If I could sum it up last week in two words it would be shame and guilt. It all started off at the beginning of the week with me feeling like I was being brushed off by Mike. I felt as though it has been a chore for him to make time for me lately. However, I felt guilty for asking for his time because I consciously knew that he’s been very busy dealing with our finances and getting life sorted out with our vehicles and such. There are a lot of things on his mind, especially now that he’s also processing his own self-discovery journey as well. I also knew that he hasn’t been sleeping well and has been spending all of his waking hours working and thinking of ways to make extra income. There’s actually nothing wrong with our relationship for me to even question it. But I just had a backlog of things that I really wanted to talk to him about too. I was conflicted between having empathy for him versus having empathy for myself – I felt vulnerable and needy, which I despised in myself, and that amounted to humiliation every time he declined my invites.
I knew I was being unreasonable and my feelings about this were completely unjust and out of context with the situation. I kept it civil, but deep down inside, I was hurting, and I most definitely I didn’t keep it as civil in my mind – it got nasty in there real fast. And it’s not like Mike has never declined my ‘biddings’ before. In fact, he does it all the time *smirk*, this time I was extra vulnerable because having shared through so many experiences lately and having him learn so much about me, alongside with me, I kind of expected him to just “know” and be available.
I have to admit, at one point, I was laying on the ground paralyzed, and although I kept telling myself to get up, my body would have none of it. It’s not one of my best moments, but at least I’m honest about it. Tears just kept streaming down my face. I was ruminating over the entire situation, and my inner-self talk was a toxic mix of guilt, humiliation, and shame with a combination of criticism towards my self-worth. Since I didn’t have a good reason to be mad at Mike, I criticized him instead, I noticed that my inner talk of frustration wasn’t worded in a “why did you?” which is guilting his actions. It was a “why couldn’t you” or “you should have,” which is pointing out his shortcomings. Because realistically, there’s nothing to be mad about when you’re being neglected. Being neglected or last on someone’s list is a feeling of rejection and worthlessness; our reaction to the emotion comes off as anger because we are trying to mask and save our vulnerable ego.
Noticing this, I caught my inner-talk telling me that I was rejected again and that brought on a tremendous amount of shame, and that’s when I literally stopped. That powerful word had heavily anchored itself within the pit of my stomach and made itself known, loud and clear, that it was there, churning away at my flesh making me feel disgusting, and there’s no ignoring it. The feeling felt so familiar, and just like that, I was brought back to reliving my childhood again. It happened instantaneously and the intense feelings and memories incapacitated me.
See, the shame that rejection brings on is one of the most painful emotions for me, and it’s deeply rooted in my psyche as conditioning. Let me explain, rejection is what I felt when I was little, and I had asked for my mother’s time but felt like she was always too busy with my brothers for me. Rejection was what I felt like when my parents kicked me out of the house multiple times when I was little because I was inadequate or not good enough in their eyes. It’s also what I felt when they wouldn’t accept me and the decisions I made for my life – which includes rejecting my kids, their grandkids for years. It’s what I felt when I was compared to my cousins and told that I wasn’t good enough when I excelled and tried hard in school. It was the feeling during all those times I had to be the adult to my mother and apologized because I made her feel guilty when I told her I felt unloved by her. Rejection and acceptance is my childhood theme and was the emotions that fueled my loneliness and misunderstandings when I was a kid.
I now realize that rejection is hard for me when it comes from those whom I’ve trusted my entirety to. I feel betrayed, abandoned, and shame. Within these circumstances, I always crave the feeling of being loved and accepted by those whom I hold close to as though it’s a “check-in” to see if I’m still validated. I know the logic in this may seem ridiculous, but at least I’m now aware of how I operate. This type of shame and rejection cuts deep and is painful. Whenever I feel it, I resort back to behaving and responding to the current situation as a very hurt inner child.
Logically, I knew the current situation I was in with Mike didn’t justify my feelings. What had happened was the situation initiated the conditioning that I already had preprogrammed in my psyche by my parents. I just happened to be extra vulnerable with Mike these days so I was extra sensitive to these triggers.
I’m strong enough to accept rejection coming from strangers and those whom I don’t have any investments in – I’m not a cocky bastard to think everyone should love me. However, I can’t deal with the shame that is unjustified because, to me, I feel as though I deserve their acceptance and love. I also feel exposed because I let my guard down and worked so hard so that I could be understood by them, only to have them reject me. This equates to feelings of inadequacy because maybe they didn’t like what they saw.
This week, I witnessed how my past conditioned behaviors had affected my relationship with Mike. Not only that, I saw how this affects my interaction with others. Acceptance, guilt, and shame are the most dominant filters that I use to screen through personal information I receive on a daily basis. When I process information through these filters it directly causes self-doubt and inner conflicts leading me incapable of making rational decisions.
