Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Self Esteem

Point the finger back at me

There is a theory in psychology that something about another person that really bugs you is because you’re projecting, and it’s something you do yourself. It’s a simplified theory, of course, and it’s only one of the reasons, but I’ve found it to be true. The other night when I was pointing out to my mother that she wasn’t the savior of the world and that the world wouldn’t end if she wasn’t the one to help whomever it was in crisis at that particular moment. She came back with reasons why she HAD to do it, and I shut my mouth, even though I was fuming inside.

Of course, you can see where I’m going with this. I am the same way myself, especially with her, and while I can advocate setting boundaries all I want–I can’t do the same with her. In my last post, I talked about the period of our relationship when I held her at a firm arm’s length away. It was because I couldn’t set reasonable boundaries, so I just threw up walls. It’s actually the earliest stage of setting boundaries, and I thought I had moved past it by cautiously lowering the boundaries until they were appropriate.

I was fucking wrong. One and a half weeks to go, and I feel beat down. I’m so worn, and it’s because I can’t enforce reasonable boundaries with either of my parents. With my father, it’s because he’s a petty tyrant. If you don’t do what he wants when he wants it in the way he wants it, he either throws a major tantrum or he gives the silent treatment (which is where I get it from. Though I don’t go to the extremes he does, my immediate reaction is to shut down or lash out, the latter if I feel cornered). The latter can go on for hours, and he’s like my cat in that he makes it pointedly obvious that he is ignoring you. Unlike Shadow, however, my father is neither adorable nor lovable when he does it.

I have learned to choose my battles with him and only stand firm on the important things. One was the thermostat thing. I was not budging on it, no matter how pissed off he got or how ‘hurt’ my mother got. But, with other stuff, I just give him as minimal information as possible. Like today, for example. He wanted to get into his gmail account. He was trying to type in the password, and he asked me how to put a space. I told him that passwords usually don’t have spaces. When he asked me again, I told him to press the space bar. In my head, I added, “Like you do on a fucking computer”, but I refrained.


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Fool me a hundred times

My heart is heavy, and I’m grieving the loss of a relationship I never had. Or rather, two relationships. Or one relationship with two people. My parents. My relationship with my father has ranged from nonexistent to frosty to cordially distant. Right now, I would classify it as parent-child–with me being the parent. His faculties have diminished to what I suspect is early onset dementia, but it’s hard to say because he refuses most testing in that area. Funny because he’s a hypochondriac who goes to the doctor at a moment’s notice, but like most hypochondriacs, if there is a potential serious issue, then he refuses to go. And if it’s something that has a negative connotation about his brain, well, forget about even mentioning it.

To be fair, my mother told me that Alzheimer’s is looked upon as a personal failing and weakness in Taiwan, so I can understand not wanting to open yourself up to that. I suggested he get tested here, but his English is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and it wouldn’t be fair to use a test he took in English as a barometer. On the other hand, the longer he goes without treating it, the worse it’s going to get.

Do you notice how I immediately started talking about my father? I meant to talk about my mother as a starter, but my father is such the focal point of the family, it’s hard to avoid, even here. Why am I grieving my relationship with my mother? Sit back with your favorite cup of tea because this is going to take some explaining.

If you asked my mother, she would say we are really close. She made me her confidante when I was eleven, pouring out all her woes about my father and her marriage into my very unwilling ears. She would cry about how he treated her (very badly), and I would listen until I couldn’t take it any longer before telling her she should divorce him. Then, she would shift to how he wasn’t that bad. I would feel like a dupe, and I would vow never to say anything again. She also told me how depressed she was and how much she hated her life. Not in those exact terms, but that was what she meant.


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Family dysfunction in real time

My self-esteem, which is never really great, takes a beating when I’m around my family. My brother was over yesterday, and I could feel myself regressing more and more the longer he was there. I love my brother. We get along well these days. But. He’s still my older brother, and there’s a firm pecking order that we cannot escape.

Ian once commented that my mother listens to my brother when she doesn’t listen to me. It was validating because I had known it on some level, but was never able to articulate it. I’ve always felt it, but I never allowed it to come to the surface until Ian flat-out said it. Later on, though, I realized it was a bit more complicated than that. My mom is a questioner as I am. She also suffers high anxiety as I do. I’ve joked that her constant chatter is like the voice in my brain. It’s gotten worse in the past few years (for her), and I think it’s because my father retired so he’s around their house much more. He’s a petty tyrant with wildly variant moods (I come by it proudly), and she’s catered to him for fifty years.

