I have unsettling thoughts today. I thought I would write them down to calm myself.
This morning I had an argument with my mother. Arguments with my mother have a familiar theme and have not changed since I was a kid. And the theme was… worth – my worth and hers.
‘You have not done anything for me,’ she would say, ‘I have worked so hard to keep this family together! No thank you’s. Only arguments like this.’
She has been saying this since I knew how to form an argument and talked back at her.
I knew in my heart that she did not really mean that I was useless, but it was the way – the Asian parent’s way – of showing who is in charge.
‘If I am as bad as you say I am, then I will kill myself,’ I told her, ‘I have been wanting to not exist in this world for a long time now.’
When I said that, my mother went silent.
Though there is truth to it, I didn’t say it to guilt-trip her. I said it to be the voice she could not have as a young adult.
My mother doesn’t talk a lot about her mother. But judging from what she says about her when she is angry, my grandmother must have been very nasty to my mother.
‘If you did this to your grandmother, you would not hear the end of it! She would insult you for hours!’ she would when she got mad at me for answering back.
Though I remember my grandmother as a kind old lady a few years before she passed away, I knew that she had caused a lot of pain to my mother when she was still young and healthy.
I blame neither my mother or my grandmother for the problems I have now with my family. But I do feel sad.
I feel sad because in a way, my mother is permanently scarred. The sign of this is in the way she responds to people. She is ever suspicious of their intentions and prefer to see the bad than good. She tortures herself by trying to do everything her mother taught her a good wife should do.
There is no solution to this except… probably an apology from her mother.
We respond to people in the way we are most used to, or in a way that has helped us. If we are used to being looked down upon, we would naturally respond defensively even when there is no need to.
People who grew up hearing that caucasians are superior commonly develop a preference or bias towards caucasians, regardless of who the caucasians are as people.
People who grew up in a gift giving family naturally feel uneasy when they cannot show love through giving gifts (this is true of myself. I grew up tying my worth to the joy I saw in people when they received gifts from me. I learned this from my mother. I later realised that I became so consumed with gift giving that I felt half as worthy whenever I showed up empty handed.)
A person’s way of thinking, then, comes down to a pattern that is recognisable in the way she acts to circumstances. As much as we think our intent and insecurities are hidden, they are often in full display to the people around us. They only have to take a closer look.
Two weeks ago an acquaintance of mine got his first dog. It would have been an ordinary thing if not for the fact that he had always been against keeping and caring for dogs. Why feed dogs when you can feed humans? he would always tell us.
‘Lu Wee, when people tell you that they really don’t like something, it may mean something else,’ I remember my sister telling me.
I somewhat agree. Many US politicians who have been the loudest advocates against same sex marriage have later been found to have engaged in homosexual activities.
Psychologist call this kind of behaviour – an exaggerated outer display of tendency towards something to hide a real tendency for something else – reaction formation.
Whenever I meet people who strongly oppose something, especially without provocation, I can’t help but wonder… ‘is this reaction formation?’
Reaction formation appears to have come from believing that something is wrong with your own tendencies, feeling like you have no control over them and not wanting people to find out about them.
Behaviours as a result of reaction formation appear toxic to me particularly because of the impact it has on the individual exhibiting the behaviour. The truth is that you can only pretend to be somebody else for so long and every day that you cannot be yourself will feel like being in a dungeon.
A person trapped inside a dungeon cannot do much for the world around her. She constantly thinks of her fate and thinks fearful thoughts all day long.
Too, the person doing the pretending is also a toxic person to the people around her. She is quick to point out flaws and let her friends know – politely – how they can improve themselves. Though not intentionally, she wants them to feel what she feels, to feel like they are always missing the mark. She has a disapproving look ready when you make life choices that she should not agree with.
Overall, the person who has the least acceptance of self is the person who deduces rather than adds to the world. No one can give from a place of lack.
Some people buy things to escape. Some people travel to escape. Some people write. Either of these activities are fruitful, but not a cure-all. Some emotional pains need to be confronted, not escaped from.
If it is a parent who has made you feel unworthy, buying expensive things will make you feel worthy… but only for a short while. When the novelty of the new things runs out, you are left with your feelings again. To get the same feeling of worthiness, you have to repurchase and repurchase…
If there are people who disappoint you in your town, leaving that town will make you feel like you’ve changed… but only for a while too. When you settle in a new place, the same relationship patterns develop and you find yourself in the same position again.
Escape is like panadol, making things feel less painful without doing anything about the problem. When the euphoria wears off, you have to re-apply.
It is easier to love someone who lovers herself. It is always more painful to love someone who puts herself last or is suspicious of her own value in this world. However, it is always worth it to love, whether painful or easy.
The one thing I want to continue doing is to master the art of accepting people as they are.
1. To not use words that make them feel stupid.
2. To not interject within their sentences terms to describe what they are saying.
3. To not be surprised when they decide to make improvements in their lives (this would give them more encouragement to do it).
4. To not demand of them what I demand of myself.
5. To encourage them in their goals and ambitions, even when I don’t understand them.
6. To let go of pain between us, even if it means to sacrifice the ego.
7. To listen attentively to them when they are talking so they know their stories are valued.
8. To know when to be silent and when to speak.
9. To always apologise for having hurt someone’s feelings, without justifying my own behaviors.
And so much more…
I don’t know how I can keep up with these every day, but I will try.
I am everything
I wrote here. And I hope that if you have been, that you know that it is okay. Even if your pains can never be resolved, that at least I too am in the same pain together with you.