To: Victims of Abuse is dedicated to those who have experienced abuse.
I hope these writings will help give you the strength needed to persevere with life, to conquer your challenges, and to feel free.
This letter is based on my own knowledge, studies, experience, and strong feelings on this matter. I realize that the details of your situation may be very unique or different. You may have had the experience that others don’t quite understand your feelings or your situation, or that others claim to understand but really don’t. I can’t claim to understand your situation fully, just because I have been through adversity myself; but I write this letter as an encouragement, and as a promise that I will always strive to understand better, by being willing to listen, and by trying to show compassion.
I hope you will do the same, with yourself, and with others.
Escaping the Abuse
Many people have experienced discrimination. Today, thanks to the civil rights movement, we see people overcoming discrimination through intense striving, bravery, and self-empowerment. This is the same kind of courageous striving that we need to heal from abuse.
Sometimes, if you have been bullied or abused, you may feel overwhelmed with fear: you may hide, curl up like a ball, and stay stuck in the same place. It is important to find ways to seek freedom: to stand up, to leave the situation, to resist the urge to stay stuck.
The First Steps
The first step is to stop the abuse. Escape! You may need to plan your escape first. Find out about resources in your community that might help you in your escape, such as shelters, mental health professionals, and government agencies. Your friends may be the first and best resources. But, of course, it can be hard to even have friends if you are stuck in an abusive situation.
I know that taking the first steps is easier said than done. In many abusive situations, it can be difficult or even dangerous to seek help. Many victims of abuse are unwilling to take the first steps.
Some have been accustomed to the abuse for a long time, and it may feel like a foreign or dangerous world of risk to leave the situation.
Sometimes abuse can cause a person to feel self-destructive, due to a loss of self-esteem, or a loss of hope. When you feel so hurt and lost, you may feel that you deserve to suffer. When this happens, a person might choose to stay in an abusive situation.
Some victims of abuse have been made to feel that they were the cause of the problems in the home. For example, some victims are forced to write apologetic letters and read them out loud in front of a group. Others are made to apologize frequently... this can be like situations in totalitarian regimes, where innocent people have been “brainwashed”—forced to conform to a violent, tyrannical value system, and made to feel abnormal until they do.
Fear and Dependency
For some victims of abuse, they are afraid of the abusers—they are afraid of being stalked, harmed physically, or even killed. For some women who are in abusive relationships, they are concerned for the safety of their children.
For others, the abusive environment has become their “comfort zone” where they had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep on—moving away can feel too risky and uncertain. Women in abusive relationships, especially stay-at-home moms, might be worried about surviving financially on their own, if they were to set up a new household.
Sometimes there sincerely can be love or affection for the abuser, despite the pain, suffering, and fear involved with staying in the situation. Sometimes, victims of abuse may have a desire to protect the abusers in front of others and even want to present that “happy family picture” for others to see. This makes it harder to leave, or to stay safe.
Moving Away is Healthy
There are many reasons to feel afraid. Your worries are valid and understandable!
But remember, it is an act of bravery and leadership when you move away. It is necessary for your own health and well-being. If there is any hope for abusive people to change their ways, by seeking help or redemption, it requires that the situation changes, that the abuse is no longer allowed to continue, that escape happens first. If you escape, it can help other people in abusive situations to follow your example, and build up the resolve to escape as well!
When you escape, it may seem impossible or unbearable to picture the complexities of your future—but when you take that first step, other things will slowly come together, even if there are setbacks and disappointments along the way. You are not alone! Seek help from a mental health professional! There are many kind, empathic, compassionate people, who will genuinely care about you and help you along the way.
The journey of healing can be long and arduous, but I urge you to hold on, and not to give up!
Forgiveness, Revenge, and Empathy
Sometimes well-meaning people can try to push you to “forgive.” This is especially common in religious cultures. But I think it is important not to rush towards forgiveness. Forgiveness is a noble, powerful idea, and in some cases could be one of the ultimate solutions. But just like grief, you must take your time to mourn before you gradually heal.
Take your time to experience all of your emotions: anger, hatred, frustration, confusion, affection, and more. It’s an arduous process… but don’t run away from those emotions, as avoidance could hinder the process of healing.
