In the spring/summer month of 2015, I found myself sitting on the opposite end of the couch, away from Mike, in our therapist’s office. What had transpired weeks prior was one of the biggest blowout fights we’d have. That lead to me leaving a hole, the size of my fist, in our living room wall. In the months leading up to this hole-in-the-wall moment, we were both dealing with work-related stress, having conflicting views on how to raise our boys, and were no longer connecting as a couple. I remember telling him that I felt like we were two friends, roommates even, living together and sharing chores to make life more efficient.
That night was most likely something of the same debate that we used to have. I was tired from spending the day with our two young boys, balancing a full-time job, and trying to getting dinner on the table. I was looking for adult company as my escape. In contrast, he had spent the entire day at work talking to adults and was looking for some quiet time to relax yet, process and strategize his projects, which is his escape. Our arguments quickly became toxic back then because we never really understood one another to compromise. We were fighting for our wants and needs to be heard without stepping into each other’s reality. There was absolutely no empathy from either of us. Ok, I’m giving Mike too much benefit now. There was
no less, significantly less, empathy from him, leading me to be resentful.
It was late at night when the yelling escalated to Mike, saying a few times, “this isn’t working out for me anymore. I’m leaving.” Which resulted in me becoming extremely offended. I don’t know what came over me. Actually, I do. It was rejection, anger and frustration. I couldn’t handle that amount of anger and pain. The next thing I knew, my fist and wrist went straight through the wall—something that I had never done before.
Mike ended up moving out that night, and we remain separated for a few months. However, he is a fighter in our relationship because a few days after, he texted and suggested for us to meet with a couple’s counsellor. This was a big step for kids raised with Asian cultural roots because we don’t typically believe in to even think about counselling. It’s also borderline an unspoken taboo. Asian parents barely believe that kids have emotions let alone see a therapist about it. Fortunately, we both wanted ‘us’ to work, and together we took that step into unfamiliar grounds of therapy. It took us a few tries to find the right therapist to match our personalities, but I’m so glad we found her, Caitlyn.
During these visits, Mike and I worked on our relationship but we also both began our separate journies to self-discovery. We realized that a lot of our past issues were inadvertently being brought into our relationship. The night that Mike said those words to me before leaving, those words were my trigger. Within the split second of hearing him say what he said, I had gone back into my past and dug up all the feelings of “nobody wants me, I’m not good enough.” It felt like rejection again.
It wasn’t until Caitlyn started probing about my childhood to understand better why I felt like nobody wants me did she say those words that changed my perspective on my life forever. She said, “Theresa, that’s abuse.” I said, “wait, what?! No, no, but you have to understand, it’s a cultural thing.” She said, “Oh, I know all about cultural traditions and such. I’m married to a Southeast Asian guy myself, and my mother-in-law is the definition of cultural values and traditions. But to the core of what you’ve experienced as a child, that’s abuse, and you’re going to have to come to terms with that before you can move on.”
My world started spinning. I couldn’t come to terms with it. I would never have thought to have labelled myself as an abused child. I felt so broken. A fraud almost. My entire reality and existence all seemed so surreal. But she was right. I was abused.
It took me nearly a month to accept this new feeling. The feeling like I had been branded. Although it sucked, I needed that wake-up call.
I had spent my entire life up till that moment thinking that it’s a cultural norm. Every Asian family goes through this. It’s not abuse abuse, like those pamphlets you’d see at the doctors’ office or when your teacher may have talked about it in elementary school. I believed that this was different. My immigrant parents were just stressed, and it’s how they were raised, so it’s how I was raised. It’s within our history to raise children like this. They say that they care, so it’s normal. Isn’t it?!
No. It isn’t.
It isn’t normal to be beaten for 2 hours straight with a tree branch over a pair of earrings that you didn’t steal. It isn’t normal having to admit to things that you didn’t do to stop the beatings. It isn’t normal to be laid out and whipped in front of extended family at the age of 13, to be put on display, just to prove a point. It isn’t normal to have your dad commit student loan fraud under your name, leaving you with thousands of dollars in debt and then becoming irate at you when the government came collecting for portions of it. It isn’t normal to have your mom go to your school and frame you for something you didn’t do in front of your classmates. It isn’t normal to be constantly told that you are inadequate and to try harder at something that they wanted and needed to do. It isn’t normal to be with parents that didn’t nurture you but used you as a scapegoat. It isn’t normal for a child to endure corporal punishment from their parents.
None of this is normal. None of this is ok. Wake up already, Theresa. History also enslaved black people. Is that ok? Is child labor ok? Are child marriages ok? Is arranged marriages within a caste system ok? Um, f*ck no. F*ck no to all of that. So why is this ok? Why is bullying, emotional abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, or simply put, the lack of human rights that lives within the walls of our own home, ok? Did you really believe it to be ok, or were you
told deceived to believe that it was ok? Why do we enable it? Why do we allow the excuse of cultural tradition and roots to make it ok?
This was the first time I ever cried for myself. I have cried because of the emotional situations that I was in, but I have never cried for myself. The little girl that I once was was finally being acknowledged. She had never had the chance to be missed, mourned, heal, grow up and bloom until that day – by her 32-year-old self.
