Being Asian can mean so many different things to different people. I can only share what it means to me. I hope you can relate:
I was aware that my parents genuinely loved me. They worked hard to provide the best of their capacities for me and my siblings. However, they did not express their love verbally. Growing up I never heard anything like “I love you” from my parents. Nor any affirmation like “You are beautiful” or “We are proud of who you are.” The usual things I heard were “Good job” for getting good grades in school or “Well done” for doing what I was told to do. It is always about compliments about the tasks at hand, not about me as a person. And so, I was conditioned to believe that my worth tied with the things I could accomplish. If I wanted to feel loved and validated, I needed to earn it by working hard to prove that I deserved it.
I never felt beautiful because my parents never told me so. And it never occurred to me that I should ask them about it. In fact, we were never encouraged to ask questions. We were praised for being a good listener and not for talking back. “Do as you’re told” was the clear message I got. Asking a question is a sign of confronting the authority of your parents. And that shows disrespect. And disrespect means dishonor. That’s a big No-no.
Whenever I looked into the mirror, I only found flaws – my forehead was too high, or my smile was too big, etc. In fact, I felt that I was ugly. I avoided looking into the mirror. I neglected my physical appearances. My self-esteem was so low that I felt very shy being around other people. I preferred staying in the background than being the center of attention.
That need to feel loved and validated served me well in certain areas. I busied myself with studying because that was the area that I found validation. My parents were happy with my academic achievements. I was that golden child who always did the right thing and never got into trouble. But deep down inside, I felt that I was worthless without my accomplishments. In fact, I was never good enough.
I carried that belief of being “not good enough” into my adult life. Wherever I go, I always try to prove myself. At work, I am very responsible. I work hard and tend to do more than my share. At home, I am always busy getting things done. In fact, it is not a surprise that my love language is Act of Service. I feel loved by serving others or by being served. But being productive is not always a good thing. I would rather spend time cooking an elaborate meal than just sitting on the couch to watch a movie with my husband. He often asks me: “Why do you have to work so hard?” And that would annoy me, as I believe that I must prove that I am a good enough wife and mother. Cooking a healthy and delicious meal is how I show my love to him and my daughter. But for my husband, his love language is Quality Time. He feels more loved when we sit together to watch a movie than by me serving him a good meal. He doesn’t want me to serve him. He wants me to just be with him. He feels special when I put him first. And it is such a foreign concept to me. I am still struggling to do it – just to be with him without doing anything else. I feel that it is such a waste of time when there is so much to do.
Becoming a therapist has helped me tremendously in finding the rest of myself – the parts that have been neglected or abandoned. I’ve learned to be the parent I needed to have. I am practicing looking into the mirror everyday. I tell myself that I am beautiful just the way I am. I tell myself that I am good enough just as who I am. And I feel so much better. I feel so much more alive, because I am not so busy doing things, but just being me.