I have a problem. Well, I have lots of problems. And apparently I have a problem admitting I have lots of problems. And then I have the problem that I do not seem to want to fix them. I like to run away from all my problems and pretend I do not have any problems. In the world inside my head, I have no problems. Okay, this is sounding confusing. Let me just get into this post.
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to make a change in my life to better myself. I started off this journey by doing a ton of personal reflection and reading, and trying to understand myself and my own motivations better. In reflecting on my past actions, I realised something striking: there’s a part of me (that’s been this way since I was a child), who seems to want to prove in an almost irrational manner that I can be tough and work hard and grit my teeth through hardship…maybe because it was never actually expected of me. I was the youngest with a protective older brother. Financially my family was comfortable. So I felt a need to prove I was my own person and could still “do it tough” despite my privileges.
My mum would tell me how as a child I never cried when I hurt myself. When I was a toddler, I stuck my finger into the flame of a candle and burned myself and did not saying anything. It was like I refused to show weakness and cave to conventional human responses. My self-preservation mechanism was set on high. I protected myself by keeping my emotions inside of me. As a child, I was quiet and appeared cold and aloof. In high school. I was actually criticised by a teacher for being “proud” because the reality was I didn’t talk much. I don’t chat away animatedly with people. I don’t try to win over affection. I’m not driven by other people’s praise. I know who are my friends. I don’t need to please everyone. Showing empathy and compassion outwardly (e.g. going to hug someone when they were upset) was something I actually had to consciously learn to do when I was older. It’s not that I never felt those things, it’s just that I didn’t realise other people needed it to be shown.
I once accidentally jabbed a pencil into my knee at my after-school tuition centre and the tip of the lead embedded into my skin. I hobbled to the car when my mum picked me up. “Did you hurt yourself?” she asked. “Yea,” I replied dismissively, pretending it was nothing major. For some reason, I didn’t want to tell her what exactly happened, when most kids probably would have done the opposite. Most kids crave attention and interaction. But I didn’t need anyone’s pity. My mum handed me a Band-Aid from her handbag without further questioning (I sat in the back seat so she couldn’t check on me) and I popped it over my knee. The skin healed over and I still have the lead mark on my knee to this day, a reminder of my childhood stubbornness.
On the flip side of refusing to cry when hurt, when I actually did get upset about something and started crying as a child, I would cry for the longest time and nothing my parents did or say could stop me. I would only stop when I decided to. Now as a grown up, I find that when I do something that my parents have been nagging me to do, I don’t feel like telling them when I actually do it. I don’t want to give them the pleasure of seeing me conform to their expectations. When my husband texts me asking how the kids have been, I find myself reluctant to tell him when it’s been a good day, because I don’t want him thinking I find this parenting thing easy.
Reflecting on the way I responded to all these different experiences and interactions in my life, I realised I have a rebellion tendency, a secret desire to do the opposite of what people thought or expected of me. A desire to do my own thing and live by my own rules, and to not give anyone the pleasure of seeing me conform. This is why I had crying episodes as a child where I refused to stop crying. The problem was that my parents would scold me to just stop crying (in true Asian parenting style)…and as a rebel at heart, that just made me want to cry louder and longer. I would forget why I was even crying in the first place because my aim turned into just wanting to piss the hell out of them. It’s no surprise that I was that baby who could not be sleep trained. Heck, on paper it sounds like I have sociopath tendencies (But I don’t. I may like to piss people off sometimes but would never intentionally hurt someone).
To be honest, I have always seen myself as quite rule-abiding so realising I have a rebellion tendency was a revelation. I guess although I am a rebel at heart, growing up Asian and Christian (two very conforming systems) has made me actually care about following rules and authority, and I definitely do not get any pleasure out of flouting them. However, the rebel side of me means I march to the beat of my own drum and you can’t make me do anything I actually don’t want to do. This is the reason why I didn’t do well at school with the exception of my college year, where for the first time ever, I chose my own subjects. This is the reason why I quit piano and ballet as a child, but really enjoyed hip-hop dance as a young adult because that was a path I took myself.