I can’t stress over how important it is to recognize and work through our childhood trauma. Within these situations and how we were nurtured as kids, we build habits and behavioural issues. It’s also within these situations where we figure out our “why’s” and find ourselves.
Seeing Caitlyn helped Mike and I both understand the root of our triggers, our behaviours, and what we can do, alone and for each other, to alleviate any manifestations when this happens. But most importantly, it allowed us to have the compassion to understand each other, and to understand ourselves. From this point, we could judge whether our beliefs and thoughts were indeed ours or if we were conditioned to believe it as it came from someone else’s opinions, fears, and experiences.
There were also moments in therapy of realizing even the tiniest things. Like why does our house have to be “Theresa” clean? Ok, let’s touch on that for a second: I use to clean my house profusely, thinking that’s the right way to clean and live. Thanks to therapy and asking myself, “why does it bug me when the house is a bit messy?” I was able to travel back in time and discover that when my mother had me clean the house, she would nag at me if the home wasn’t perfect for her. So the standard continued when I moved out. I felt like if my mother ever saw my house, it needs to be dust-free, sterile, and bright white. It was as though I needed to keep making her happy and impress her even though, at the time, I hadn’t heard from her in years. I eventually recognized how unhealthy and unpractical this was. I also saw that I was passing on this stressor to my husband and kids because I would become grumpy when I’m the only one cleaning or when I felt like they’re not doing it the right way,
Theresa’s mother’s way. I have eased up since then.
My OCD is still there, but it’s manageable, healthier and compromised with those around me. Here’s the big kicker, last year, when I visited mother for the first time in over a decade, I noticed that her bathroom and a few other things weren’t up to “Theresa’s” standard. Crazy huh? I had carried this weight for years, to prove myself to someone who didn’t have the same standard in themselves as what they expected in me. How ri-fucku-lous.
It’s scary how much we operate on auto mode without realizing it. It’s also frightening that we’re often living someone else’s life, wants, needs, and opinions while trying to navigate our own life. Thinking about it makes me cringe almost. We hardly ever stop and ask ourselves why we react to things a certain way or why we feel strongly about certain things.
Mike and I also discovered that we’re two completely different types of people, as in, the extreme opposite scale of the mental spectrum. Imagine a very artistic person, trying to describe brush strokes to a computer, by saying the words “it just feels and looks right.” That was us. He’s a very logical thinker, and I’m an emotional creative thinker. Therefore how we process information is extremely crucial in defining who we are and how to interact with others. We also learnt the different ways we receive love. For example, he needs to hear it, and I need to feel it. But the best part was we gained the tools and strategies to help reframe our thoughts so that when we convey them the other person can understand us. We became better communicators.
On that note, I’m about to get real corny here, fair warning. I believe that there’s a reason the universe wanted me to meet Mike. Because without Mike’s undying thirst to constantly search for logical answers, even to my illogical emotions, I wouldn’t have been challenged to better myself. My usual “it’s ok, I’m fine” that would generally work on my parents, never worked on him. My parents were ok with me being submissive and passive. But Mike wanted to know my truth and my reasons for being triggered or needing what I needed. It was his investment in me that made me invest in myself.
Within a week after therapy, Mike came back home to fix the living room wall. Our relationship, instead of doing a nosedive, flourished more. Unravelling the weight that we both were carrying from our childhood allowed us to show up for each other but, most importantly, our kids now. I can’t speak for Mike, but I wanted to become the best version of myself to be there for my kids. I wanted to be mentally and emotionally healthier so that I can be mindfully present for my boys. I also wanted to set an example for them, but more importantly, I wanted to create a safe and empathetic environment at home that doesn’t lack basic human rights. I also didn’t want to unintentionally commit them to the same fate that I went through. Something as simple as “Theresa’s standards of a clean house” shouldn’t be a burden on them. This also means all the generational traumas, ends with me.
I also learnt that the key in a relationship isn’t communication. It’s to have honesty and respect for yourself and others. Honesty builds the foundation for communication and trust. This in turn builds the foundation for commitment. You can not have a flourishing relationship with anyone if you’re not in a good relationship with yourself and you cannot have good communication in a relationship if honesty isn’t there. Once you start loving and respecting your temperaments, your basic nature, and you’re honest about it, you will find that you are no longer limited to people’s needs and opinions. You are human too.
Speaking of, we humans are funny creatures when it comes to emotions aren’t we? For example, I know for me, I’m quite comfortable living on my own. Honestly. I
enjoy need my independence and solitude, and I find peace in it. I would rather live by myself than be around those that don’t value me. That, to me, would be living in agony, and I’ve already done that. But despite my confidence in being alone, the pain of rejection still hurts like a mothertruckin’ buttcheek on a stick. Ironic, isn’t it?
To summarize, I do therapy and meditation to stay flexible enough to kick my own arse if necessary. If you haven’t yet, you should do the same. It’s painfully benefitting. *wink*
Don’t [accidently] live in the past but look into the past to live a fuller present life, and to be present for life. Have compassion. Everyone is a work in progress, including yourself.
Sending you good vibes my friend.
ri-fucku-lous / adjective /
another absurd or unreasonable reason to strongly hate or dislike something or someone