I used to be really easily impacted by my environment. It is the same quality that gives me deep empathy towards the world, and yet when I was younger it held me back. I put people’s feelings over mine, sometimes involuntarily, even if the situation was massively unjust to me. I was always afraid to speak up for myself.
I wasn’t always like this. My aunt (who brought me up) reminded me yesterday that I was an expressive, boisterous little girl, who often stood on her bed to sing. Listening to her at that moment, I had a flashback to my childhood, and I wanted to cry. Not because I stopped singing on people’s beds, but because I had a psychosomatic memory of the pain of silencing.
I don’t actually remember what happened – the actual series of events that made me go inward. But slowly, bit by bit, I lost my sense of self and my ability to speak. I was never encouraged to have my own views, in fact, I was lucky if I wasn’t ridiculed for them. I was constantly berated for wanting to forge my own path instead of conforming to the group.
I began casually interviewing my peers here a few years ago. I was feeling sorry for myself. Some of them went through a similar oppressive system and yet brilliantly flourished, I wanted to understand why. Was it simply because I was weaker? There was a common theme for them, that in some part of their lives, they usually had at least one authority figure who either unconditionally supported them, or brought out the potential in them (sometimes by not very kind means).
I had no such luck until my 20s, but by then the damage was done and I spent my youth being and acting disempowered. I cannot count the number of people who had given immense praise to me since then, but I just couldn’t accept nor listen. In my own eyes, I was damaged.
Maybe there are certain traits in us that are simply innate and cannot be removed by conditioning. They are probably amplified or lessened by conditioning, but not eradicated. Despite my own feelings, I still chose to walk on my own path. It was harsh and difficult, because even as I decided to walk my way, I would still be very affected by my unsupportive environment. Every single piece of criticism broke a tiny part of me that never mended. I was made to feel I was selfish or delusional.
The more I walked away from the group, the more pain I had to endure, and it wasn’t surprising to me that my nervous system just didn’t want to tolerate this bullshit anymore.
I spent the 3 years in the US putting myself back together again. Away, I had found the space to perhaps let that little girl who would sing on people’s beds to slowly creep back into my consciousness. A lot of it is due to the reaction of the people surrounding me. Over there, I was prided precisely for my differences. I flourished so much, I truly believed I wanted to make that country my home.
Home is perhaps where the people are. As I grew older and stronger, it became less about what I needed but more about what needed me. I had found new pieces of myself in the US, but I realized the puzzle will never become whole if I kept on trying to discard old pieces of me.
This time I am back, perhaps to people I am still the same person who left 3 years ago, but inwardly I feel like I am a different person. Within these 3 years it wasn’t only myself who have evolved, but the country herself too, for better or for worse. Because I have become stronger, I have allowed more people to reach out and depend on me (and also allowed myself to reach out and depend on people), I have a stronger network of support here than I had when I left.
The criticisms still remain, the lack of understanding still prevalent – it still affects me but I have grown a ton more resilient. I have somewhat stopped expecting people to really understand who I am and what I truly live for. I think it comes with emotional maturity to realize that people can love me the way they can, and I will love them the way I can. Trying to insist that I be seen in a particular way when the right lenses are not being provided is not only a waste of energy, but in itself makes me blind to other spots of beauty.
Only lately I had a realization, that despite having virtually no support in my younger days, I chose to trudge on anyway. And yes, perhaps it broke me in ways that I will never be able to mend, but to the effect of one of my favorite quotes:
”There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
That stubbornness, the insistence that I still walk on my own way, even as I deviated here and there, left and right, sulking and throwing tantrums along the way – the fact that I did it and now I am still doing it, has given me a newfound source of strength and peace that no external entity can ever take away.
That profound realization, gave me comfort that no matter what, whether I am conscious of it, there is a part of me that stays. That is what I will leverage on, in my new journey to learn to trust myself.