All that you have been through can feel surreal to yourself and to others hearing your story. Many other people might have difficulty fully comprehending your pain, tears, and sufferings.
It’s understandable to experience emotions such as anger, resentment, and hatred if you were mistreated!
But you can’t be genuinely happy, calm, and at ease if you are preoccupied with retaliation. Revenge ruins the core of your self; it is a poison that eats you up. Revenge brings more revenge down the road, even passing from one generation to the next. It is a vicious cycle which brings more bitterness and pain to more and more people, including yourself. Revenge is not a solution at all.
The arduous, long journey of healing requires bravery, and gentle care of self–but it does not require revenge.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with people who have harmed you. A lot of people somehow always think that forgiveness is reconciliation.
It is often the case that abusive people continue to be abusive—their behaviour remains the same as it was in the past! They may not have changed for the better. Or it could be the case that you have not reached a point of healing which allows you to be capable of protecting yourself, and to safely manage your interactions with them.
If you have been through abuse and trauma, forgiveness means letting go of the urge to retaliate or cause harm. Standing up for yourself, taking a healthy path, achieving positive goals, improving your own life in every way—all these things are also part of the forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an internal state of feeling that helps you let go of anger, and let go of pain. But forgiveness should not cause you to let go of a quest for safety, fairness, and justice. It should also not cause you to assume that a person who has behaved dangerously in the past is now safe, just because you have forgiven them. Unfortunately, a person who behaves abusively remains at high risk for behaving abusively again in the future. If they are to change their ways, it requires lifelong help and guidance, from the community, from therapists, and possibly from the criminal justice system.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, especially if you were abused, undermined, or bullied... It’s easier said than done. One could easily say, “I forgive.” Yet the negative feelings could continue to live in one’s heart. Does forgiveness require you to hug your enemies and be physically close to them—literally? To be friends with them? To keep in touch with those who have abused you? Turning the other cheek, literally?
I say there is really no definite answer. The definition of forgiveness depends on the circumstances. Forgiveness is a process, which requires years and years of practice, devotion, and meditation or prayer. In some situations, I wouldn’t say that “reconciling” with abusers means forgiveness. I believe that for some, wishing their former oppressors well, is already forgiveness! It is necessary and healthy to let go of any need for revenge; I believe that for some, “the best revenge is to live a happy life.”
Improving oneself continually, and building a kind, empathic, and compassionate heart: together, these are manifestations of forgiveness.
Another form of forgiveness could involve meeting those who have hurt you—provided that the situation is physically safe. This requires a great deal of kindness and strength, to expose yourself to those who have harmed you. It can be especially exhausting and frustrating, if the meeting exposes you to negative behaviour yet again; it would be very hard in this situation to remain calm and gentle.
Once again, there’s no definite answer. Sometimes you need to listen to your heart: in this particular situation, what would you be comfortable with? Ask yourself, which “form” of forgiveness shall I take, to benefit others as well as myself? An important component of forgiveness is surely an internal state—the feeling of being able to let go, the peace within one’s heart, and an empathic feeling.
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I acknowledge that there are many forms of forgiveness; I enrich my life when I forgive and let go from my heart.
It takes practice, if your choice of “forgiveness” were to maintain some contacts with those who had previously done damage in your life. Your next question could be: is it worth it? In many cases it is not worth it, and it may be healthier never to have further contact. But this is a question that you need to answer for yourself.
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I practice responding with kindness to people who are full of bitterness, or who have an unapologetic attitude.
Empathy is not the same as forgiveness. Empathy has to do with understanding another person’s intellectual and emotional point of view.
Empathy can reduce the destructive power abusive people have over you. Empathy may not reduce the pain of your memories, but it may help you not to feel as consumed with anger. The misfortunes experienced by abusers don’t give them any justification for their harmful behaviour, but understanding these misfortunes can at the very least help us not to blame ourselves, and guide us to better help others in a similar situation.
Positive Qualities in Abusers?
