I wrote yesterday about some of my mental health issues that I want to work on in the new year, but the post devolved into me navel-gazing yet again. To continue with that musing, I’ve been thinking about boundaries. In yesterday’s, post, I talked about how difficult it is for me to set boundaries, and today I want to talk about how that extends to my brain as well. I know that sounds confusing, but just stay with me, and I’ll explain to you what I mean.
In my family, my father was big on saving face and not losing face. How he was seen by other people was of utmost importance, and he had this elaborate and byzantine set of rules as to what was acceptable behavior and what wasn’t. The one example that I use over and over again because it was so bizarre to me at the time is when I told a friend of his that he was playing tennis. I didn’t say with someone else, but that part is pretty implicit in the statement. My father blew his lid when he got home and I gave him the message. He was mad because me telling the one woman that he was playing tennis with someone else was somehow insulting to the woman who had called. My father didn’t bother explaining, but later I figured out that he thought it made him look like a jerk for not inviting the woman to play tennis with him. I didn’t understand it at the time, and decades later, I still don’t think I did anything wrong. However, the overreaction of my father made me chary of giving out any information to anyone lest I provoke the same reaction again.
To this day, I tend to hoard information rather than share it, even if it’s appropriate. My father had effectively drummed into me that you don’t tell–well, anyone anything. My mother reinforced this notion, but for an entirely different reason. If I tell her something, she’ll tell everyone or she’ll take over the idea as if it were her own. She has a way of making me feel incompetent, even when she’s purporting to be supportive. By her taking something over, it says to me that I’m not capable of doing whatever the thing is or that I need to be propped up. I know that’s not her intent, but it’s the practical result. I also know that it’s partly her need to be in control, which I’ve inherited in spades, although it manifests in a different way. In fact, my hoarding of information is one of the ways I try to be in control. If I’m the only one with knowledge, then other people can’t act in ways I can’t control.
Another thing that complicates the problem is that because I’m aware of most of my issues, I am constantly second-guessing my reaction to situations. I know I’m needy and clingy, even if it doesn’t always manifest outwardly, so if I feel slighted in a situation, I automatically think it’s all my fault. Sometimes, it is my neurosis talking, but other times, it’s a valid response. However, I’ve been told all my life that I’m overreacting or that what I feel isn’t really what I feel, so now, I’m hopelessly mixed up as to the proper response to a given situation. It’s similar to how I used to not express my opinion at all, then I went in the opposite direction and expressed my opinion all the time. Now, I’m realizing that it isn’t always important to have the last word, but simultaneously, it is important to not stuff down my feelings and opinions all the time, either. I already feel as if my opinion doesn’t matter, so keeping them to myself reinforces that feeling. It doesn’t help that as an Asian American and being bisexual, my opinion actually doesn’t matter to many people who are caught up in the binaries of black and white, straight and gay.
It’s exhausting to have a constant narrative in my head saying I did that or this wrong. I’ve managed to turn it down to a dull roar, but it’s still ever-present. It makes me reactive rather than active, and it’s rare when I’m being completely authentic. I’m always watching the other person and gauging how I should respond rather than just being in the moment. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be aware of other people’s feelings, obviously, but not if it means I ignore my own. Which I still do almost all the time. I’ve gotten much better at not thinking I’m toxic, but i still have a hard time accepting that I’m worthwhile. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it makes sense in my head. For decades, I was convinced that i had to earn my right to live. I felt as if I was a negative on whole, and every day, I had to chip away at the deficit I had created just by being alive. It sounds crazy when I put it down on paper, but I firmly believed that for the first thirty years of my life. Then, at some point, I stopped believing that, instead believing that I just am. I wasn’t toxic, and I didn’t have a debt to pay, but I couldn’t see any positives I was bringing to the world, either.
That’s pretty much where I am now. I can say that I’ve had a positive effect on some people and on my cats, but it doesn’t really feel like much in the grand scheme of things. It’s difficult because my tendency to react rather than act and to tailor my responses to the person with whom I’m interacting reinforces my feeling that the real me isn’t worth knowing. Plus, when I keep stuffing things down, they inevitably bubble up and spew in one epic rant. Then, I cause irreparable damage that reinforces my belief that I should keep my feelings to myself, and the vicious cycle starts all over again. The truth is, I have to learn a better way to talk about my feelings, and preferably before I reach the spewing point. The problem is, again, I never know if what I’m feeling is valid or not. Decades of being gaslighted and being told that your reaction isn’t valid has taken a toll on me.
