• Desirée Strother
You have toxic people in your life. You feel obligated to them, but at the same time, you know those relationships are holding back your healing.

This is one of the most common struggles I hear about. I dealt with it. My husband dealt with it. The majority of my clients have dealt with it. And it feels terrible.

You feel guilty for wanting them out of your life. But you feel so much pain because they are in your life.

  • The belittling.

  • Minimizing your experience - or outright denying it.

  • Invalidating your feelings.

  • Manipulating you with their emotions.

  • Gaslighting you.

But you just can’t help yourself. You keep reaching out, because we’ve all been taught “it’s the right thing to do.”

  • Family comes first

  • Be the bigger person

  • Just forgive them

  • Why are you so sensitive anyway? (more invalidating)

But also, part of you wants to keep reaching back out. The most toxic people in our lives are often family members or very close friends. So not only do we feel obligated to them because of the status of the relationship in our lives, but we deeply desire to be loved by them in particular.

  • We want their validation.

  • We want their love.

  • We want a relationship with them that is actually fun, happy, and peaceful!

Those desires are healthy desires AND you cannot make them heal. You cannot make them want healing. You cannot make them want the same things you want.

Because that's their business. And YOUR healing is YOUR business.

I bet you already know that, but you don’t want to believe that. You’ve tried to set boundaries, but you keep reaching out again in the name of “seeking closure” or “clearing the air.”

If you really believed that was true – That your needs and desires are worthy of being met AND that you can’t make them heal – then you would understand that you truly have permission to walk away.

By continually trying to “do the right thing” and “seek closure,” you are re-submitting yourself to the trauma of that relationship over and over again.

And that is keeping you stuck. Stuck on your journey, stuck in your life, stuck in your ability to feel safe and happy, stuck in your ability to heal.

Here’s the Truth: You are allowed to be done with a relationship that is harming you. You are allowed to leave it without having a nice and tidy “closure.” You are allowed to feel deeply hurt by that. You are allowed to heal and move on.

For me personally, I went through this with my father. He was an alcoholic, abusive, and constantly denied my reality. Eventually, I decided one day that for my own health and wellbeing, I just couldn’t try anymore. Without explanation (because I didn’t owe him one, and he wouldn’t understand it anyway), I stopped talking to him one-on-one. I wouldn’t even be in a room alone with him. And in mixed company, I had an extremely limited list of “approved” topics I would discuss around him.

One day he asked me, “Why don’t you talk to me anymore?” I told him, “You have hurt me a lot (and I listed the ways), and you’ve never acknowledged or apologized for any of it.”

He told me, “I don’t think I have anything to apologize for.” I said, “I know. So this is how our relationship is.” And that was that. He never sought healing. He never sought reconciliation. And a few years later he passed away.

For whatever reason, it was never safe enough for him to stop changing the narrative to favor himself. It never became safe enough for him to acknowledge things he had done wrong. And that’s okay. It was never mine to hold or force into reality.

That does not mean that we are not allowed to have healing. And what does the other side look like?

It looks like freedom. Like your whole body relaxes and starts to learn how to rest. You no longer feel jitters or cold sweats or dissociated thinking about having to be around that person. Your body begins to heal. Instead of feeling depleted in energy, you have energy to give to explorations you want to pursue!

I say this because everyone ALWAYS tells me they’re scared. They tell me they can’t imagine going through with it. But then when they get to the other side, they ALWAYS feel relieved. They ALWAYS wish they’d done it sooner.

Because everyone always wishes they’d started living their life in freedom, sooner.

If this sounds like something you know you’ve been needing to do, but haven’t known the next step, you are always welcome to message me directly. I can help you create the safe space where you can heal even when the people you want closure from REFUSE to offer it.

You don’t have to be stuck anymore.

  • Desirée Strother
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Long and Short of It

It's Black History Month, so today we're going to talk about how to show up.

Examine Yourself.

For white folx, anti-racism work will always require examining yourself: your thinking, your underlying beliefs, your actions, your speech, as well as the larger context of where you fall in history. It is ongoing work, and it is absolutely necessary and absolutely worth it.

My top two recommendations for that work are:

For Black folx and Non-Black POC, the work of examining yourself is obviously very different. And, as a white woman, I know I'm not the person to offer guidance around what that looks like. I do know it involves a lot of self-care and community care, as it very often involves confronting trauma.

Some of my favorite recommendations for celebrating self-love and Black triumph are:

Know the History

Knowing the history of how we got here is also an important aspect of showing up. Coming to understand the motive and the steps that were taken to racialize groups of people, the policies created to uphold that power structure, and the collective actions of our societies that have followed suit is necessary for understanding the bigger picture.

Antiracism work isn't (only) about whether individual people are or are not racist; it's about being able to see the undercurrent of our collective river—that our world, for the past several hundred years, has been shaped by a philosophy of white supremacy.