Nobody on the earth is “all bad.” Many of those who have done the worst cruel things may also have positive qualities, and may have done some kind and helpful things despite having also been abusive at other times. But it can be extremely harmful for victims of abuse to focus on the “beauty” in abusers. Such a focus may cause people to stay in an abusive situation too long. It can prevent people from acknowledging the truth. If you have “rose-coloured glasses,” consider putting them away for now because they are not helpful in the beginning stage of healing—they may hinder you and lead you to a skewed point of view.
If you have been abused by your parent, your spouse, or your family, it can be very hard to admit that these people—the people whom you wanted to love, to trust, to grow old with—were the ones responsible for causing you such terrible harm. The abusers might want you to believe that they have really helped you, because they gave you food, clothing, or shelter, sometimes over a period of decades. They might even want you to believe that you were a difficult or troubled person, and that they were being harsh with you in an effort to “help.”
Don't let their words get to you!
Origins of Abusive Behaviour
You may, at some point, choose to reflect about why someone would behave abusively.
People who attack others are not happy themselves. In some cases of sadistic personality, abusive behaviour can give rise to a feeling of pleasure in the abuser—but I think we can all agree that this is not healthy for that person, and of course is not healthy for society! In other cases, of psychopathic personality, abusive behaviour can occur without empathy or emotion of any sort, motivated by a desire to exert power or to gain some kind of profit or advantage.
People who are healthy and happy would not abuse others, unless they are drawn into an abusive culture. The Stanford Prison experiment, done in 1971, showed that healthy people could end up behaving in a very cruel manner if they were placed in a situation where they had power over others, and where they were instructed to use their power. In many abusive households, there is a powerful tyrant ruling the house, who becomes intoxicated with cruelly using power over other people. Sometimes this type of tyranny is sanctioned by a belief system—such as the old-fashioned notion that a man is entitled to have absolute control over his family members.
In most cases, a person who behaves abusively has never really experienced true happiness and peace. Yet, they often do not have the insight about themselves to recognize this fact. Instead, they continue with abusive behaviour in an effort to make themselves feel better or more important.
They may feel insecure about themselves, and have very low self-esteem. They have not found their place on earth! A lack of self-esteem is not always manifest by shyness or passivity: in some people, they mask their lack of self-esteem by displaying an arrogant, controlling, and often violent disregard for other people’s feelings. The abuser feels very small and worthless inside, trying to feel bigger or more important by attacking others. To confront an abusive person with this truth is likely to be a strong provocation—it is what we would call a “narcissistic injury.”
Some abusers came from family backgrounds without care, love, and kindness. Some abusers were victims of abuse themselves; sadly, they could not break the vicious cycle.
Abuse in Traditional Chinese Households
Some victims of abuse have been influenced by conservative, traditional values. In traditional Chinese culture, there is a strong emphasis on maintaining group harmony, and of respecting elders and other family members. As a result, a person experiencing abuse in such a household may feel guilty or ashamed to take any steps to change the situation.
Filial Piety (孝)
Being Chinese myself, I have learned many idioms and teachings about the importance of maintaining family harmony and obeying your parents. The idea of being “filial pious” is held in very high esteem. Filial piety is the principle that one must be kind and respectful towards one’s parents, elderly relatives, and ancestors; one must obey one’s parents; and one must financially support one’s parents when they become old. Chinese children are constantly taught to respect, obey, and serve their parents (孝順父母)—that is the condition of being a “good child.” Here is another Chinese saying: 百行孝為先. This means, "out of all the virtues, filial piety is the most important."
The idea of filial piety is beautiful. Our society should focus more on respecting and being kind to elders!
However, if traditional teachings are interpreted in a narrow or literal way, they could be very harmful to people—especially to those who have experienced domestic abuse. For example, there’s a lot of domestic abuse going on, but hidden, in the Chinese community, due to the Chinese belief that 家醜不出外傳 (“family problems or ugliness should not be shared with the outsiders”). This leaves many abused children silent, confused, and suffering alone.
Chinese children who are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused should be taught that leaving the abusive environment and seeking help from mental health professionals is a form of filial piety, because they are helping their parents and family to address and change a longstanding injustice.
For example, an abused teenage child who has grown up with these traditions may challenge or resist the idea of acknowledging the abuse that happened at home. The child may say, “Didn’t our culture teach us to be filial pious to our parents?”