For example, I used these same filters the other day when trying to make arrangements with my son’s friend’s mom. I felt as though she was inconsiderate with the plans she proposed, and I was conflicted with how to respond considerately while still keeping with what I wanted out of the situation. This lead to me thinking maybe she was testing me because, in the past, she had offered the same gestures and I willingly accepted – now it’s just reversed. Immediately when I thought of this it made me feel guilty and ashamed because I’m not repaying her good deed. Is she going to judge me?
When I noticed that I had the thought of “she’s testing me,” I snapped myself out of it because these feelings were illogical. Why would she test me? Our kids are friends, but we’re not friends ourselves. I realized that the “testing” feeling I had was mental conditioning I developed from my parents, and it followed suit with guilt and shame. Because as a child, every time something nice was done for me it always came with stipulations and conditions that had to be returned in favor. Nothing was ever given for free and ever given without expectations, including my existence. If I don’t comply my parents would push me away, hence I consistently feel tested.
If I maintained my “good standings,” I was rewarded with love – it could be through praise and/or their time, and quality time to me is a form of showing me love. However, it can be ripped away from me just as quickly if I did anything they disliked. Therefore, as a child, I knew that when they showed me, love, it was temporary, or it was because they wanted something in return. I just accepted it when I could because I needed it to feel whole, even if it was temporary. How scarring is this?
I also noticed that as I was stewing in my own filth of rejection and shame, I had triggered Mike’s inner child as well, through criticism. While my family used a lot of corporal punishment, Mike’s parents utilized a lot of criticism as their disciplining tactic and it caused toxic shame within his psyche. It taught him to feel as though he was never did anything right or was incompetent. This was further an issue when they would criticize but never offered guidance and solutions to help him out of the situation that he was in. He would always walk away with the mentality of “I’ll show you,” and he struggled through life with what he knew or figuring things out on his own only through his perspective.
When I gave this insight a deeper objective look, I found that in my family, both maternal and paternal, we all fight for approval and love. This includes my extended family as well. We all have issues with rejection. We value being loved and accepted over everything, and we will do what it takes to have others accept and validate us. It is the sole drive of why we want success as, to us, it means we would have obtained the attention of others and they will respect us and approve of our existence. Because of this, I was forced to acknowledge how other’s would perceive my actions before thinking of how my actions would benefit me. In fact, whenever I was punished, I was told to “rewind my daily life as a film” so I can see my actions from other people’s points of view and to consider if any of my actions were deemed unacceptable for I might have caused others to judge me. In hindsight, thanks to them, I developed the basic skill of empathy – even though it was utilized wrong.
In Mike’s family, their values are “do whatever it takes [to climb to the top].” Although no one really knows what the top is, how to get there, and what it entails, the mentality behind this is “so that we don’t get humiliated and have others laugh at us.” When his parents criticized him, they never offered any guidance, they only point out his shortcomings and encourage him to “work harder, climb higher, don’t settle being lower class.” They have raised both him and his brother like this, and in fact, they have lectured our boys, as well as myself, with the same advice on many occasions. Mike has mentioned the other day that his mom has this mentality from his grandma, this was how they were encouraged to succeed. Their idea of success for their kids and grandkids is for them to have a job in an office, it could be any job as long as it’s in an office. Preferably with air conditioning, (no jokes).
When Mike surpassed his career goals, which is significantly bigger than what his parents had imagined, his parents couldn’t share in his achievements because of one small factor – he’s able to work his full-time job at home, especially during the pandemic. Despite the fact that he tries so hard to get them to understand and be proud of him, his parents can’t deliver that satisfying praise, because they don’t understand the landscape of how real-life corporate job works when it comes to the modern-day job force. They are still telling him to work harder and climb higher on that corporate ladder to get an office within an office. Although he’s currently the Director of IT within our health care system, he still feels shame when his parents compare him to his cousins, because he knows that his parents are not accurately sharing his success with others so that they can relish the accomplishments they’ve always wanted to see in him.
To understand why our families’ have these types of values, you’d have to understand the Asian culture which I briefly discussed in this article, The Results Of Overly Critical Asian Parents. But the nutshell is, it’s in our collective culture to believe that our behavior is to bring honor to ourselves and the family. If we bring shame to ourselves, we shame the rest of those who are interconnected with us. Truth is, Asian culture is shame-based and uses shame in hopes for their child to understand what’s right and wrong and learn to act accordingly. I also can see that our family’s generational trauma is tremendously associated with values and follows each generation along without any contemplation of whether or not the trauma is even realistic for the modern-day.
To put all of our past conditioning into play, last week as my negative self-talk was spiraling out of control due to rejection and the need to feel love, Mike’s negative self-talk sounded like “I’m trying so hard to keep everything together. I’m trying hard not to lose it myself. I know what she needs, I just overlooked it, why can’t I get these things right and align everything to make life run smoother and everyone happier?!”