Anyway, she always needs a second, third, and fourth opinion. I think it’s partly because my father is so set in his thinking, he can make you question yourself. He’s very good at gaslighting without even doing it directly. If you say something to him, there’s a high chance he won’t even respond. You know how the good social thing to do when someone is talking to you is to nod or look or them or say goddamn anything? Oftentimes, he won’t do any of that. He doesn’t even change expressions, so it’s hard to know if he heard you.

That’s one of the issues–he’s lost his hearing and refuses to wear his hearing aids at home. I’d bet he doesn’t always wear them outside, either, as he’s vain. If he can hear you, he may not understand what you’ve said. There’s two reasons for that. One, his English isn’t great. He hasn’t lived here for over a quarter of a century, and he doesn’t use English unless he’s here. Two, his comprehension is going. His mental faculties aren’t what they used to be, and combining that with his loss of English means that oftentimes, he just doesn’t understand. I think he feels bad when my brother, my mother, and I are babbling at each other because we talk at top speed, and he can’t keep up. Last night, my mother had to talk to him in Taiwanese and him respond in such before she translated it into English for us. Third, he hates admitting he doesn’t know something. So, he’ll agree to something or say he knows or that he remembers when it’s clear that he has no idea what is going on. You can’t point it out, either, because he’ll either double down or go back to being silent.


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If you can’t handle me at my worst

I am not my best when I am around my parents. To be clear, I am not the best ever, but it’s even worse when they’re around. I find myself acting like a child again, and I have walls a mile high erected around me. “They know which buttons to press because they installed them” is so true, and I hate that I react to it almost every time. I wanted to be like David Attenborough and be the detached social scientist, but something in my lizard brain overrides as soon as one of my parents talks to me. It’s almost atavistic, and I feel as if I’m out of control. My mouth is saying things before I can censor myself, and it’s as if my filters are on the fritz.

Side note: I know the meme, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” is mostly lighthearted, but I really hate the message it sends. That’s what abusers say or imply, and there isn’t anything funny in that. In addition, that’s a strong component of codependent relationships, which is another big no for me.

Anyway, I remember with my last therapist during a yearly visit from my parents, I was saying how I feel like a complete failure as a daughter because I was nothing my mother (and father, but I wasn’t really talking to him at that point) wanted me to be. I wasn’t married (nor wanted to be), didn’t have children (nor wanted them), did not have a steady 9-to-5 job (nor wanted one), was not a Christian (and so did not want to return), and a litany of other things. She pointed out that they were not the parents I wanted/needed them to be, either, and it was as if the clouds had parted, allowing the sun to shine into the fog. I had been so focused on how I was failing them, I never thought about what I needed from the relationship.

That’s part of growing up in a dysfunctional family–I was never allowed to consider my wants and needs as valid. I was made to feel ashamed for wanting anything other than what my parents wanted (which was mostly my father as dictated by my mother). There’s an anecdote that my father still loves to tell about how when I was a kid, he would tell me to put on a coat, and I would refuse. He insists I said it was because he didn’t ask nicely (which, yes, that’s true, but not the whole point) whereas I know it’s because I wasn’t fucking cold at the time. How do I know this? Because I am never cold. I also had Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) when I was younger, and one of the symptoms is not being cold.

He tells it now to show how recalcitrant I was as a child, I think, but it reads very differently to me. It reminds me how unreasonable he was and how autocratic. He’s a raging narcissist, and he sees everything through the lens of how himself. My biggest issue with what he said to me, at least in the memory of it, is that he wanted me to put on a coat because he is cold. He couldn’t fathom that if he was cold, someone else might not be, especially a child of his.

I made my peace many moons ago that my parents don’t know the real me, can’t know the real me, and wouldn’t want to know the real me. I keep things close to my vest because I don’t want to expose the real me to ridicule, disbelief, or scorn. It’s difficult because Taiwanese culture in families is more porous than American culture. Much of what I took to be normal in my family is not in America, and there are parts of it that I think would even be extreme in Taiwan. However, everyone is much more in everyone else’s business there (again, within the family), so it’s hard to tease out what is specific to my family and what is culture.

What I do know is that I felt like a complete failure growing up and that feeling returns around my parents. I am the polar opposite of them in almost every conceivable way, and it’s hard to say if it’s more because that’s just who I am or if it’s reactionary. I think it’s a mix of both, but I can’t say with certainty.


