The First Step

The first 24 years of my life was in Taiwan. Growing up, my generation was taught a set of values that, if followed, would guarantee we kids get to the top of the society.

Values like respect the elderly, never talk back, obey orders, compete in best schools, and marry the person your parents agree on, all were imprinted strongly. Oh and divorce brings shame to the whole family… You get the picture.

You see, there was nothing wrong with those values. It was a way of life, a culture, a believe system that had worked for a long time and families passed them down from generation to generation. How my parents interacted with us was the best way they knew how. Not to mention that both of them were highly respected in the society. They did a great job raising me and my siblings with love, discipline and values! Those values were instrumental to many aspects of success, learning, and awakening to my own journey. For that, I am forever grateful!

As a child, one noticeable difference about me from my siblings was that I would sweet talk or do things that pleased my parents to get myself out of trouble or punishment. Whatever made my parents proud was the goal I strived for.

Things changed for me after living a separate life in the US from my family. My previous blog “What a Hike” explained how I was anxious about visiting my family due to those changes.

It was great seeing my family since my last visit 3 years ago.  My sister was visiting from New Zealand at the same time and her company helped tremendously in reducing my anxiety.  She too changed while living in New Zealand so we have a certain level of mutual understanding of what each other was struggling over.

The first two weeks of the visit went smooth. My dad passed many years ago so now it is just my mom. There were little things my mom and I disagreed on but I managed fine without having to spill my guts. I began to relax thinking “This is not too bad.”

In the middle of the 3rd week, I was in the kitchen doing something. Mom came over disagreeing with how I did it and said to me “You are so stupid…”

The word stupid triggered my anger. I felt every cell of my body boiling with firing resentment, and I wanted to yell at Mom. I was angry at the how this remark was being viewed so casually as a normal way to communicate. I felt belittled. Obviously, the fact that I went abroad, studied and made a life for myself, got back on my two feet after a nasty divorce, put myself in financially sustainable position, and followed my passion of helping people showed that I am anything but stupid!

In my head, I was screaming at the top of my lung! Right on the verge of exploding, something reminded me that Mom had no idea about how I felt because growing up I had always just accepted her innocent remarks like this and never said anything.

Miraculously, instead of starting a huge fight that could hurt both her and me irrevocably, I took a deep breath and said to Mom in a very calm tone “Please do not call me stupid any more, Mom.  Your words are very powerful.  You do not know how much effort it took me to overcome the impact of your words like this.”

Mom looked at me in disbelief.  Her eyes stared at me like she did not know me at all.  After a few moments, she got out of shock and replied “I am very sorry.  I did not know you were hurt. Did you spend a lot of money in therapy?” So I said to her “I did not say this to ask for your apology. I just want to let you know the impact of your words. This is not your fault.  You did not know.  I did not know either until I understood the impact.”

Some people might think I should have been sensitive to my mother’s feelings and sucked it up as usual given that she is old now. What is the point of me speaking up for myself after 51 years?

But note that I was not blaming her. I was simply expressing how I felt in a peaceful way. In human lifetimes, we picked our family so that we can learn from each other. I learned to finally stand up for myself in front of my mother. Whether she chooses to learn from this experience or put herself in a miserable thought pattern is not up to me but her.

This was the first step I took to break the undesired patterns I inherited from the family tree.