Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Roya Haghighat Is Helping To Change Our World

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I wish that someone had told me that internships are very difficult. I remember when I went to the board to find out where I could intern, and the only options were working with sex offenders or batterers. Of course, the latter hit very close to home. So, I picked sex offenders. I didn’t want to work with them either, but I did learn something there.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roya Haghighat.

Roya Haghighat, MS, LMFT, is a psychologist specializing in Direct Feedback. Her new memoir, Despair to Divine Intervention: Overcoming the Darkest Days of Abuse to Help Others Embrace Their Worth, details her journey, beginning with her childhood in Iran, from the depths of despair to the heights of resilience. Through her clinical and published work, Roya helps people navigate through the shadows of abuse, offering a guiding light for those seeking hope and strength in the face of adversity.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I came from a fairly well-off Iranian family. Both of my parents were educated, but there was also domestic violence going on in our house. It didn’t have anything to do with our socioeconomic status. Even though I was never physically abused, watching my mom go through that really hurt me. I was a very artistic, creative, sensitive child, so witnessing my dad abuse my mom left me with a lot of trauma.

Eventually my mother moved us to Europe to be away from my father. We were worried that if we didn’t leave, my dad would kill her. So, even though we got away from him, we then had to deal with other challenges. We faced culture shock, a new language, and being refugees. Next, we ended up in Canada, which presented similar challenges, like language and cultural differences. Plus, the weather was a huge adjustment for us. There was so much snow that you couldn’t see the ground for six months of the year. I never liked that. There was a lot of pressure to succeed in this new place, despite all these obstacles.

Still, I had some resilience inside of me. When my mother was being abused all those years ago, I made a covenant with God that I was going to grow older and overcome this. I was going to become strong enough to save my mom — and to help other women.

In Canada, we moved in with my brother who had immigrated a few years earlier and was more established. I got my first job at a store that sold cashmere items. That’s where I met my husband’s family. They were very aggressive, but I always justified it in my head. I would tell myself, Oh, they just really want their son to get married. That was the old way of arranged marriages, and I didn’t know better because I’d never dated anyone.

For the first year, I kept expecting it to be a fairy tale, like in the storybooks. But I couldn’t reconcile that fantasy with my new husband’s actual behavior. He would comment that he wanted to kill all of the homeless people. In addition, being part of his family was like living in a tribe; we were together all the time. There were no boundaries. After about a year, he started to physically and emotionally abuse me.

I realized quickly that I didn’t want to have this man’s baby, but he tricked me into getting pregnant. When we were on a family trip, he had sex with me in the closet without protection. I had nowhere to go because his family was right outside the door. He continued to abuse me, and after the baby arrived, I became extremely depressed. I adored my daughter, but I couldn’t eat or sleep for months because the postpartum depression was so heavy. No one caught it. I fell through the cracks of the medical establishment, never getting the help that I needed. My husband and his family ignored my suffering; they wanted to cover it up. My love for my daughter kept me going for a while, but the depression was only deepening. By the end, I was on autopilot. I tried to commit suicide multiple times. The last time, I jumped from a 10-story building. It did not end the abuse. But it left me heartbroken.

I didn’t find out until I woke up in the hospital that my beautiful daughter had followed me out the window. I survived, but she didn’t. Even after all that, my husband continued to emotionally abuse me.

Thankfully, though, this time I did get the help that I needed for my depression. My family and my medical team supported me through this devastating period, and I was eventually able to stabilize my mood. Once the fog had lifted and our divorce was final, I realized that I needed to overcome this so that I could help other women with similar struggles. I found my way through.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I was fascinated by The Little Prince when I was a child. There wasn’t anything specific about it that struck me. It was just that I had such a big imagination and was so captivated by this fantasy world and this character. It really blew my mind. When I visited France 10 years ago, I bought a French version of the book.

Another one of my favorites is Laton Perdu, which means “the forgotten time.” The main character would go back to visit his aunt and just soak up the sights and smells in her garden. It really appeals to the senses. That book just speaks to my soul. I think that having an imagination for travel was very therapeutic for me. Music was also a huge outlet for me growing up. I loved to sing and play.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was an intern in a counseling program, our supervisor asked for feedback in the form of an anonymous suggestion box. This supervisor was an alcoholic who was also bipolar and off her meds. In the suggestion box, I said that she should practice meditation and take a short walk each day. When she read it, she went ballistic. She was shouting at everyone, demanding to know who wrote it. In the end, she figured it out because she knew my handwriting. She said, “Where did you get your insight?” I said that it’s not about experience. I got my insight when I was five. The big mistake was that she wouldn’t sign off on my time, so I had to work there for three years until another supervisor helped. So, I learned that I should never correct my supervisor.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I hope that this book educates people about mental health, whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar, or borderline personality. People may have a genetic predisposition for these things, but they don’t have to be manifested. We can help these people. I want families to get help instead of sweeping things under the rug. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks the way that I did.

