Hello, all! Thank you so much for coming over to this blog to join in on a deeper conversation. There’s a lot that I want to say about topics, but I honestly still don’t have the voice to talk for so long, and I really want the podcast to be as uplifting as possible! Here, in the blog, is where I will share more “darker” stories, and a more in-depth reflection of the week’s episode. If you’ve been following my blog SSEWAN, this would be a lot more like my Wednesday in the Word series, but with more story content.
If you haven’t listened to the podcast or read the podcast episode, please feel free to grab a listen on Spotify, or just read my previous blog post 🙂 This week was kind of a dedication to parents, and I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day despite global circumstances.
One of the deeper topics I wanted to touch on was our upbringing from our parents. And like I’ve said as a disclaimer time and time again, I can only speak on my own experience and from the stories my friends have told me, so this may not apply to everyone. But I’d love to hear your stories, whether you can relate or not and open up conversations about moving forward and learning to cast out shame.
As you may know, I am not a parent, but I do have two adorable little cats that are basically like kids. They’re both so sassy and full of personality, and I can literally tell them apart by their paw-steps and calls. I love them to death, and they’re pretty much like my children. But one day, as I was about to leave my house, I stopped dead in my tracks. I realized would always tell Hakzai, “Be good, you’re the older brother, so make sure you be a good example to your little brother.” It’s a simple sentence, one I learned from years of hearing it from my dad before he left for work. But thinking back, this one sentence taught me to feel ashamed.
I felt ashamed any time I wasn’t a good example. I spent years building up a “good example”, and I tried hiding all of my faults. It damaged me in ways that I don’t think I can even fully grasp how deep this goes.
It made me think of sitting in the front of the classroom, eyes and ears glued to the teacher, trying to be the best student I could be. I could understand maybe 50% of what was going on, since my mother wasn’t able to really teach me English. I knew my dad would stop by the school and peek in before he went into work, just to make sure that I was being a good student. Years later, even as I became fluent in English, I found myself having the fear of not being seen as a “good enough” student. I won “Teacher’s Pet” as a gag award for multiple years, but it just never felt like enough. The one trait I had that left teachers scratching their heads was that while I could speak in a normal volume with friends on the playground, my voice disappeared in the classroom. To be honest, I was afraid that I had the wrong answer, even when I was confident I had the right answer. I was also afraid of sounding like I had an accent in front of the whole class. They would have been the most embarrassing, shameful thing.
It made me think back to the first time my mother told me I was too fat, and should just eat an apple for the whole day. How it made me feel ashamed for not being pretty. It didn’t help that my mom constantly told me about her twenty four inch waist when she was my age, and my younger sister has always been able to maintain a slim figure easily. I wasn’t being a good example to my sister on how to be a beautiful woman. I would not eat during dinner, telling my family I was full. My mom would be glad that I was trying to diet and control my weight, but then I would secretly hide away snacks I bought from our nearby 7-Eleven and binge in my room. The guilt would creep in, and I would feel so ashamed of not being able to control myself, and I would end up hiding wrappers all over my room. And whenever my mom found wrappers, she would shame me for being fat and ugly. I didn’t realize how bad of a body image I had of myself – I was going through puberty! I wasn’t meant to stay stick skinny at that time. After years of severe cutting back on food and then binge eating, my metabolism is horrible. I’m still working on having a healthy body image and relationship with food – my brain doesn’t really remember hunger most of the time until I am feeling so weak that I’m about to collapse. And there are still seasons in my life where I would want to calorie count everything and try to make sure I’m not “being too fat”.
It made me think of the first time I dated and my parents met him. They didn’t like him very much; I defended him in the moment, but I knew I couldn’t stay with him. I felt ashamed that I had chosen someone who “wasn’t good enough”. I was ashamed that I wasn’t going to marry the first person I dated. Ashamed that I didn’t set a good example of how to date. When I broke up with him, I felt so relieved and proud – I told my parents that we had broken up, and their approval made me so happy. I felt like I was redeemed – that I was showing my sister how to dump “the wrong man” in our lives.
