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Mother Teresa with a Blackbelt: An Interview with a Thriver Whose Own Trauma Helps Others Heal

Although I have not met Theresa Byrne face to face yet (my intention is certainly to do so), I feel a kinship with this conscious communicator whose musings inspire her readers, listeners, students and clients. If memory serves, we found each other through another site for which we both write called The Good Men Project. When I got to know her better, I was impressed with her ability to weave a story with a take home treasure in the form of the message. She earned a degree in Communication Studies (with concentrations in Psychology, Social Work, and Business/Marketing). This enables her to see beneath the surface of what her clients bring to their sessions as she coaches them using a multi-modal approach. I sense that her inspirational style is both nurturing and high intensity.

Recently, Theresa experienced a trauma that added even more depth to her work. It insisted that she take her own good advice that she had offered others. Easier said than done, but she is mastering the challenges brilliantly.

This Wonder Woman recently presented a TEDx Talk in Chapel Hill, NC, on The Danger of Your Inner Bully. When I watched it, I found myself nodding in agreement as she was describing me and so many of my clients. 

A bit of background would be helpful. Who is the woman in the mirror?

My one-line description is that I’m like “Mother Teresa with a black belt.” 

The first time I stepped in front of a playground bully I was about 8-years-old. Unconsciously my body moved to protect the smaller kid and stop the bullying. It’s no surprise I became a martial art master/self-defense instructor certified in something called “adrenal technology” — the study of how to turn adrenaline into power. Inside of me has always been an innate protective instinct, what we call the Mama Bear effect.

Seeing anyone get overpowered or beat down emotionally was like a rip in my psyche — I couldn’t handle it. I wished I could empower all the kids being bullied to tap into their inner power and stand up for themselves. Tapping into inner power and potential has motivated me since I was a teenager; this journey led me to study communication, psychology and social work through college. I still use what I learned every day, just in a different way.

How did you get interested in martial arts?

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In the early 1990’s I randomly stepped into a studio and discovered a love for martial arts, having being inspired by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid since childhood. I was entranced by his character; an example of quiet strength and strong character; someone who tapped into his innate fierceness and power but was also typically kind and funny. He could be fierce and protective but only when necessary. 

The first time I did a flying side kick, I kicked a hanging bag up to the ceiling and felt a sense of power I’d never felt before: my mind-body-spirit aligned in a single moment. BAM! I was hooked! Founding my own martial arts and fitness studio in the late 1990s, I wanted others to find their own moments of power. I developed a trademarked system for activating inner power — InPower™. About the same time, I was trained/certified in groundbreaking self-defense work called “Adrenal Stress Technology” or “Adrenaline Technology™.” I learned how to use the fight or flight response to create power in the most disempowering situation and it’s something I still teach and use every day of my own life.

What motivates you to keep on keeping on when you are discouraged?

What motivates me? I’m typically motivated by a deadline, or a target goal, but those are extrinsic and can keep me task focused — as in “I HAVE to finish this … (book, article, website, report, etc.).” When I’m discouraged, I fall back on something else; I have always had this desire to create. I have to create something bigger than me and my concerns or worries.  

I don’t have a gift for building, art, painting, or poetry but I have this innate ability to see tools to reduce human suffering. After working directly with tens of thousands of clients/students, I can feel and see without judgment their patterns, obstacles, negative programs, stuck places, and I also picture potential solutions. I can see the straight line from A to B. 

It was the same when I taught martial arts: I could see where someone’s elbow was winging out or their left shoulder was higher, or their posture was off balance. I could sense the resistance in their body causing strain on them, and I sensed it in their lives as well. 

Discouragement has always held gifts for me, and it’s taken me years to learn how to do my “dance with doubt”; every time I go for a stretch goal, I realized doubt shows up. It’s a function of my own nervous system telling me I’m nervous or excited (same emotional makeup). 

If you’ve ever studied PTG or posttraumatic growth, you’ll know we each have the ability to overcome almost anything based on the power of our mindset.  My mindset allows to me have an objective view of my doubt as a “need for more information.” 

I know resilience lives in all of us and comes out when we are challenged.  We each have an inherent, internal power. Inside each of us is a deep well of inner power and strength, what I call “InPower.”

Why do I HAVE to complete these things? 

My work is what I give to the world because I believe the world needs it; I believe the things I do can help people. Someone somewhere needs to hear or read what I share, and it might help him or her through a difficult time, make sense of something, or offer that person a smile at how human we are. 

No matter who bad things are for me, and they have been incredibly dark and uncertain, I am still grateful to have what I have and be who I am. 

Every single time I’m discouraged I look for the message. 

  • What is this doubt showing me? How is it trying to keep me safe?
  • What can I learn from this? 
  • What and how is this possibly for my good?
  • What’s the bigger vision here? What’s the big picture? How is this doubt serving me?

How do you relay that information to clients/students?

I share stories and insights from my life as examples of learning opportunities in classes, workshops, online, books, and in articles. I have gotten more and more comfortable being vulnerable and using my missed steps or quirks as teachable moments. Studies show our ability to learn and retain information increases exponentially using anecdotes and through the power of story, so I use my life as a way of demonstrating examples of what I teach. 

