Defining Myself for Myself

A couple weeks ago I joined a collective of radical leftist Asian/Pacific Islanders in the DC area, to plug into a community of fellow APIs and can contribute to social justice. Though I feel unsure about how much time I will invest in this specific group with everything else I have going on, I like the unapologetically leftist energy I have encountered so far. In particular, I appreciate sharing space with and witnessing Asian Americans who care about and take action to promote social justice. I feel rejuvenated taking part in this group after growing up in a high school with a lot of Asian Americans who internalized the model minority myth and focused more on grades than dismantling systems of oppression, myself included.

In this space though, I sometimes think about a former crush of mine and feel concerned. This guy, on paper at least, had organized for leftist causes and taken direct action to promote social justice. At the same time, he really hurt my feelings and from what I can discern the feelings of at least a few others as well. In my first group video chat with this new organization, I could not help but wonder to myself: who of you act to promote radical social justice yet hurt the people you engage with on an interpersonal level? And if I engage further with this organization, will you somehow hurt me?

men be like i know a place tweet

Saw this tweet and screamed a bit because, true. Though I’m over all the men from my past and not into any men in the present, this tweet describes how I feel based on past experiences, both mine and my friends.

I think a similar fear manifests in other areas of my life as well. A long-time friend of mine recently got engaged and at times I wonder, oh my BlackPink, will I also partake in the patriarchal wedding industrial complex and eventually spend money on an engagement and a wedding ring when I could spend that money on books by radical BIPOC authors and other worthy causes? As I progress further in academia, I often reflect and think, will I eventually lose my warmth and weirdness and concern for others and replace that with an insatiable drive to publish peer-reviewed articles no matter what, even if I hurt people’s feelings and/or sacrifice my floral-loving femme self in the process?

In the counseling world, sometimes clinicians talk about core fears, or the most underlying fear an individual experiences that they expend the most energy trying to avoid. Some people may fear that they are unlovable, so they chase relationships that are mediocre or dissatisfying to feel some form of love, even a paltry form of it. Some people may fear that they are unworthy or unimportant, so they pursue prestigious careers or high-status achievements to fill some sense of void. While I feel secure on my own and in my self-worth, I think my core fear centers more on this notion of losing myself: I’m terrified that one day I’ll wake up and look in the mirror and not recognize who I am anymore. I’m scared of losing myself to some interpersonally immature radical leftist API organizer, to the heteronormative patriarchy, and to the academic industrial complex.

When I reflect on this further though, I recognize that I can control who I am and who I spend time with. One of my favorite quotes includes Audre Lorde’s “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Now that I’m older, no matter how many people get married or chase academic publications or pursue prestigious awards, I can choose to live my life how I want to live it, societal expectations be damned. If I realize someone is abusive or mean or reckless with people’s feelings, I can set a boundary and block them from my life. Even as a child living with my awful mother, I managed to maintain my sense of self and eventually flourish. I survived her, so I’m not gonna let anyone stop me from thriving now.

As a clinician, researcher, and future psychologist who thinks a lot about how social norms influence our daily lives, I worry about losing myself to societal pressures maintained both by broader forces like patriarchy and local forces like certain friends and acquaintances. At the same time, I try to remember that I can live my life how I like it, with the sheer and utter confidence of BlackPink’s “How You Like That.” I’m taking time to honor the wisdom I’ve gained over the past several years and how, when I look in the mirror, I love the person staring back at me. I know that person. I know me.

how u like that dance performance still

Okay so this is a still from BlackPink’s “How You Like That” dance performance which I’m obsessed with, HYLT is currently tied for my favorite BP song with “As If It’s Your Last,” I love it! Instead of spending time on men I can watch this video two million times, which feels way more empowering.

What are your reactions or responses to this post? Does anything resonate? How do you try to maintain your sense of self in the face of societal pressures, or not? On a scale of amazing to extremely amazing, how amazing do you think the “How You Like That” dance performance video is (their confidence and that pink background though, I actually do have hope in the human condition)? Until next post!


Filed under Personal, Society

4 responses to “Defining Myself for Myself

  1. “will I eventually lose my warmth and weirdness and concern for others and replace that with an insatiable drive to publish peer-reviewed articles no matter what, even if I hurt people’s feelings and/or sacrifice my floral-loving femme self in the process?” Er, no. No you won’t. You are who you are and that’s not going to change.

    This reminds me of the argument I had with husband before he was husband, I was saying I thought it was good people who earned more paid a higher tax rate and he said that was because I never would earn that much and so I wouldn’t have to pay it – and that people who earned that much were a different kind of person to me so they would resent paying it. Fast-forward a decade and a half. I DID earn enough to pay higher-rate tax but I was still me, just running my own business ethically, and I was happy to pay it. Ha! I win!

    I’d also give these people in this group a chance and not let the actions of that crap guy affect your perceptions of them. It’s hard when you’ve been abused not to see that in everyone else, but it’s a group of different people who will have different amounts of commitment to the cause and you can engage with them how you want to.

    • Awwww Liz yes I love that example thank you for sharing. I like the notion that we can indeed still maintain our core beliefs and values, both about ourselves and the world, even if certain things (e.g., in your case your income) shift. I agree about giving these people a chance, while also not assuming that just because they have radical politics means that they know how to actually treat people. We stan growth and I’m honored that you’ve stuck with this blog for long enough to have seen the lessons I’ve learned from that rather long crush saga on the activist guy. Whew.

  2. I feel confident that you won’t change and you’ll remain true to your values and beliefs. I think the biggest challenge might be trying to find financial success and freedom within the restrictions of the academic world without compromising yourself.

    There aren’t a lot of people who can look at the mirror and loving the person looking back. To me, that is victory. I applaud you.

    Hope you have a great week.

    • Aw Matt thank you for your vote of confidence! Your belief means a lot to me given how long you’ve read this blog (whew a lot of weirdness to put up with/bask in and I appreciate you for doing so). Thanks also for applauding my victory, I love it too!

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