My mother is a psychologist, which means she’s able to use psychological terms to justify her own behavior while criticizing mine. I used to think she did it on purpose, but I don’t think that’s the case. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized her flaws are just as deep as any other human being’s, and just because she’s a psychologist, it doesn’t mean she’s aware of her own flaws or capable of changing them. In fact, I think being knowledgeable about psychology can sometimes hinder growth because it’s easy to rationalize your own behavior or only use your knowledge to analyze others. In addition, my mother is a master of gaslighting in that she can make me crazy in no time flat, and then acts all hurt and bewildered when I get mad at her. I know I have a temper, and I’m constantly trying to keep it reined in, but there are times when getting angry is a reasonable response. Unfortunately, anger is verboten in my family,* and if I ever showed my anger, I was (emotionally) punished for it severely.
To this day, I don’t know how to express my anger appropriately. Either I don’t express it at all, or I explode all over the place. It’s the same with the rest of my emotions. I can take the biggest blow stoically, and then I break down over the stupidest thing. I give until I snap, and then I end a relationship without looking back. I’m not proud of any of this, but it’s how I am. I feel as if my emotional meter is way off, and I’m at a lost as to how to recalibrate it. Again, because I am aware of this, I’m always questioning my own reactions. Am I overreacting? Am I underreacting? I don’t know, but one thing I’m sure of, I’m not reacting correctly. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being broken and of being aware of my brokenness, only to be unable to fix it. I’ve been without a therapist for a year and a half, and while I rail against the idea of finding another one, I don’t think I can fix this shit on my own.
Side Note: I’m bitter that I have to deal with this shit. I know that other people have it worse than I do and that I have many things to be grateful for, but at this moment, I don’t care. I’m sitting here at the end of 2015, dreading the new year. I don’t want 2016 to be a repeat of this year, but I don’t know how to change it–or me. Again, that’s why I think I need to find another therapist–one who specializes in codependency, Asian issues, and PTSD. I don’t know if that’s possible here in Minnesota, especially as I need a therapist who is as smart as I am if not more so. This makes me sound like an elitist–which I am, especially in this case. Having a degree in psychology and being really smart means I can run rings around most people intellectually. I don’t do it in my daily life because I think it’s a shitty thing to do, but when it comes to my therapist, I need someone who can see through my shit and won’t allow me to use my psychobabble to my ‘advantage’. I’ve had several therapists that I could wrap around my finger, and that’s not what I need. My last therapist saw through my bullshit and called me on it on a regular basis. I didn’t like it at the time, but it’s exactly what I needed.
I also need to get a grip on my emotions, with or without help. I stew and fume over small slights, letting them build up in my mind until they’re mountains. I think a better way to say this is that I need to learn how to express my emotions in a healthy and productive way. As I’ve said, I tend to stuff them deep down until I can’t keep control on them any longer, and then I let them spew all over the place. Ironically, if I had just expressed them when I first felt them, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Unfortunately, in my head, telling someone I’m feeling fragile and I need a quicker response is the same as telling that person that s/he’s a terrible person who should die a horrible death. In addition, as I mentioned, I’m conscious about my neediness, so I’m constantly questioning if my feelings of being slighted are valid or not.
That’s the constant refrain of this post and in my head–I don’t think my feelings are valid. I can talk about wondering what is valid and what isn’t, but the bottom line is that I still don’t think my feelings are valid. I can say intellectually why I think they should be valid or why I’m right to feel the way I do, but deep down inside, I still don’t think I have the right to feel the way I do. I’ll still shove my feelings so deep inside, I can almost pretend they don’t exist. They are still there, though, smoldering away, just waiting for the right time to burst free. How the hell can I be aware that I do this, painfully so, and yet, still do it time and time again? That’s the most frustrating thing to me–that I know what I’m doing wrong and yet, I keep doing it. That causes shame, which makes me less inclined to make changes.
Oh, I mentioned in my last post that I need to prioritize what I want to work on because there is no way I’m going to be able to correct all my flaws in my lifetime. In addition, some of the things other people consider flaws about me are things I don’t, so I am not going to try changing them. I want to prioritize because I’ll get overwhelmed otherwise as well. There are so many things I hate about myself, that if I list them all, I’m going to be even more depressed. There is no way I can change it all in a year, anyway, so why set myself up for failure? For the sake of this post and what I want to work on in the next year, I’m sticking with finding a therapist, learning to set better boundaries (both with other people and with myself), and learning how to express my emotions in a healthier way. I think that is plenty to work on for now. Hopefully, in a year, I can look back and say that I’ve done one and made progress in the latter two. Then, I can write another list and do this all over again.
*Except for my father. He was allowed to feel however he wanted.