When both of our inner children were triggered at the same time, we couldn’t resolve anything, actually, talking about it made it worse. We were fighting for different values and our own rights that we were not able to put labels on so that the other person could understand. We were only talking about what we were feeling, which came off as blaming one another.
Recognizing our family values and how we were raised and disciplined has been such a huge eye-opener this week. It translates to how we struggle silently and how it can affect our daily lives with the way we communicate with each other. I used to think of family values as being more traditional and defined, like having the same mindset when it comes to raising children, education, work ethics, religion, etc. These values are supposed to stand up against injustice from outside the household, but in our Asian family due to our culture, we allow the injustice outside of our household to shape our family values. This can show up in many ways and runs deeper than what’s on the surface. It can be completely illogical, and most definitely can be toxic when it’s not defined. On a small scale for example, in my house, I understand the word “competent” to be knowledgeable in academics and emotions as it matches my family’s values. Mike’s family’s definition of competent is towards everything life in general as he’s expected to do what it takes on his own and climb to the top. This is huge when it comes to daily life as it affects how Mike would perceive what I would consider normal or general comments as criticism.
I have also discovered that many of our inner conflicts and self-suffering reside in the space where we are conflicted by our conditioned mind and our innate self. To end the internal war, we really need to heal our inner child and replace the conditioned mind with new proven, logical, and real information that is beneficial to us.
For me to simply tell you to disregard the conditioned mind and live happily is a complete lie. Although we may logically know that this conditioned belief may not benefit us, it’s hard for us to overcome ourselves because it’s now ingrained within our bones, and it’s what we’ve been resorting to so that we can keep ourselves alive. What’s worse is most of the time our responses to conflicts are autonomous. It’s all we know. It is a certainty now. Giving up this side of ourselves is scary. However, we suffer daily when we hang on to these conditioned beliefs. If you think back on your day, you’ll see many micro-conflicts and sometimes they pile up and can be overwhelming. It’s a slow death by a thousand paper cuts, friend.
It’s also common in relationships to think that these types of misunderstandings have to do with the individual themself, and yes on some level it is. But the mercy and grace should come from the fact that it’s because we don’t understand the nature of why these values are important, or even recognize the conditioning, we just do as we were programmed to do. And when these past conditionings are triggered, it’s human nature to pass the blame of how we feel to others, rather than acknowledge that these triggers are opportunities for us to figure ourselves out and the reason why we feel what we feel.
It’s also quicker to react to someone when we’re hurt than to take the time and consider our pain to accurately respond to them. However, reacting is based on a selfish attitude. Plus, responding takes more effort, empathy, and understanding – which is hard when emotions are running high. It’s also easier to blame someone for our feelings than to deal with the awkwardness of confronting our shadow self, as it’s tough for some people to admit their shortcomings due to pride and ego.
If you’re wondering how Mike and I mended things this week and what the secret sauce was for us to overcome this, here it is: when I was aware of the entire gamut of our situation I dropped my pride, saw the humanity in him, and recognize that he is in just as much pain me, if not more. I needed to put my own feelings aside and gave him all the empathy I had without expecting him to immediately recognize my humanity in return. To demand the same treatment back immediately is cruel and selfish. Mike and I built our relationship on trust and love, and that has been the foundation since day one. So, even though it took a while for Mike to overcome his anger and frustration to realize that I was no longer blaming him and was being completely vulnerable and understanding did we finally start our mending process. I trusted that he would see my humanity after I offered him kindness and most of the time, that’s all it takes.
We’ve spent the rest of the week no longer dwelling on our wants and needs, but dissecting our families to really understand how our family values can manifest themselves generational trauma. Without us being aware, it’ll silently show up during innocent conversations, but most importantly it’ll creep into how we discipline our boys, and that means we’ve passed on the trauma instead of ending it. Plus, understanding each other’s backstory gives us the understanding for our behaviors which allows us to be more open-minded to talk about our differences and adjust ourselves accordingly.
For myself, I personally feel freed from the extra “acceptance/love/rejection” baggage I’ve been carrying around which has manifested itself in different ways. Now that I understand the root of my conditioning, I can reframe my mindset with logical reasonings to prevent myself from feeling negative when I’m triggered. In essence, I’m reconditioning my response to rejection rather than reacting or ignoring it.
My last thought – ignoring the triggers, pains, and suffering that you go through will only make life harder and it will manifest itself in other ways. You can’t erase your memories from your mind and you can’t fully forget the trauma that you’ve been through. You can’t control what’s going to trigger you next to stop reliving these memories, but you can learn to love yourself and recondition your mind to stop being reactive. Ask yourself “why do I feel this way” and don’t be scared, whether it’s logical or illogical, because this is where your truth resides.
We can’t end our sorrows by remaining the same because realistically if we focus only on the hurt we’ll continue to suffer. As Ernest Hemingway beautifully wrote, “we are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” Bravely look past the hurt and see the hidden lessons to grow, friend.