My top recommendation for seeing the whole history at once is:

Make Reparations

Making reparations has been important to me since I began this work, but Sonya Renee Taylor takes it even further. She asserts that making reparations is a spiritual practice, and I completely agree. There are many, many different organizations and ways that you could pay reparations, and I recommend making it part of your monthly budget.

Here's one organization I love to support:


And of course, celebrate. Black History Month is a time of remembrance, reflection, action, and also celebration of Black joy, Black talent, Black innovation, Black creativity.

There are so many ways you can do this, as well, but to me one of the most fun ways is to follow and learn from Black folx who are doing the same things you love to do.

This is important, because if we, as a society, only choose to see Black folx as people who have been oppressed and disenfranchised, it is easy to slip into white savior thinking. It abdicates responsibility for self-examination and seeing the whole picture of diversity in our world. It's a way of still keeping the wall up between racialized groups.

For example, because I'm a therapist who is also a yoga teacher and a Waldorf homeschool teacher and who is into healthy eating and veganism and gardening, I follow and learn from:

  • Black therapists

  • Black yoga teachers

  • Black Waldorf homeschool teachers

  • Black vegans

  • Black gardeners

Currently, I'm super excited to try out this book:

The Bold Print

Showing up for Black History Month means showing up for racial justice, antiracism, and equity for all in our country. It's not something that should be confined to one month of the year. Let Black History Month be a starting line for you if you're new to this awareness and work; or, let it be a recommitment and a time to gain clarity about where to dedicate your efforts next. It won't (and shouldn't) be easy, but it is simple:

  1. Examine Yourself

  2. Learn the History

  3. Make Reparations

  4. Celebrate

With you + for you,

Some of the links in this page are affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase the item, I make a commission on the sales that come from this post. I only recommend products or companies that I use personally, align with my values, and that I believe can add value to others.

  • Desirée Strother

Updated: Jan 21

"It is very unique. Most cloacas form a kind of slit. Sometimes it's a vertical split, sometimes it's a smiley face, sometimes it's a sour face. This thing has a V-shaped structure with a pair of nice flaring lips." — Jakob Vinther, a paleontologist describing new discoveries about dinosaur genitals

melon, photographed to suggest a vulva

I think I was in graduate school when I learned that the correct name for the external female genitalia is “vulva” (it’s not “vagina,” as so many of us refer to it). I knew that I had been taught shame and fear around my body, but I didn’t realize how much shame and fear until I got married and discovered the condition of vaginismus.

And I know I’m not the only one. One of my friends in college recoiled at the idea of looking at her vulva in a mirror and described it as “gross.” I’ve been to many a church sermon where woman who have sex outside of a hetero-married relationship are described as beat-up roses, chewed pieces of gum, or irreparably torn pieces of paper. I’ve worked with women who didn’t know what a menstrual cycle was until it happened to them. My sister warned me of male doctors who would try to tell you that your PMS symptoms were all fake.

What’s the Deal?

There is a tremendous amount of fear, shame, and subjugation of the female body in our collective history. And it has very real and tangible consequences. When I was pregnant, I took a class about pelvic health from a doctor who explained that some women experience this so deeply, and have such severe cases of vaginismus, that they have to be artificially inseminated and/or deliver their babies via cesarean. Women chronically under-report pain to their doctors and live with disease. Women live with the side effects of weak pelvic floor structure because “that’s just the way it is.” A lack of knowledge and awareness around your sexual well-being is also correlated with a higher likelihood of experiencing sexual assault. All of these experiences (and more) are the very real ways that women’s bodies are still subjugated today.

So What Now?

I’m going to break down some things you can do for yourself, and then for the mothers among us, I’m going to break down some ways you can educate your daughters so that we can break the cycle of trauma.

  1. Get to know your anatomy. My favorite books for this are Women's Anatomy of Arousal and WomanCode. Women's Anatomy will give you an in-depth description of the different structures of female anatomy and their (completely normal) functions. WomanCode will take you into the internal anatomy of the rest of your body (all the way down to your hormones) and teach you how the health of your whole body and the health of your cycle are interrelated.

  2. Get to know your cycle My favorite book for this is Taking Charge Of Your Fertility. This is a good intro-book if you're unpacking a lot of baggage and want something that's focused more on wellness and function and less on sexuality.

  3. Get to know your brain My favorite books for this are Come As You Are and The Body Is Not an Apology. These books get into the mind and heart of sexuality and how that impacts your attitude toward your body.

I also cover female anatomy, wellness, and sexuality in-depth in The Soul Work Course and how it relates to your overall experience.

Now Let’s Talk Breaking The Cycle

(the trauma cycle, not the menstrual cycle)

This work starts in infancy. I’m a huge proponent of RIE parenting (also referred to as Respectful Parenting). The basic premise of this approach is that we respect infants, babies, and toddlers as wholly human and equal to adult humans in terms of the respect they deserve.

A primary way this changes things from the typical American parent-child relationship is the type and amount of communication. Even from infancy, parents who use this approach speak to their child in a gentle, normal tone of voice (no shrill baby talk) and narrate for them what’s going on in their immediate environment.