But we need to tell this child that his or her parents and family have caused harm—when they abuse others, they have caused harm not only to the victims, but even to themselves. Blindly obeying such parents, while such injustice and unfairness is involved, is called 愚孝—a harmful kind of filial piety. We need to encourage this child to escape! Some types of so-called filial piety are understood in Chinese culture to be unreasonable… the culture allows for situations in which it is necessary to escape rather than to obey.
Sometimes, when a young person has escaped from an abusive family, or has spoken out, there will be others who criticize or judge, without having understood the whole story. Because of the cultural tradition of never speaking out about family problems, others may only have seen a façade of a “happy family picture.”
This becomes yet another barrier, which can prevent healthy changes… a successful escape from an abusive situation becomes tainted by shame and guilt. But please remember, the shame and guilt come from the abusers, from rigid interpretations of cultural beliefs, and from a lack of understanding. Abusers often have an agenda to cause their victims to feel shame and guilt—the shame and guilt which result are other ways that the abuser causes harm. Remember, this process is due to pathology in the abuser, and it is never the victim’s fault! If you have been abused, it is not your fault!
China is Changing
Parenting in China is changing in many different aspects—many parents no longer demand absolute obedience from their children. Many parents respect their children as individuals. Many parents respect and listen to their children’s opinions. Many parents are willing to apologize to their children after they make mistakes. I have found some delightful examples, such as from a Chinese reality TV show: watch 爸爸去哪兒第三季 and read the apology letter that 林永健 wrote to his 5-year-old son, as well as the apologies that he made later on in the show. These wonderful scenes were probably influenced by the much-needed criticism, coming from the modern Chinese community, of authoritarian parenting styles.
China finally drafted an Anti-Domestic-Violence Law in 2014! But there is much more work that needs to be done. We need more open-minded individuals to analyze the Chinese idioms, beliefs, and proverbs, in a healthy, modern, and ethical way so that our next generations will no longer be trapped by archaic applications of these beliefs. There are many beautiful aspects in Chinese teachings. For example, I think that it is important to see the value of elders in our society! Chinese say, 家有一老，如有一寶, meaning that you have a treasure if you had an elder at home! But once again, these beliefs cannot be interpreted in an inflexible, stubborn way which causes harm to our children and our families.
In some cases, terrible abuse can be happening at home, yet the family adheres to what appears to be a devout religious faith. Others may see the family as leaders in the community, or as pious, honourable church people. But at home, there may be acts of unspeakable cruelty going on! In some situations, abusers may use quotations from religious texts, such as the Bible, to exert control over their victims, or to make the victims feel ashamed. While religious texts have overarching themes of love and compassion, unfortunately it is possible for an abuser to selectively choose passes from a religious text to perversely justify cruel actions, even towards an innocent child. Such bullying could be called “spiritual abuse.”
Narrow or dogmatic interpretations of religious texts merely become instruments of judgment, control, or criticism in an oppressive home atmosphere. We do not need to look very far in today’s news to find very sad examples of this sort of thing. A child growing up in such an atmosphere may be puzzled by the contradiction, hearing religious ideas about love, altruism, forgiveness, and redemption, while experiencing a lot of hate, selfishness, and other cruelty. The religious ideas themselves, beautiful as they can be, are subverted by the cruelty of such parents.
The thing is, religion can be a source of comfort, meaning, and joy. If your experience of religion has been tainted by an abusive upbringing, remember that this is due to the abusers. There may still be opportunities to find the comfort, meaning, and joy in a strong, healthy faith. Interestingly, in many faith traditions, such as Christianity, the founder of the religion (in the case of Christianity, Jesus!) also had to deal with abusive and oppressive people in the environment, including some who were part of the religious organization of the day (e.g. the Pharisees). Religious stories can often contain examples of how to stand up in a gentle, honourable, brave manner to cruel or abusive people or systems.