And that’s when something occurred to me that I’ve never realised before. I always thought I wanted to be happy. That to achieve happiness, I needed to find my purpose, help people, get the job of my dreams, have a lovely family and all that kind of typical altruistic kind of stuff…But then as I started examining myself and my past, I realised something: all this chasing I was doing was futile. No matter what I did, I couldn’t be happy until I realised my problem is that I don’t actually want to happy. Not in the conventional way, anyway.
Everything I’ve been doing in my life has been a self-sabotaging process. I know I’m strong and determined. I enjoy going down the narrow, winding, less-taken path. I know I’m intelligent and I can excel at anything I set my mind to. But at the same time, that unwillingness to conform means I do not want to succeed in ways the world tells you you need to succeed. A couple days ago, my dad asked me as he was playing with my kids, “Do your kids complete you?” I looked at him like he was crazy. “What?” I said. “Do your kids complete you? Like how we had you guys to complete our lives”, he reiterated, sounding like he just wanted to hear me say “Oh yes I’m so happy with my life right now” and perhaps feel like he didn’t have to worry about me. Instead, I said, “That’s nice, Dad, but no, my kids definitely do not complete me.” My kids don’t complete me, and neither does being married.
My problem was that when I was younger, I did buy into the notion that getting a nice job, finding a nice guy, getting married, and having a family would complete me and make me happy. I am actually what they call a love addict. I have always had a romanticised, fantasy-based, movie-like idea of love that really doesn’t exist in real life (well, unless you are Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi whose love actually makes me cry and cuss at the screen at the same time). I like romance novels and tragic love stories. I want to sit in my tall tower pining away doing nothing until prince charming comes and fixes everything. To say “Oh my goodness you poor thing you have been suffering for so long but here I am now!” I am in love with the idea of love. I like the idea that love can conquer all and save the day and I can just ride off into the sunset happy and all. Why? I think in my head, it’s a release from all the conflicting expectations I feel. The battle of my self inside my head between the rebel and the conservative Asian and Christian. The idea of someone swooping in to rescue me from my problems sounds pretty good. I want someone else to come up with all the answers to life because plain and simple, I don’t have them. In fact, I don’t even know what the questions are at times. So basically, I’ve just wasted a lot of time waiting for a saviour to rescue me instead of taking responsibility for myself.
Now as a grown up, I realise that fairytales aren’t real. My kids are great but they aren’t a source of joy and satisfaction for me the way it is to many other people I know. I love my husband and he is a great supporter but I can’t rely on him to be my saviour because that’s unfair and unrealistic on him. His role isn’t to look after me and solve my issues. The only person who can fulfill me is me. No conventional “have a family and a nice job” can make me truly happy. I just need to be me. To feel like I’m doing my own thing and doing it well. To stop hiding and filtering and pretending I’m a nice person who walks the straight and narrow and doesn’t swear or do stupid things. To stop self-sabotaging and being a victim of…myself.
In short, it’s a mindset change. I don’t need to “find my purpose” or chase arbitrary concepts to be happy. I don’t need a list of new things to do. I just need to work on confronting my own flaws and doing all the things I already know I should be doing but have always managed to come up with excuses not to do. 2019 is not my year of “finding happiness”. It’s my year of fixing my mistakes. Of admitting to myself what my problems are and taking action to be better, and not procrastinating or making excuses not to do it. I suppose in that roundabout way, taking back control of my life actually gives me a sense of freedom which then ultimately leads to the supposed happiness and satisfaction we all want in life. Does that sound confusing? Basically, I’m someone who already knows what to do to be happy, but for some reason I’m not doing it because I don’t want to conform and give others the pleasure of seeing me conform…so I self-sabotage and stop doing it. In fact, this is the first step to bettering myself: just admitting I am a rebel.