Here’s an example particular to this scenario: During a diaper change you might say, “I’m going to lay you down now so I can change your diaper. I’m getting a clean diaper and your wipes. Now I’m unsnapping your onesie and taking your wet diaper off. You’ve pottied, and so I’m going to help you get clean now. I’m going to wipe off your vulva. And now I’m going to wipe off your butt. You’re clean and dry now, so I’m going to put a fresh diaper on for you. Now I’m going to snap up your onesie, and we’re all done!”

Yes, it’s a lot of talking, and yes it feels strange at first to start giving a running monologue of all your actions. And the whole time, you’re making eye contact with your child, expressing calmness, confidence, and centeredness. This is also a very gentle way for you to get used to using the correct anatomical words if you’re overcoming your own shame experiences.

As babies get older, they will begin touching and playing with all the parts of their body—toes, bellybuttons, and genitals. I see questions from moms about this all the time. “My son/daughter has started playing with her vulva/penis during diaper changes. What should I do?!” And the immediate suggestion I see a lot from the parent asking the question is, “Should I move their hand away?!” That question right there speaks volumes about our own discomfort and the ways we pass that on to our kids.

Here’s what I recommend. If your baby has poop on them, then gently hold their hand and say, “You have poop on your vulva/penis. I’m going to clean you off first, and then you can play/explore/touch (whatever word you want to use here).” Notice how this is a way of teaching about hygiene.

If they don’t have any poop on them/are clean, then either don’t say anything or you can narrate matter-of-factly, “You’re touching your vulva/penis/testicles.” You don’t need to say anything, and if your only reason for saying something is your own discomfort, that will come across. Saying something can be helpful if you want to help your baby start making the connection, “that word means this body part.”

You also don’t need to rush to put another diaper on. They can have diaper-free time, or you can say, “I’ll close your diaper when you’re ready.” Babies are much wiser than we know, and many times when parents use this approach, their baby will then reach for the diaper, signaling they are ready to to put it on. This is an easy and gentle way of helping your baby become acquainted with their body and also practice autonomy over their own body (“my caregiver lets me close the diaper when I’m ready, and I help do it”).

As babies grow into toddlers and begin interacting more and more with the world around them, you can begin using toys or books to help them learn about their bodies. Two of my favorites for young toddlers are:

  • My First Body Book I added my own labels for “butt” and “vulva” on this page

  • Melissa & Doug Magnetic Human Body Play Set I put away the boy-specific parts until I feel it’s an appropriate time to introduce those. I would recommend introducing them when kids are a little older and begin asking specific questions about the differences between boys and girls.

For older toddlers, they will begin asking more and more questions, building on what they already know.

  • For my daughter, seeing photos of me pregnant has introduced the conversation around the womb. She was interested to know if she also had a womb, and we used the Melissa and Doug toy to show where it was and that it’s called a uterus.

  • For girls, they may begin to notice there’s more going on “inside” their vulva and want to know what those parts are called or make up their own terms for them. I searched high and low for a good teaching tool for this, the lack of which was actually the impetus for this whole article. Wouldn’t you know, all the books I could find about girl’s anatomy was either for: Puberty — and most of these books didn’t seem to have a kid-friendly diagram of external genitalia or discuss basic hygiene 5-7 year olds — and all of these that I could find were either for the purpose of explaining the differences between girls and boys (again, no external genitalia) OR they were for the purpose of explaining female anatomy in the context of reproduction. This infuriated me, so I’ll come back to it in a moment.

So, that being said, here’s what I recommend:

This was the most child-appropriate diagram of external female genitalia I could find that wasn’t in a science textbook (i.e., didn't have a bunch of pubic hair and embellishment to show maturity).

I also changed the "labia majora" and "labia minora" labels to "outer lips" and "inner lips" respectively, since not everyone's outer lips are "major" and inner lips "minor."

A note on representation

When I tried to find similar toys and diagrams for BIPOC complexions, I couldn't find any. I could only find black-and-white diagrams and toys depicting pale-skinned bodies.

And now for my soap-box tangent.

Why on earth is it, that the first way girls are taught about their anatomy is to explain how they are different from boys or explain their “purpose”? Neither of these methods of teaching fully explain and introduce them to their body, and they don’t teach helpful age-appropriate things, which at a toddler-preschool age are: 1. Names, 2. Location, 3. Hygiene, 4. Basic Function, as they show interest and readiness.

The first time we learn about our bodies should be simply for that purpose: to learn about our own body. Not as it relates to someone else’s, and not for how it’s “useful.” And every girl deserves to learn about her body with books, toys, and resources that look like her body, not someone else's.

So here’s to changing the narrative, and breaking the cycle.

Some of the links in this page are affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase the item, I make a commission on the sales that come from this post. I only recommend products or companies that I use personally, align with my values, and that I believe can add value to others.