A side effect of growing up the way I did is my tendency to internalize emotional abuse and use it as an unhealthy way to motivate myself.
I recognize that I had it good — being educated and middle class, but I was raised by someone who had a harsh life full of poverty, discrimination, putting up with toxic workplaces for survival’s sake, and difficulties being integrated into American society as an immigrant.
I used to be resentful. I used to blame him for my inability to succeed the way I wanted to and it was tough trying to get over my envy towards regular American kids who grew up with emotionally stable families and parents who had a healthy balance between pushing their kids to do better and allowing room for mistakes as a learning process.
I even blamed him for my mental illness. And to this day, instead of shaming young adults who have gone through something similar and feel so far behind due to how they endured difficult upbringings, I empathize with them and believe wholeheartedly that your environment does impact your ability to succeed. To ignore that completely is delusional and naïve. Hard work is only half of the equation.
Being in an environment where tiny mistakes would mean being yelled at may be motivational to those who think that incredibly harsh abuse and superhuman willpower are the only solutions to succeed.
But as for me, I did not work that way. Exposure to this had the opposite effect. Out of the three automatic responses — fight, flight, and freeze — I froze.
I admit, I had a chip on my shoulder. I thought I was wronged by the world. I resented the world for what it turned my father into. I resented the world for not giving him recognition and instead giving recognition to his peers who worked half as hard as he did.
It took a long time to get over it. I am realizing that holding onto resentment and cynicism will not help me get ahead. It will not help me become emotionally healthy. It will not help me thrive or create to the best of my ability.
In personal development, growing a thick skin is the key to persevering when things don’t go your way. It’s how you get tougher and better, which coddling does not do.
It’s productive to try your best at a variety of things and keep moving, even after hundreds of rejections.
It’s mature to believe that nobody owes you recognition or praise and you need to go above the bare minimum to earn it.
It’s wise not to let things you can’t control, such as demeaning judgments from others or a result not being as high as you hoped, prevent you from moving forward with what you’re given.
But because I grew up with there little tolerance for mistakes and bore the brunt of someone’s volatile temper — sometimes with or without a cause — I subconsciously interpret anything relating to tough love or growing a thick skin as “beating myself up and being excessively harsh towards myself” to the point where I am completely demotivated and can’t be smart or creative or productive, even if the original intent was to make me tougher.
It’s indeed important to note that just because I operate this way, it doesn’t mean I deserve a break.
Yet at the same time, I also have to acknowledge that the way I treat myself mentally isn’t helping me be more creative. It’s only preventing me from functioning at my peak. It’s the reason why I’ve had creative droughts and major depressive disorders and hyper-vigilance for much of my life, but it was especially exacerbated upon entering the real world.
I assumed the world served one purpose — to keep me down and crushed. So I didn’t try going after better opportunities because I thought I’d fail anyway. There didn’t seem to be a point in embarrassing myself by failing.
I had a bleak and pessimistic attitude that sucked the soul out of me.
In retrospect, it was poisonous. It was sinking me down to cold depths that were difficult to rise from. It was volatile and I was inwardly volatile towards myself.
So equating mental toughness with beating myself up will not get me anywhere — it will only set me back.
Calling myself demeaning names didn’t make me more inquisitive, exploratory, or creative.
It didn’t even motivate me to work harder. In fact, it demotivated me so much that I couldn’t see the point in anything I tried.
Keeping this mental block in mind, I understand that I have to be cautious with the way I approach rebuilding myself back together and moving on from experiences that twisted the way I viewed motivation.
I know the longer I hold onto this toxic mindset, the less emotionally mature I’ll be.
I can do as much as I am able to, but if I fall short, it doesn’t mean I have to go to war with myself because of one tiny mistake.
I can have ambitious goals, but if the outcomes are not high enough based on other people’s evaluation, I do not have to beat myself up. All I need to know is that following through on my goals made me a better person and that completing something is better than dreaming big without doing anything, regardless if I get famous or not — I am not useless if I fail to attain astronomical results like that.
So in essence, I am reparenting myself. I am not exactly coddling myself with today’s “self-love is all you need” platitude, but I do not want to use excessive mental force which does the opposite of what it’s intended to do, based on what I’ve experienced.
I am not a victim. I have not been wronged by anybody. I was simply misguided and in the way of someone’s hurt, but to change my life for the better, I have to do what is best for me, starting with how I approach self-motivation and how I reach for a “good enough” that doesn’t kill me.