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Grasping for a reason

The countdown to enforced family time is ticking, and as a result, my health is taking a nosedive. Oh, I can’t say for sure it’s related (see what I did there?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. Let me amend. I know my mental health takes a hit during family time, but I can’t say for sure my physical decline is a direct correlation. I would not be surprised if it were, given that stress is really bad for health, but I can’t say it’s 100% true. I do know, however, that my brain starts thinking darker thoughts that get worse every day. I know that my sleep issues, which are problematic at the best of times, become even worse. The chattering in my brain that I can usually keep to a bare minimum grows louder, and it’s harder to block it out.

Side note: I’ve been grappling with the idea that I may have ADHD/ADD or at least some of the traits. I’ve never thought about it in the past because the stereotype is the hyperactive young boy who can’t sit still for five minutes, talks a mile a minute, and careening into things at a high velocity. None of that is me except on occasion the middle one, and I tend towards inertia whenever possible. In addition, I already know I have OCD tendencies, and to my mind, these two disorders are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Also, I’m a woman, and ADD is notoriously overlooked in people of my gender in part because of the aforementioned stereotype. Here are the symptoms as they may present in women, and I match many of them. I also have four of the five comorbidities, which doesn’t make me feel any better. The only reason I hesitate with the label is because I have a good memory and don’t forget things. Other than that, though, everything else fits.

What really opened my eyes to the fact that I may have ADD (no H here) is when someone who has it explained that the ‘look, squirrel’ syndrome was followed by hyper-focus when he was really interested in something. That’s what tripped me up. I can do several things at one time, but if I’m really into something, I lose sight of everything else. I cannot be distracted once I latch onto one thing (or, worse, one person), and once I learned that was part of ADHD, things started clicking. Reading the list above, I’m struck by how I was just thinking this week how I couldn’t work in an office because so much of the social bullshit was such an anathema to me. I felt that way when I was in an office, and even though I can fake it because I’m really good at small talk (even though I hate it), I don’t understand the reasons behind much of it. I feel that way in general with social interactions and especially with the office. There was a letter at Ask A Manager this week in which the letter writer said she didn’t answer every time her coworker said hi in the morning, and he would confront her about it. Sometimes, it was because she had her headphones on, but also because she didn’t feel like it once in a while. She asked how she could push back on the confrontation and why he NEEDED her to say hi every day, and I wished she hadn’t added the part about not feeling like it once in a while because I knew the commentariat would focus on that–and they did.

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Hating everything…including myself

I hate the summer. I hate everything about it. I hate it with the intensity of *irony alert* a thousand burning suns. I’ve tried to describe how much I hate summer, but it’s hard to find the words to do my feelings justice. If I were to try to use my words without filters, it would just be a stream of curse words whenever I think of summer. I know I bitch the most about the heat because I am a delicate fucking flower who wilts in anything above 70.

Side Note: On Friday, one of my taiji classmates said that we could go to the lovely park on Saturday for class. Quick context: we had been going to her condo and using the rec room for the last few Saturdays, but it had already been booked for this week. That’s when she said we could go to the park (my teacher offered her house, which was where we met on Friday as well), and I said with a laugh, “You can, but I won’t be there.” It was supposed to be ‘feels like’ 95 on Saturday, and while it ended up more like ‘feels like’ 89 or so, no way in hell I was going to do anything remotely physical in the heat. Right now, the ‘real feel’ is 81, and it’s not even 11 a.m. yet. I know I sound like I’m whining when I bitch about the heat, and I am. It has such a great effect on me, however, that I can’t even think after a minute or two of being in the heat. On the way back from taiji Friday, I stopped at the gas station to buy some snacks. That’s another post for another day. I step out of the car, and–by the way. The A/C on the driver side is broken. Only the driver side. That’s how I know there is no god.

Anyhoooo. Two minutes in the heat, and I’m a wreck for the next hour. Not only am I exhausted and sweating profusely, I am angry. Not just irritated, but actually angry. I’m enough of a bitch as it is; I do not need the hotness to shorten my temper. When I’m in the heat, I’m acutely aware of how miserable I am. It’s all I can think of, and my whole world has narrowed to how fucking hot it is. Earlier, I said that anything over 70 starts that miserable feeling, but if I were going to be real with you, I’d say 65 is really the upper limit of my comfort zone. It makes it interesting for me to read debates on hot vs. cold because even the cold people are more like ’65’ is perfect. I have my heat set for 62 during the day and 60 at night (in the winter). Some of the cold people were saying that 68 was good. That’s considered cold? That’s me shorts and a tank top if I have to be civilized.