The list can go on, and on. But I was battling so many demons – if my sister did better than me, I felt like a failure for not better as an example. If my sister did horribly, I felt like a failure for not leading her by example. I lived my life as a “goody-2-shoes”, and my sister did not. I stayed in during college, and when I met Jesus, I went to chapels and church and prayer meetings. She was in a sorority and went to raves. I was never really sure how to feel about all of this – she always hid it from my parents, so my parents never knew she had this lifestyle. In their eyes, both of us were very “good-2-shoes”. Had I succeeded in showing her how to not make our parents ashamed? Or had I failed in being an example of how to be actually “good”? My sister answered this question for me one day – she said I never did my job as an older sister. She said older sisters were supposed to break parents in; I was supposed to rebel and get tattoos and drunk and party and get knocked up at 16 so that they wouldn’t freak out when she started having a “normal social life”.
Is that truly what my role as an older sister is supposed to be?
It wasn’t that my dad ever looked down on me for not being a “good example”. I love my dad very much, and yesterday was actually the anniversary of his death. I’m not trying to speak ill of the dead, especially not someone who has always been so loving and dedicated to his family. However, a lot of Asian-X people that I’ve talked with seem to have trauma from their parents’ parenting style, and I wanted to share with you guys that I see it in my life, too. I mean, the Chinese have an actual superstition of telling babies they’re ugly to encourage them to grow up cute/pretty/handsome! I can’t imagine a superstition that summarizes better the Asian ideal that shaming someone is equivalent to encouraging them to improve. I think it’s a good thing that we recognize these patterns, and how they have negatively affected us, but this cannot be our excuse for passing it on, or allowing us to remain in a cycle of shaming ourselves and living in fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. We weren’t created to live in fear, but that we can love and control ourselves. Recognizing where our negative feelings, and for some of us, trauma, comes from is a great first step for learning how to control ourselves from passing it on. However, we need to also love our parents or parental figures, our culture, and forgive, in order to love ourselves.
Ultimately, most parents learn how to parent through their own parents. Some learn through example, and some learn through the lack thereof. We cannot know fully what it is like to be our parents, but I know from my own family stories, that it wasn’t easy for either of my parents. I’m sure that for a lot of people reading my little segment on my mother, she seems very abusive and controlling. In today’s standards, yes, and I am still very traumatized by it. I grew up reading and watching movies about Caucasians mother who would encourage their daughters with some variation of, “Honey, you’re beautiful just the way you are,” and I would cry, because I wish I had heard that even once. But my mother lived a very sheltered life, believing that women had to be extremely skinny and delicate to be beautiful, and only beautiful women could snag a husband, aka a good life. My mother spent her time as a secretary and seamstress when she did work, which are very stereotypical female jobs. She cared so much about her weight and looks, and Now, with a “modern day update” to her beliefs, she still kind of holds on to the belief that unless a woman can become a super successful doctor or lawyer, what’s the point of school? Find a good man and be a housewife and pop out babies. She’s not very supportive in my endeavors, but it’s up to me to forgive. It’s up to me to learn to love myself. It’s up to me not let it bother me through understanding her context. It’s up to me to not pass this on to the next generations. She wants me to be beautiful in society’s standards, because that’s what she was told gives a woman success, and all that she does is out of love.
I think to be fair to my dad, my reaction to his statement to be a good example is a culmination of family dynamics that led me to feel so pressured to be a “good example”. My family is very traditional, as I mentioned before, so it makes sense that the elder children would lead the younger. My dad was very much on his own when his family moved to the States, and had to take care of his little brother. My mother is also the first of three children, and always felt like she gave up a lot of things to take care of her brother and sister. Because of this, both of my parents have been pretty hard on me to be a good older sister, so my dad telling me on a daily basis to be a good example to my little sister is exponentially magnified. Before coming to Christ, I was very burdened with having to do this on my own, how can I be a good example? But after coming to Christ, I began to learn to follow Christ’s example. In this world, there is a lot of societal input on what is good or bad, but in following Christ, we know that the true standard for what is good comes from God. Psalm 119 5:-6 says, “Oh that my ways may be established to keep your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon your commandments.” Different people can have different standards, and we can literally kill ourselves in trying to conform to the desires and affirmation of everyone around us. Only God’s commandments remain unchanging, and He is the most just judge. It’s still really hard a lot of times, especially since my mother is very against my work, my faith, and pretty much everything I’m choosing. I’m still in the learning process of loving my mother despite her disapproval and how to forgive her, and love myself.
What are some ways that you recognize shame that you’ve learned from your parents/parental figures? And how are some ways that you are learning to overcome these feelings of shame? Where are you in terms of forgiveness and learning to love yourself? Let’s take baby steps together! Please feel free to begin a conversation here through the comments.