Saying out loud that I am doing all this self-examination and introspection and actually am understanding who I am is ironically difficult because that’s what my husband has always encouraged me to do…him wanting me to be a better person actually just makes me go the other way. Sounds messed up? Yes it is. But at least I’m recognising it’s messed up. Him saying “That’s great you’re finding this all out for yourself, I’m proud of you” actually doesn’t make me feel good the way it does for other people (I’m suddenly understanding why I used to get so annoyed whenever I was struggling cycling up a hill and my brother was cycling alongside me going “You’re doing so well! You can do this!” and I would tell him to just shut up and let me do it).
We rebels don’t need praise and attention. We just need to want to do something and we will do it. We want to feel like we chose to do it ourselves and we don’t need anyone’s help. But hey it’s a new chapter now and I’m putting down my pride and saying it’s okay to let other people be right and do what they want me to do if it’s also what I truly want to do deep down. They can give me praise and encouragement and I will take it and allow myself to accept that they feel their nagging has paid off. I will not not achieve what I want for myself, just because someone else also wants it for me.
On a practical level, what I’ve been doing as a start is reading a lot of personal development and autobiographical books. I have previously never touched these genres before because I felt I knew myself and wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinions and perspectives. However, I am now accepting there is so much to be learned from other people’s experiences and perspectives. A really helpful book has been Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies which is about how people respond to expectations. I was already in the process of figuring out I was a rebel and in fact I started writing this post about my self-sabotaging tendencies before I read her book, but she has just made things a lot clearer and helped me put a name (“rebel”) to this group I fall in.
This is my year of just getting shit done. Just doing things that I know I should do or should have done a long time ago but kept putting off because I let my emotions lead the way. For example, I have an irrational fear of driving and have never gotten my Australian driver’s licence. But now I’m telling myself “I don’t have a fear of driving, I’m just choosing to have a fear”. I’m just doing it. Okay, well, lets get real…I will probably never love driving..but I’m choosing to conquer my emotions and do it despite those fears. Because…I can. I’m just doing it.
Another thing I’m doing is cleaning, decluttering, and organising my house. It makes my parents happy because they’ve always been nagging me to do it and that in turn annoys me, but I’m doing it because an organised house makes me function better and lines up with my minimalist tendencies. My parents have been seeing the change in me and my dad asked, “What has changed? Did something happen? Is everything okay?” and I said “Nothing has happened, I just decided to do it”. When I decide to do something, I do it. You can’t nag me to do it or I won’t do it. But because I know my parents cannot stop nagging because they nag out of love, I have decided I can grit my teeth and smile and still do shit despite their nagging, if that’s what I want to do for myself.
I’ve been taking over more household and business responsibilities from my husband. If there is something I can do myself without asking him, I just do it. I am cutting back on the unhealthy foods/drinks in my diet and trying to be consistent in doing my core and back strengthening exercises because I don’t want to be in pain and I also want a bikini body. I have been writing and plan to keep writing, because although it’s hard to churn out posts, it does ultimately make me happy seeing this blog progress. I am reading books and now always make sure to have one on hand wherever I go, because reading helps me grow my perspective (I’ve been borrowing books at the library, and also using the Audible app to buy and listen to books I can’t find at the library). I have booked an interstate flight to see my cousin along with my youngest daughter (my husband and older daughter are going on their own backpacking adventure), even though I have never travelled anywhere on my own before, let alone with a child…because I know on a logical level I can handle it even if my emotions are telling me otherwise (another example of a regular, everyday thing that everyone else does without blinking, but for some reason is so hard for me).
So that is where I am, sitting at the end of 2018, determined that it’s not just going to be another year ahead of pointless resolutions that I stop following after a few weeks. There is only one challenge: To prove myself wrong…that I can indeed follow damn resolutions and be an adult.
Happy 2019, everyone. May you find your own way of making it happy indeed.