How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves. (Paulo Coelho)
How you make others feel about themselves, says a lot about you. (Author Unknown)
Disturbing Varieties of Abuse
One type of abuse that I have always found incredibly disturbing is when the victim is attacked, criticized, or humiliated, when he or she is actually doing a healthy, positive daily activity. So, a child may be working studiously on homework, or even volunteering to help others… Instead of receiving affirmation, encouragement, or praise, the victim is attacked or belittled. Such a process can break a person’s spirit, and leave a person feeling trapped and helpless. What is there to do in such a situation? No matter what one does, an attack may be coming!
In some cases, if the victim receives compliments from the outsiders, abusers become even angrier and have to attack even more. This is similar to the dynamic in the fairy tale of Cinderella: Cinderella and her stepfamily had very different or even opposite values. There was also a strong component of jealousy involved. The wicked stepmother and her daughters could not handle their jealousy in a healthy manner, and as a result they attacked and mistreated Cinderella. They were trying to feel better about themselves by taking away Cinderella's chance to shine.
Another example is when a child is engaging in minor misbehaviour, such as repeatedly asking for a new toy at a shopping mall… but instead of a gentle refusal or other parental guidance, the parent violently attacks the child! This pattern can lead to a feeling of terror, which inhibits any display of emotion or desire. Such a child would learn to become silent, and confused about the propriety of any action. Yet, even the ensuing silence could be grounds for attack! The silent, morose, terrified child may then be accused of being “difficult.”
Disturbing Examples of Emotional Abuse in the Home
Some readers may find the following examples very disturbing to look at, so if you don’t feel ready, please skip over this section. It is disturbing for me to be writing about this as well, but I believe it is important to include this section, in order to be honest and to provide education about emotional abuse.
Abusive people might attack their partner, children, or others by name-calling, yelling, swearing, constant criticisms, belittling, making demeaning jokes, verbal humiliation, and finding irrational reasons to support their criticisms. Here are some terrible examples of things some abusers say to children:
“You are disgusting.”
“You are the worst person I have ever met, and you are the worst person in the world.”
“You are not a human being but a beast. No, you are even worse than a beast.”
“You are so ugly. You are becoming uglier and uglier as you grow older.”
“Your heart is evil.”
“You are stupid and useless.”
Sometimes, abusers don’t give victims a break—they abuse in the car, in the middle of the night, on the phone, on vacations, in the hotel room, on birthdays, in emails, cards, and letters, on Christmas Day, in prayer, during leisure time, while watching TV, and while the child is studying.
After making all of these irrational criticisms repeatedly, abusers often try to convince and persuade others. Sometimes this even happens at the dinner table! Some sadistic abusers seem to enjoy humiliating their victims! Sometimes they try to convince their victims, that the victims are the cause of the abuse.
Controllers, abusers, and manipulative people don't question themselves. They don’t ask themselves if the problem is them. They always say the problem is someone else. (Darlene Ouimet)
If this has ever happened to you, don’t ever let bullies or abusers convince you that you are the problem; they are the source of the problem, and they either lack the insight to recognize this, or they try to cope with their problems by “projecting” them onto you, blaming you for problems which are actually within them. Be careful not to fall into the same pattern yourself!
Other components of emotional abuse include keeping the victims in place, restricting the victims’ freedom, and even threatening to kill the victims. The threats become even more terrifying and convincing to a child, when the abusers actually have a history of violent behaviours, which the child may even have observed in the past.
Emotional abuse has a severe, lasting, negative impact. The issue of emotional abuse cannot be dismissed as a minor issue. We must not underestimate the seriousness of emotional abuse, just because we do not see signs of obvious physical injury.
I would like to include a quotation from a good review article from the scientific literature, authored by Tera McPherson in 2002:
But what about the types of abuse that are not that obvious? Emotional abuse has devastating effects on children. Some studies have shown that children who suffer from emotional abuse have the worst outcome of all abuse and are better predictors of later problems (Augoustinos, 1987; Briere & Runtz, 1988, 1990; Claussen & Crittenden, 1991; Glauthier, Stollak, Messe & Aronoff, 1996; Kaplan et al., 1999; Simeon, Guralnik, Schmeidler, Sirof & Knutelska, 2001)… It was found that subjects who were emotionally abused as children showed higher rates of anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity and dissociation… it was shown that emotional abuse had a stronger relationship to long-term psychological functioning than other forms of maltreatment and was a stronger predictor of a wide range of problems (Kaplan et al., 1999)… Emotional abuse often goes unnoticed because it does not leave any marks. The damage is done on the inside, but the damage that is done is detrimental to the individual and will affect them for the rest of their lives.
