mental health issues or illness is this great unknown. We don’t understand it. We start to use language that really doesn’t encompass the full sort of nuance of what a person goes through.
Like you were saying, you’re trying so hard to show the positive side of being bipolar and how exhausting that became. Not being true to yourself means you’re not allowing yourself to show the full range of all the emotions and experiences of what it means to be a complicated, interesting, wonderful human being who also happens to live with bipolar disorder. You’re trying to deny the other parts of ourselves. It becomes very exhausting, subhanAllah.
I loved you mentioned what we say to our children. “Don’t cry. Boys don’t cry. You’re okay.” When we do that to our kids, they usually cry even louder. They cry even harder. Or they freeze. You can see from their eyes they must be very scared, or in pain, but they don’t know how to express it to you.
Of course, we want to build a healthy, beautiful home, where our children do come to us when they’re in pain. That does start with when they’re two years old, they’ve scraped their knee, and you’re able to, with compassion with empathy, get down to their level and say, “I see you got hurt. Are you okay? How are you feeling?” It’s being able to resonate with their experience and not explain it away because it’s uncomfortable or not convenient for us.
Saba Malik 27:39
That’s starting to make sense. We started off by defining the terms, then we talked about it and gave some examples. Now I want to apply it and you can let me know whether I’m “doing spiritual bypassing” or not.
Here’s the scenario. Let’s say your kid falls down. They scrape their knee, and you admit that it hurts. “I know it’s tough. I know you’re in pain.” What would you say that’s okay?
I would point them back to Allah and say, “He’s the healer. He can fix this and He is perfect. We’re not. We get hurt.” Would you say that’s spiritual bypassing still? I want to be able to respond and let them know that there’s hope. I’m not trying to put a mental bandaid. I’m going to give them a physical bandaid. When you bring Allah in the picture and just mention His name so that someone thinks about Him when they don’t feel okay, is that spiritual bypassing? A child is not going to know the term spiritual bypassing, but they’re definitely going to feel it. So would you say mentioning Allah’s attributes is spiritual bypassing? What’s your opinion?
Dr. Farah Islam 29:17
It’s complicated stuff. I love how you bring up examples. There’s no cookie cutter, perfect way that we could respond. It really depends actually on the receiver and the situation.
If you feel that your child, or whoever you may be speaking to, would receive solace from those words, connecting them with Allah, reminding them Allah is the healer and if you think that would give them real solace to their pain, then alhumdulillah it’s the perfect and wonderful thing to say.
If they’re not ready to receive that message, maybe not at that moment, maybe they’re bleeding, maybe you need to first stop the bleeding and get them to a more calm place, and then give them those words of hope, inshaAllah, then do that. It’s sort of a beautiful dance of back and forth and to understand where that person is at.
I think a nice way with kids too is you kind of ask questions rather than make statements. We could say something like, “I see we’re in a kind of a difficult situation right now. So you’re a little in a little bit of trouble, you’re in pain. What kind of du’a do you think we can make to Allah so He can help us or something like that. So you’re also involving your child in that brainstorming. They’re part of the solution. They’re coming up with the solution themselves rather than us telling them.
Saba Malik 30:39
I love that: asking them questions instead of stating stuff. That puts them in control, in charge of their experience. They define it. They come to the realization that I am feeling this. I think it makes them feel like they’re not being rushed into “recovery” even though as an adult it’s just a little cut. It gives them agency and power over their own experience.
Dr. Farah Islam 31:10
When our children come to us asking for a band aid, they’re coming to us because they’re scared. They’re afraid but they also just want your comfort your love and your attention. Gettting them cute band-aids and just doing that for them. That’s exactly what we want to do as parents. Be that person they can come to in times of need in those times of distress, and we can help them inshaAllah.
There’s that sort of fine balance of not resonating with their experience and not helping them at all. Then the other part of that is the helicopter parenting of always jumping in and trying to rescue them from pain but of course, as we know subhanAllah spotlight, life has pain and hardship. Those are some of our greatest teachers in life. I’m sure we can say that and understand. There is that very difficult juggle and balance of not trying to rescue them or trying to protect them too much and at the same time not feeding them too much. It’s a difficult dance subhanAllah as parents.