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Wedding showers brings out my David Attenborough powers

My niece’s wedding shower was yesterday, and I managed to pull it together enough to actually go. What’s more, I got the wedding shower gift sent to her house, and Amazon sent her birthday gifts to me on time, and I had the gift bag and tissue paper ready to go. By the way, whoever invented the gift bag has my undying gratitude. I used to take pleasure in wrapping gifts by hand, but ever since I discovered gift bags, there is no going back.

I wanted to channel my inner David Attenborough before I went. I was joking on Twitter that I should study the party-goers as if they were a different species, but it was really more about cultivating Attenborough’s inquisitive and attentive attitude. He goes into any situation with an open mind, and his tone is always one of wonderment. I have never heard him be judgmental or censorious, which is quite the feat. Plus, his voice is so warm and soothing. It’s like pouring maple syrup over your problems, and it’s a balm to my soul.

I knew going into the shower that much of the issue was my own shit. Yes, I have philosophical reasons for being against weddings and showers, but I have to be honest with myself–most of my anxiety was over me being a freak and worrying about whether I would do anything to embarrass myself or my niece.

Confession: I felt an immediate connection with my niece from the moment I saw her. As I said at her shower, I never knew I could love someone like that until that moment. She looked like me when I was that age, and more than one person assumed she was my daughter when we were out and about together. Which did not go down well with her real mother. I’m sure it was complicated by the fact that she’s white with Danish/Swedish (I think) background and did not at first glance look like my niece. You can see the resemblance if you look harder, but on the surface, it wasn’t as apparent.

I thought of my niece as the upgraded version of me. There were many things that we had in common, including a love for boys at an early age, a fearlessness that, sadly, we both lost over time, a wild imagination that translated into a writing ability (and in her case, an artistic ability as well), and a few other things as well. In other ways, however, she was unlike me. She was a stunning girl who turned heads wherever she went. Rail-thin like her mother, and she had a keen interest in makeup and fashion since she was young. She wanted to shave her legs when she was eleven, and she started wearing makeup on the daily a few years later. Her favorite colors were purple and pink, which is most definitely not like me.

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I am, but. And, again, but.

I’ve struggled with identity all my life. Growing up as a fat, brainy, weirdo Asian chick in a very white Minnesota suburb was all but guaranteed to make me feel like a freak. I got picked on almost every day, and the days I didn’t, it pretty much was me wandering around lost in my own thoughts and never quite understanding what was expected of me. I like to joke that I was raised by wolves, but it’s pretty true. I have an apocryphal story about how the first pop song I heard was Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant when I was in sixth grade. The first movie I remembered seeing was Star Wars (the original, whatever the fuck it’s called) when I was seven or eight, and I hated it. I also saw Superman at the time with my youth group roughly around the same time and had nightmares for a month.

I’m just going to say it. I don’t like movies and TV for the most part. I once told a professor I had in grad school that I didn’t like movies, and she looked at me as if I said I ate puppies for fun. She said it was like saying I didn’t like sandwiches, which was a bad analogy for me because sandwiches are delicious. I realized then that my opinion was objectively Bad, and I should keep it to myself.

Side note: I wasn’t going to get into why I don’t like movies and television shows for the most part, but it’s actually an integral part of this post, so here we go, the Cliff Notes version. I have a vast imagination, and I like to let it run wild. It’s one reason I can write fiction almost endlessly, and I’ve only had one serious writer’s block in my life. Tandem to that is that my brain never. stops. thinking. Worrying, ruminating, chewing over every goddamn thing. It’s exhausting, but it’s something I’ve dealt with most of my life as well.

Put these two things together, and you might be able to see why I don’t really care for movies or television. The whole time I’m watching a movie, the criticizing part of my brain is chattering on and on about what is wrong whatever I’m watching while the other side of my brain, the creative side, is thinking of a dozen ways it would have done the scene differently–and better. I can never forget that I’m watching a movie or television, and I never really get into it.

To that end, most of the shows/movies I like either are based on the premise that the theatricality is part and parcel of the show (one reason I love musicals), or the writing is good enough to pull me in and allow me to override the chattering in my brain.


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Shifting perspectives

My brother once told me that he doesn’t regret any decision he’s made. This was about a decade ago, and it blew my mind. I pushed a bit, and he said there was no point in regret as he couldn’t change anything he’d done in the past. He’s not wrong. Regret in and of itself is useless and can be harming if it causes shame. Shame keeps you stuck in bad behavior more often than not. On the other hand, it’s hard to learn from the past if you refuse to study it at all. I think there *may* be a truism about that floating around the interwebs. Since then, he’s made indications that there are things he might have changed or that he wished had gone a different way, but in general, he is an eyes-forward kind of guy.

I admire that about him. I also envy that about him because I regret almost every decision I’ve made in my life. Where I want to college. Going back to a certain boyfriend twice. Not questioning the narrative he laid out for me because I thought he was trustworthy.

Side Note: I recently talked to my mom about this ex of mine, let’s call him Todd because that’s most definitely not his name. I always held a slight grudge because she and my father had dinner with us once, and they both did not like him at all. I attributed it to my father not liking anyone who wasn’t properly effusive/deferential/in awe of how amazing he is plus a shitload of other unspoken expectations and my mother deferring to him. I found out during our recent talk that the reason she didn’t like him was because he took my love for granted (ironic given her own marriage) and because he caused me so much pain. She said he was using me and he was selfish.

We discussed a bit about how he dumped me three times and came back to me twice and how he lied to me in our relationship about having dumped his ex before she went abroad for a semester. In reality, they were in an open relationship, but only because he insisted. I found out by reading a letter from him to her. Yes, a physical letter. I was looking for something else on his desk, and when I saw a letter from her, I read it. When I brought it up to him, he got mad that I read it. Which, yes, invasion of privacy, but it allowed him to neatly sidestep the fact that he fucking lied to me. Why? Probably because he knew I wouldn’t have agreed to going out with him if he told me the truth. I was very straight and narrow at that time, and I would not have agreed to be in an open relationship. Funnily enough, though, when the girlfriend came back the next semester, he was ‘dating’ both of us at the same time to figure out what he wanted. I started dating someone else, and Todd couldn’t take it after a few weeks.

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Faking it, but not making it

too crowded!
My brain is not a great place to be.

“Fake it until you make it” gets tossed around a lot as a way to deal with overcoming low self-esteem issues. The theory is that our brains believe what we tell them, so by acting as if we’re confident, we’ll eventually become confident. I’ve done it my whole life, but it hasn’t made me any more confident than I already was. If anything, I think it’s hindered me from actually developing more confidence. From the outside (and if you don’t talk to me for very long), it seems as if I have my shit together. I had it ground into me that I was not allowed to show emotions, especially negative ones, and I still have difficulty expressing those emotions out loud.

Side Note: When I was younger, I was a sponge for all the negative emotions around me. I could actually feel them as I walked by people, and it made me physically ill at times. This was before I was able to erect good emotional shields, and it’s one reason I don’t like being in crowds. On occasion, I would flash on why someone was feeling the negativity they were (though, of course, I had no way to confirm it. I was not going to ask a near stranger if they were being abused by their husband, for instance), and it made me profoundly sad. It was exhausting for me to be around people because I would be drained from running the emotional gauntlet.

Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) is all the rage right now, and I hate it. I wasn’t sure why exactly until I read someone explain their distaste for it in an Ask A Manager column (where they are overwhelmingly for it). She explained that it felt like gaslighting to hear the therapist say, “That’s just a feeling. It’s not real.” She was more eloquent and expansive, but that’s the part that really resonated with me. A big part of CBT is focusing on behavior (duh), and dismissing the feelings behind them. I’ve already spent a lifetime dismissing my feelings; I don’t need to pay someone to do that as well.

Side Note II: One thing I really hate about AA and all the groups that have sprung up that are based on AA, well, besides the fact that it’s success rate is no better than any other recovery program, is the insistence on powerlessness. Again, I couldn’t exactly explain why until I was talking about it with my then-therapist. I was participating in a CoDA program (Co-Dependency Anonymous) online, and I just couldn’t get past that (or the god shit. I hate the god shit). My therapist recommended a book to me by Dr. Charlotte Kasl called Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps. My therapist described the theory in a nutshell–for people who are not Bill W. types (i.e., white male Christian), we spend a lot of time feeling helpless/powerless, anyway. We don’t need to give up the power because we don’t have it. If anything, we need to feel empowered, rather than powerless.

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