McPherson, T. (2002). Cries for help: A literature review of the psychological effects of child maltreatment. Online Journal of the International Child and Youth Care Network.
McPherson (2002) emphasizes, with abundant research evidence to support her assertion, that emotional abuse could be the most devastating of all forms of abuse. It is particularly horrible, in many cases, because no physical scars are left, therefore preventing people in the community from recognizing the need for urgent intervention. Many people who are emotionally abused therefore receive less help.
Of course, all abuse is harmful. As with all other damaging experiences, the harm is increased by frequency, repetition, duration, intensity, and lack of supportive resources or other positive factors. Thus, the most harmful abuse experiences are those which occur repeatedly over a period of many years, as this relentless persistence would interfere with a person’s ability to recover from any single negative incident. An analogy can be made with a physical injury: a broken arm causes pain and disability, but it will recover in a few months. But if a person repeatedly gets a new broken arm before the initial fracture has healed, or is prevented from seeking appropriate care, then the damage can become permanent. Similarly, relentless, recurring, ongoing abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) has a much higher risk of causing chronic suffering.
People who physically abuse their children are likely to emotionally abuse their children as well, and people who emotionally abuse their children are likely to neglect them as well. The presence of one type of abuse should be considered a warning sign that other types of abuse could be going on as well.
The examples provided in this section are intended to educate the public about emotional abuse. If we were to do a survey of parents, especially in collectivistic cultures such as in China, many of these parents would not really be familiar with the phrase “emotional or mental abuse,” (情緒或精神虐待) and would not understand the scientific evidence about the devastating harm to children caused by this cruelty.
All types of abuse affect victims’ physical and psychological health. Research shows that the harmful effects of childhood abuse last for a lifetime.
However, with consistent care, healthy support, and emotional nourishment, there is hope.
Many victims of abuse develop deep feelings of confusion, after many years in a traumatic household. Because the family, and often the victims, make strong efforts to keep the abuse hidden, others might see the victim’s actions and words as inconsistent. People might say, “Abuse? I thought you were OK—you always were smiling in your family pictures! I thought you had a happy family!”
Imagine, for a moment, if you were a young, vulnerable child growing up in an abusive home. You might have always wanted to feel that you had the best parents or family in the world. You would have been taught to obey and to “be a good child.”
But your parents would have convinced you that you were the worst problem of all! On the one hand, you might have a huge affection for your parents, but on the other hand you would have a fear of their cruelty and inconsistency.
There would be toys and presents (leading to big smiles for the photographs)—but then there would be cruel mistreatment afterwards. A little while after an abusive incident, there would be a treat… There might be a six month period of neglect and silent treatment, but then you would be brought on a nice trip! More photos of smiles and laughter! A cycle. Repeatedly. Non-stop. The cycles of kindness followed by extremes of abuse and neglect.
How terribly puzzling to a young, vulnerable, sensitive child! You would have to become detached to cope. Anxious and depressed, but also detached. Even once you come to a realization—maybe once you reach 18 or 19—about the unhealthy, abnormal situation you have endured, everything could feel shattered or collapsed, in a state of unbearable heartbreak. Outsiders who know the family might see those photos, of smiles and laughter at Disneyland, but they might never see or understand the horrors that happened behind closed doors.
Temptations to Choose a Negative Path
After escaping an abusive situation, your struggle may not stop. The memories may remain hauntingly painful. You may be tempted to choose a negative path: you may be tempted to give up! You may be tempted to drink, gamble, or take drugs. You may be tempted to let go of your values, or engage in self-destructive acts. You may do these things with the hope of releasing some of your emotional pain. Sometimes a self-destructive tendency arises, because pain is all you know–it is familiar. Healthy relief of suffering may not be familiar, because it was never taught at home. In an abusive situation, we are at risk of learning to be helpless and self-destructive, and we may not have had the opportunity to practice healthy ways of caring for ourselves.