A life-changing event happened in 2014. Please tell us about it.

I was involved in a hit and run car accident in 2014, by a vehicle I never saw coming. The rear section of my SUV was slammed; breaking my axle and throwing my head into the side of the car. With a broken axle I lost control of my SUV, swerving into the other lane of traffic and headed for an oncoming brick wall.  In that moment I felt a sense of powerlessness, either I was going to live, or I was going to die, and it wasn’t in my hands. Nothing I could do would change or stop it. Suffice to say I had an NDE  (Near Death Experience) at this time and never remembered hitting that wall; the message in the near-death experience continue to unfold but the main one: “There’s more work for you to do; there’s more work to be done.”

Coming back with the equivalent of six concussions has just made me finding this work a bit more challenging, but I believe what I did in my TEDx Talk is the start of it.

What is your take on death now that you beat the odds?

Facing death made me see all the places I wasn’t living fully, acting like I’d be alive forever and putting things off (vacations, travel, all the books I have in my head).

I no longer fear death. I realize life is meant to be lived and to have adventures and grow.  I also realized how small I’d been. You really can’t take it with you — the NDE I simply felt like an “essence” in another place. No form, gender, shape, or labels. 

All the things I thought were important ceased to matter (my training, certifications, my IQ, my degrees, my accomplishments). 

For lack of a better phrase, my life goals were just about me, even though I manipulated them to myself to make them seem like they were about others.  Helping, serving, supporting was honestly just the way I got value. I didn’t see it until then. 


I wanted to write a best seller and now I just want to write. 

I wanted to motivate and inspire over 1M people, now I just want to positively impact one in anything I do. 

If one person is helped by something I say, do, or write, then I’ve succeeded. 

There are still things I’d like to accomplish and adventures I’d like to have, but I’m more interested in what I leave behind. What did I do that left a positive impact?  In what ways did I do what I came here to do?

How have you changed in the past five years as a result of the accident?

No one ever comes back from a brain injury the same, and my focus has been on being a conscious creator in my own neuroplasticity, as much as possible, using neuroscience techniques. 

In brain injury your thinking is different, including your perspectives and perceptions about yourself and the world. The first time my brain developed I was a product of my environment and my nature, but none of that was conscious. This time, I focus more on what I want to bring into my life. I stay positive, look for the good, take quiet time, and align my thinking with my spirit and values

Being diagnosed with PCS — post concussion syndrome and being in “timeout” for over 18 months put things into perspective. I now take simple pleasures and try not to take anything for granted. tried over 30 healing modalities to get better, and I learned a great deal about the brain and the way our brains work with our bodies. I also had “adrenal abnormalities” which turned my fight or flight system on without provocation and sometimes without warning; I’d always taught there was a reason we’d feel adrenaline, but for an injured brain it might just be a Tuesday. 

Your TEDx Talk was about facing the inner bully. How did that aspect of yourself develop?

As a culture we are taught beating ourselves up is the way to get better. After the accident I felt useless. I was no longer able to teach, coach, support, help, give back, or make a difference and this is what I placed my value as a person upon: my ability to do for others. With that gone, I had to go inside and redefine myself. 

Whenever I’d face a challenge I could hear this new voice inside of me telling me a version of “it’s not going to work”; I’d never consciously heard this voice before, even if it had been living in my unconscious for years. I was beating my own self UP! The changes in my brain and its neural connections allowed some old unconscious patterns of limiting beliefs and negative program to surface so I could do something with them.

Why is it so tricky and how can we show it the door?

The inner bully can be non-verbal, more so than an inner critic. It can be a somatosensory experience; we feel it in our body without having the words for it. Our fight or flight (or freeze) response might be triggered without any external reason. We may suddenly feel a panic without knowing why, or in my case, feel frozen and unable to make decisions. The inner bully might be triggered and I’m creating my own adrenal response against myself!

The antidote to adrenaline is breath. In the TEDx Talk I share three simple ideas: breathe, observe, break. 

What is the message you would like to share with the work you do?

You got this — whatever it is in your heart you want to go after, achieve, or do there’s a reason those desires are yours. You don’t have my specific dreams, and I don’t have yours. 

The power of love is the greatest power in the universe, and when we can turn it on ourselves we can heal, help, and go higher than we expect. 

What’s your next passionate pursuit?

I have several! I am excited to see where the inner bully work goes! The book will be done shortly so people can see some of the scientific research that went into its creation. 

I’m also helping to take some of the technology helping me heal to brain clinics nationwide — a patented neuro laser device and a bioenergy mat which improves blood flow and microcirculation.  I’m also continuing to teach self-defense and have partnered with an app called EBodyGuard as a self-defense expert in adrenal technology. 

Photo Credit: Wendy Jade Photography 

Mother Teresa with a Blackbelt: An Interview with a Thriver Whose Own Trauma Helps Others Heal

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2019). Mother Teresa with a Blackbelt: An Interview with a Thriver Whose Own Trauma Helps Others Heal. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Aug 2019 (Originally: 5 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Aug 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.