Saba Malik 33:15
It is difficult. I think it’s important we make our life Allah-focused, have trust in Allah that He is the ultimate One who’s going to take care of everything. If my child or even a parent, a sibling, a friend is going through a really difficult time, I wish I could just jump in, fix everything, because then I wouldn’t have to experience and watch them lose it or spiral out of control. I wish I could do that but it’s that stepping back and trusting that what they’re going through, they can figure it out themselves. I just need to be there on the sideline supporting them, letting them know I’m present, I’m here for you and at the same time Allah is the ultimate One who’s here for you and who is present.
Dr. Farah Islam 34:08
Alhumdulillah, all this toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading of Dr. Susan a David and Dr. Brene Brown. They’re the ones who often talk about these two very interesting concepts. They even did a podcast together so I’m sure you can check that out Saba.
Saba Malik 34:32
I’ve heard of Brene Brown’s podcast and she has really great guests on. What I love about her is that she’s very real. She doesn’t hide that she has tough stuff going on, even though she’s done decades of research. I want to hear what Susan A. David because I don’t know about her.
Dr. Farah Islam 34:57
David also often talks about toxic positivity. Reading both Dr. Susan A. David and Dr. Brene Brown talking about these two concepts, I think we initially will listen to these concepts and think, “There were these times in my life with this person, that person who maybe did this to me.”
But I think the “Aha” moment for me when it’s a real learning experience is when I put that lens back onto myself. When have I spiritually bypassed others? Or where have I not really listened and tuned into someone’s pain? When have I told them, “Go pray it away. I don’t want to deal with this. Just be happy.” I am absolutely 100% guilty of it myself. I think that’s when the real learning opportunity came for me. When I was able to see that these are things I need to stop, see, or I need to tune in more to the pain of others, into what’s happening around me.
Saba Malik 36:02
It’s like you’ve got that distance by focusing inward and saying, When did I do that same thing that I’m accusing someone else of? Once you put yourself in that situation, you say wait, I’ve done that many times. The other thing is that if we’ve done it to others, that means we’re very regularly, if not constantly, doing it to ourselves.
Dr. Farah Islam 36:30
I was just thinking how all of us as human beings we react to the same situation, but we react to it differently. My sister and I, we were going through this difficult time in our family, and our reactions were in a way opposite. I was just crying a lot and she was more angry. And I know I did the whole toxic positivity. I did that to her as well saying I was not comfortable with her anger and her expressing that.
That’s exactly what you’re saying Saba. What that means is that I’m not comfortable with my own anger. That’s also something I absolutely deny to myself. When I’m angry, I just pretend that it didn’t happen. I bottle it up and throw it away. I hide it because I’m not comfortable with that anger. It was a lot of leaning into that discomfort and thinking, “Wait a minute, I told my sister it’s not okay for her to be angry.”
That’s horrible, right? Why did I do that!
Saba Malik 37:37
Oh my God, I was just going to spiritual bypass and say, “You probably did great. You’re fine.” Wait, no, that’s toxic positivity and we just talked about it for the past 40 minutes. And it’s good that we’re talking about it because then you start to notice it. It’s kind of a backwards thing.
First, you see it somewhere outside, then you talk to someone about it and then it starts to go and sink in. Once you do the work in your head, your brain mulls it over and then you start noticing it outside. It’s not so scary anymore to lean into those uncomfortable situations. What really helps is having this invisible wall or boundary. It’s not there to shut the person out or the uncomfortable situation. It’s just to give yourself some distance. You can think of it as you hovering above the situation and just watching it as an observer to see what’s going on. I find that really helps you look at it objectively. What do you think?
Dr. Farah Islam 38:57
Yes, that’s also the concept in cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s having that space or that pause between your thoughts, feelings and behavior. I think that’s actually what you mentioned Saba. We all need that moment to pause, remember Allah, center ourselves and ground ourselves. Say Bismillah and then respond to whatever is in front of us.