People would look at me and say, “Your husband is rich. You’re young and beautiful. What’s the problem?” None of those things protected me from extreme spousal abuse. I want to make sure that everyone gets the help that they need. In my work with clients, I always do suicide assessments, and I especially focus on helping clients build their self-esteem.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I think that meeting and falling in love with Michael, my late husband who passed away from cancer, was the most interesting. I’m still intrigued by the way that unfolded. I met him and just knew that he was my angel. I got a new life after God saved me from my suicide attempt. Having Michael and our daughter, Maddy, later in life healed my heart in a way that I never thought was possible.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

When Michael was sick, he kept saying that he wanted to write a book about comparing religions. I told them there are already so many books about religion. He wrote his book anyway. After he passed, though, I felt a big void. I wanted to write a book before all my memories faded. I think this was the right time to do it. Having a big project like that makes me feel like I’m doing something with my life.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve helped several women at the domestic violence clinic. One older woman in particular showed up with a broken hip because none of her children would help her, and I was able to assist her. It was so depressing because she was 75 and she was still married to her abuser because divorce wasn’t accepted in her culture.

I also volunteer with older people who have Alzheimer’s because I love them too. There was one 94-year-old man in particular who loved me, and I loved him. I would sit and talk with him and read him Rumi’s poetry. Sometimes we would have lunch together, but I’d pretend like we were in Paris so he could use his imagination. I also helped a lot of my classmates while we were studying psychology.

And then, of course, I helped my clients. Some of them are not my clients anymore, but we occasionally have lunch together. It’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful relationships.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think we need to discuss the lack of boundaries in certain cultures. I still have clients from China or India who live with their spouse and their spouse’s parents, and they have no autonomy or privacy. I wish that all children who went to school were assessed for mental health problems and abuse by their school counselors. It would be great if we could prevent these problems before they start with education for parents, too. Nurses and doctors aren’t always trained to ask the right questions.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Ironically, watching my mother taught me leadership. She was getting beaten, but she also had a good reason to stay because my dad had threatened to kill my brother. Despite what was happening to her at home, she was still a leader in the community. She was still a principal and a teacher. She never gave up. She carried herself with a lot of integrity, and she took classes to better herself. Back then, there weren’t literacy programs in Iran, and so she would invite people to our backyard to teach them.

Michael also represented good leadership. He was in charge of a lot of people, but he always took the time to talk to people and make them feel seen. He would ask them how they were doing and mean it. He would have conversations with the guy at the gas station or the woman cleaning the bathroom. He was always honest. I think that’s a true leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

  1. I wish that someone had told me that internships are very difficult. I remember when I went to the board to find out where I could intern, and the only options were working with sex offenders or batterers. Of course, the latter hit very close to home. So, I picked sex offenders. I didn’t want to work with them either, but I did learn something there.
  2. I wish I had had a mentor because I didn’t realize how devastating the work of mental health could be. I worked with some extremely violent people. One man drove his Jeep into his wife’s bedroom, and he came 10 inches away from hitting her and her child. She told me that he had once put a snake in her bed. Thankfully, she was able to divorce him, but some of her stories made me think, Why am I doing this?
  3. I wish someone had told me that I don’t have to take every client. I don’t have to work with people who have been domestic abusers. I can just say that I don’t have the experience for this and refer the client to another therapist.
  4. I wish someone had told me that I would see clients go through very raw and real experiences. I worked with another client whose husband was a mechanic, and he cut her brakes so that she hit a pole and died. Hearing that was very difficult.
  5. I wish someone had told me that I didn’t need to feed or change diapers for my Alzheimer’s clients. When I was interning with them, I just did what I was told instead of asking the manager for the rules or guidelines.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The wound is where the light enters you.” Rumi says this. I was wounded as a child, but that’s how I found the light of God. I believe that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Somebody French, because I love to speak in French. Or maybe Oprah or Eckhart Tolle.

How can our readers further follow your work online? and

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Roya Haghighat Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.