Tanya Heasley

Transforming anger into positive action

Tanya Heasley tells us how she’s using her negative experiences from childhood to transform the lives of young people, and why she believes her disability is her super-power.

How do you identify as disabled, and what does it means to you?

I have Asperger’s Syndrome, or high functioning autism. I don’t perceive it as a disability: rather it’s a gift, and my super-power for helping other people fulfil their potential.

Tell us a little about your business.

I have three businesses, but I’m most passionate about Tristone Coaching, which I set up in November 2014.

Tristone Coaching is a social enterprise which aims to improve the lives of young people affected by adult anger, to enhance teacher wellbeing, to cultivate positive parents and help young people to thrive. Our aim is not only to restore the lives of anyone who has been affected by anger – whether it’s their own, witnessed in others, or experienced by traumatic events – but also to strengthen young people’s emotional wellbeing, build their resilience, improve their self-esteem, and teach them how to use their anger healthily. We also aim to build thriving communities such as schools, families, and businesses, so that the younger generation will have a flourishing future.

Our goal is to implement an evidence-based anger management programme (CHAMP) that will ameliorate and alleviate anger in all young people nationwide. To achieve this, we want to roll out efficiently trained Positive Anger Coaches to deliver the CHAMP initiative within their communities. In addition to this, we aim to provide every young person with their own anger advocate who will help them to voice their thoughts and feelings assertively and express themselves positively. In doing this, the positive behavioural and emotional changes in individuals will improve, develop and build stronger relationships. This is the foundation for achieving potential and prosperity, as well as creating flourishing and thriving communities.

Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.

As a child, I was exposed to domestic and emotional violence. I witnessed my mum and stepdad verbally or physically attack each other every single day until I left home. There was always shouting, doors slamming or things breaking, and I constantly felt on edge, scared of what might happen, and angry all the time.

On top of this, I had frequent meltdowns as a child due to my autism. Meltdowns are a response to an overwhelming situation, in my case probably as a result of living in a hostile environment. My meltdowns took the form of crying and screaming, which then angered adults around me, causing them to express their anger aggressively too.

Witnessing the domestic abuse on a daily basis affected my personality, my social life, and my schooling, like the time when I was pulled out of my maths GCSE exam because there was “trouble” at home, and I needed to get there. But I didn’t want to go home: school was my sanctuary, where I felt safe. At home, I felt trapped, in an unpleasant and dangerous environment. I didn’t have a choice and I couldn’t voice how I was feeling to others. I remember thinking that no one could help me, so instead I learnt to suppress my emotions, which subsequently developed into clinical depression.

Because of my experiences, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to work with young people affected by and afraid of adult anger. I studied psychology, then trained as a counsellor and specialised in anger management coaching, and set up Tristone Coaching to promote positive parenting, develop teacher wellbeing, and provide young people with an anger advocate who can either provide a voice for them or support them in expressing their thoughts and feelings positively.

What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?

The main challenge I’m facing for scaling up my business is the lack of a team. I’m doing all the different elements of running the business on my own, which I feel takes me away from implementing the core of the mission – to raise anger awareness, educate teachers, and train anger advocates.

What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses: what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?

I think the main barrier for all potential entrepreneurs is themselves: both their lack of self-confidence and their lack of business development. It can be overwhelming just thinking about starting a business, so, many people think they can’t do it and don’t try.

Helping disabled entrepreneurs to think of themselves as abled, gifted, and talented is a great start to encouraging them to start their own business. We could also offer business start-up courses to equip them with knowledge about how to turn their passion or talent into a business. Offering ourselves as mentors is also a great way to encourage and provide support for people who want to start their own business.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?

I believe my greatest achievement is being mum to my four children and witnessing how loving and caring they all are towards other people.

My proudest moments were being recognised as an influential businesswoman and being placed on the #ialso100 list, as well as being made a fellow of the Royal Society of the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, for my outstanding achievements in social progress and development.

If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?

I think the word disability throws up negative perceptions of an individual’s actual abilities. I remember the days when people with a disability were called handicapped: this term was changed, so why can’t we change it again? However, I do appreciate that some people like to be recognised as having a disability and some have obvious signs of impairment. Having said that, many people have overcome their limitations and achieved great things. Perhaps if we begin to highlight our strengths and normalise our abilities, people will see us as gifted and talented, rather than just disabled.

Who or what inspires you?

Anna Kennedy, OBE.

Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?

The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambirge.