I had something of a revelation recently.
The more I learn about the psychology of happiness, the more I realize how much of our current happiness is influenced by the things that happened in the past. I had a relatively boring upbringing (much to the chagrin of this wannabe writer), so I always figured I’d escaped relatively unscathed. I have friends who were affected by parents’ divorces, distant family members, traumatic incidents, while the worst thing I’d ever experienced were some hormone-driven argument while I was going through puberty.
I don’t blame my parents for any of the decisions they made. After all, they were doing the best they could with the knowledge they had, and they did a pretty great job if I do say so myself. Still, nobody’s perfect.
Maybe this is something you can relate to if you come from a South Asian background. Maybe you can relate even if you don’t. Growing up, whenever anything “negative” happened in our family, we were told to keep it a secret. When someone lost a job, when someone was suffering from health issues, when someone was going through a hard time in their life, it was something that stayed in the family.
When grandparents died, I sometimes didn’t find out until days later. When my dad got laid off, my sister and I were told after several months. My parents’ intentions were good. They didn’t want to us to worry, they thought they could protect us from all the bad things. It didn’t matter how much time they let pass, my sister and I would still be hurt by the news, stung that they could keep something so important from us. We constantly wondered what else they were keeping from us.
When it came to our own issues, the intentions were different. My parents were scared that others would judge us or revel in our misfortune. When I was diagnosed with infertility issues, my mother admonished me when she found out I had confided the news to some close friends.
In the end, it didn’t really matter what my parents’ intentions were, because it all just served to make me view the negative events in my life as shameful. Losing my job was shameful, getting dumped was shameful, being told I might not be able to have children was shameful.
Part of me thinks that’s why I’m always striving so hard for everything in my life to be “perfect.” Anything that goes wrong, even if I have no control over it, is a dark secret that would only draw the judgement of others if they were to find out. When I find myself in these periods of life when everything doesn’t line up, my unhappiness is heightened until I find my way to a place where things look a little better from the outside.
Whenever I go against my parents’ wishes and tell my friends the secrets I’ve been so carefully guarding, it feels like a little act of rebellion. It’s exhilarating and freeing, and always comes as a surprise. My friends and loved one never judge me, only offer their support and kind words. And yet, the instincts have been ingrained so deeply inside of me that I still feel like I’m doing something wrong whenever I do it.
I don’t want to live my life with shame anymore. It’s not shameful to get laid-off or get your heart broken or to discover your body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. These are things that everyone experiences. It’s all just part of the motions of life. If someone judges you for these things, that’s a reflection on them, not you.
So I’m making a promise to myself. The next time I find myself hurting, I won’t keep it to myself. I’ll reach out all the people who care about me, because as it turns out, the only thing that can combat shame is love.