Saba Malik 39:21
I’m going to put in a plug for Salah, prayer five times a day, that is our pause. The whole day we’re going in a horizontal axis. We’re going this way, we’re getting that done and doing that errand. Then when it’s Salah time, you’re transported and pulled upwards. It’s the first time you’re looking on a vertical axis. For the first time you’re looking up and connecting yourself to Allah. That’s a great way to get that distance without shutting yourself out because you feel support Allah who created these emotions. He created sadness. He created anger.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie inside out.
Dr. Farah Islam 40:04
Saba Malik 40:06
I just learned it was made by psychologists and in there, the main character is Joy. All she wants to do is tell sadness, “This is a circle. You stay in there” because she seems to think that sadness doesn’t have a purpose. However, it does serve a purpose. It’s just another emotion. Then going back to what you were saying that don’t label emotions as good or bad. Just like food, don’t label it as good or bad but as healthy and less healthy. This food is going sustain me and this is going to bring me down. It’s looking at it in a better way.
Dr. Farah Islam 40:48
That’s right, (looking at emotions) in a non-judgmental way. I love that too. It’s a paradigm shift of looking at our emotions just as messages. They are internal text messages or communication. They tell us what we’re going through. So, if we’re denying those messages, we are putting ourselves in more pain. We’re putting sadness into a square, a circle, or putting our anger into a box and telling ourselves that we’re not allowed to feel these emotions. We deny ourselves the full spectrum of the beauty of this life’s subhanAllah. Even our Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), one of his beautiful teachings is that the spiritual heart is as inconsistent as boiling water.
Saba Malik 41:41
Hmm, I didn’t know that.
Dr. Farah Islam 41:45
Our spiritual state is always changing. It’s a natural reality of human existence. Why are we denying ourselves by saying that, “No you always need to be positive. You always need to be this, this, this?” That’s so judgmental. That’s absolutely de nying what the reality actually is. Isn’t our deen true in that we acknowledge what the human heart, the spiritual state and emotions really are.
Saba Malik 42:21
I love that. We acknowledge the tough part too. The heart does change. I agree with what you’re saying. It is beautiful.
We need to look at our faith and see how balanced it is and apply that in every little aspect of our life, especially in the way we think.
Is there anything else you wanted to add before we wrap up? It’s been a great conversation. I’m so grateful that you came on.
Dr. Farah Islam 43:20
That was a wonderful wonderful session. I think we covered what I’d wanted to say on hum teeny net.
One du’a I’ve been really reflecting on through COVID has meant a lot to me. We’ve gone through so much uncertainty and difficulty. I felt that the whole concept of Allah taking everything out of your hands or emptying your hands so that He can give you more, so much of COVID felt like that for me. I lost my job. I had all these difficult things happen in my family. I felt my hands became very empty subhanAllah.
Then going into Ramadan with those empty hands made my du’a and connection with Allah subhana ta’ala so much more powerful and deeper than it ever had been. I really do encourage all of us to lean into that discomfort and dark times. Lean into the times where you feel empty, where you feel you don’t have anyone but Allah because that’s when you find Him. That is when you find Him in your life and in your heart.
One du’a I found really powerful was:
اللَّهُمَّ آتِ نَفْسِي تَقْوَاهَا وَزَكِّهَا أَنْتَ خَيْرُ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا أَنْتَ وَلِيُّهَا وَمَوْلاَهَا
“Allaahumma Aati nafsee taqwaahaa, wa zakkihaa, Anta khayru man zakkaahaa, Anta Waliyyuhaa wa Mawlaahaa.”
“O Allaah! Grant my soul its dutifulness (taqwaa), and purify it, You are the One to purify it: You are its Guardian and its Lord.” (Muslim 2722)
“Allaahumma Aati nafsee taqwaahaa.” Give my nafs, my soul, it’s taqwa. “Anta khayru man zakkaahaa.” You are The Greatest One. You are The One who purifies You are The Best of those who purify. “Anta Waliyyuhaa wa Mawlaahaa.” You are its protector. You are our Guardian.
Allah is the Guardian, The Protector. He is The Mender of our hearts. He is Al-Jabbar, The Restorer.
Focusing on that beautiful aspect of Allah (as The Restorer, The Protector, The Mender) when I felt so broken was so powerful for me this Ramadan.
Saba Malik 45:35
JazakiAllahu Khairun for sharing that. Lean into the discomfort. Lean into those ugly emotions. Turn to Allah.
Can you say the du’a one more time? I have not learned that one and would like to add it to my bucket or toolbox?
Dr. Farah Islam 45:54
اللَّهُمَّ آتِ نَفْسِي تَقْوَاهَا وَزَكِّهَا أَنْتَ خَيْرُ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا أَنْتَ وَلِيُّهَا وَمَوْلاَهَا
“Allaahumma Aati nafsee taqwaahaa, wa zakkihaa, Anta khayru man zakkaahaa, Anta Waliyyuhaa wa Mawlaahaa.”
“O Allaah! Grant my soul its dutifulness (taqwaa), and purify it, You are the One to purify it: You are its Guardian and its Lord.” (Muslim 2722)
Saba Malik 46:03
Du’a is positive but it does not have spiritual bypassing. It’s facing those uncomfortable things with The Being Who created these emotions.
Dr. Farah Islam 46:03
You are being honest about how you are in total need of Allah. There is no spiritual bypassing there. You are being honest with how much you need Him. You’re asking The Only One Who can actually give you. That is empowering.
Saba Malik 46:33
You would think that going to Allah and saying, “I’m in total need. I need your help,” would weaken you. Yet, I find that takes the pressure off of you. You can relax. You can let your shoulders down and know that there’s Someone taking care of you ultimately.
Dr. Farah Islam 46:50
One of the reasons why so many of us go out into nature is because that’s where we feel connected with Allah subhanahu ta’ala. It’s such a spiritual boost for us. We have that feeling that we’re not in nature. The bugs are flying, the weather changes, the sun is here. We’re not in control and that is actually our fitrah.
Our natural state is to honestly and deeply believe that it’s only Allah subhanahu ta’ala Who is in control of our lives. However, when we live in this sort of built environment, this space, this concrete box we all inhabit, we believe we are in control. We believe we’re the master of our destiny. We believe that I have this job, I make this money, I put this food on the table.
However, we can disrupt that hubris and arrogance that comes from living the way we live in this artificial way.When we go out into nature, and remember, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m not in control. I don’t have control over my surroundings and environment. Who is in control? The only one who is in control is Allah.
That gives us freedom. It’s take this burden off your shoulders and you can just relax. All we ever wanted is for our soul, our very primordial part of us to recognize the Lordship of Ruboobiyah (having the firm belief that Allah alone is the Lord and Owner of all things) of Allah. Know that only Allah is in control.
That’s another exercise that I do often recommend. In those times we feel overwhelmed with uncertainty, difficulties or when we’re not being true to who we are, we feel exhausted. So go out into nature, really commune with this beautiful earth subhanAllah Allah has given us. Remind yourself of the real connection, the vertical connection, that you’re mentioning, that you have wih Allah. I think this is also a very powerful way to get through a difficult time alhumdulillah.
Saba Malik 49:09
I agree with that, especially the nature part. I do that so often. It’s a great way to lean into that discomfort because you realize that you’re not in control. You you feel at one because you’re part of that natural process.
I just to recap the tips you gave. We just talked about:
Taking a walk in nature
Writing. You mentioned writing is really helpful for you.
Therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy
In general, anyone who listening can use these and implement them right away in their life. These three tips are packaged with du’a and connecting with Allah.
I’m going to do my best not to slap the spiritual bypassing and toxic positivity sticker on to COVID.
Thank you again for your time and for coming. I hope to have you on again inshaAllah and have a great day.
Dr. Farah Islam 50:15
You too. This was a beautiful conversation. You are an inspiration You are amazing and I’m so honored (mashaAllah).
Saba Malik 50:26
It’s nice to be in similar company.
Dr. Farah Islam 50:32
Wa alaikum asalaam wa rahmatullah.
Saba Malik 50:34
That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed the show. I hope you benefited and if you did, please share this with your family and friends. Remember to rate and review this podcast on Apple podcast.
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Alright, see you in my next episode,
As salaam alaikum