Abusers and bullies may have harmed you, or controlled you, for a long time. After you escape their physical control, it is important to work on escaping their emotional control as well!
Sometimes, people who had to escape an abusive situation during childhood may remember how they were once abandoned. They may easily feel abandoned in many situations, even when there is no actual abandonment happening. Sometimes, due to having so much experience with abandonment in the past, they may have a tendency to abandon themselves, literally or figuratively.
Even if you were abandoned in your childhood, you can build a life in which there are no new experiences of abandonment. There may be incidents that remind you of your childhood. Build your strength, as an adult, to navigate the world, even if there are no parental figures in your life.
No one can abandon you, except you yourself.
Strive hard to let go of the word “abandonment,” and strive hard to build healthy relationships with others.
I wish for all caregivers to create a safe, structured, well-boundaried kind of care, for those who have experienced abandonment in the past. Stable, consistent care can allow the growth of a secure attachment style, the growth of belief and confidence, and the emergence of health and independence in adulthood.
What I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for. (Shauna Niequist)
You can choose
I was asked many times, by many different people, how I resisted choosing a negative path.
Why was I eager to be “good”, to work so hard, to choose a bright, positive path? How did I do that? Why didn’t I give up? They would tell me, “If I were you, I would have already given up. I would have quit studying. I would have…”
My answer is, “But this is my life! How could I let others ruin it?” No one has the right to ruin my life. No one has the right to ruin your life!
Don’t let abusive people win!
I am determined to live a good life because of my past experiences. I believe that everyone has a certain level of control over life decisions. Everyone has a certain level of control over destiny. You can choose.
You deserve love, care, happiness, peace, and a bright future!
You have the power to say, “This is not how my story will end.” (Author Unknown)
The things you are passionate about are not random. They are your calling. (Fabienne Fredrickson)
Be courageous enough to relearn everything. As long as you are willing to persevere, as long as you are willing to work hard with patience, and as long as you remain kind, you will be able to flourish.
Let those hurts, pain, tears, and confusion become part of your motivation to build a different, happier life. What about building something positive and beautiful in your life, even though you have been through negative, terrible experiences? Work hard to reveal sides of yourself that you may not have discovered yet, and that no one has ever seen!
It is normal to have strong feelings of hatred towards those who have harmed you in the past–but hatred does not heal, and it does not win! Love, kindness and motivation heal. Love wins!
Build meaningful relationships! Spend time with people who are genuine and kind! Work hard for your future! Strive to be a better person, to gain the knowledge and resources to empower yourself. Earn respect—not through revenge, bitterness, or sarcasm—but through creating a bright, healthy path for yourself.
What are some of the things that you could learn, or improve on? Set healthy, positive goals, be patient, work hard, and persevere. After years and years of time, you would be glad that you chose this path and that you would feel proud of yourself! This is what “winning the battle” means—healing, succeeding, building the happiness and success that you deserve!
Power comes from your own heart. Learn to manage and handle suffering with wisdom, strength, and kindness. You will become a stronger and more resilient person, a soul that could endure hardships, and be more free to savour the joys of life.
If you are now living a meaningful life, being kind to others and helping those in need, working hard, nurturing your mind, putting love and heart into everything you do—then you will gain the resilience to stay healthy and happy. You will no longer have to live in fear.
No More Hiding
When you are ready, don’t hide. Stand up tall and let your light shine: be strong, while showing others your kindness, gentleness, and accomplishment.
Sometimes there could be a chance that you could encounter abusive people from your past. If there is any hope of them making changes, to be filled with remorse, to make amends, it first requires that you are safe, you are strong, you are healthy, and you are brave.
In most cases it is best never to have anything at all to do with past abusers. But sometimes they may discover you later in life. It could be a little bit like the Biblical story of Joseph. If that type of encounter should happen, there is a potential for you to be a leader in the process of change. Don’t underestimate your power to influence others in a positive way. They may never change—which could be very disappointing. But you can’t “make” people change—you could only try your best to influence others towards a positive path. Finally, it is usually necessary to let them go.
Do You Have Freedom?
Despite what you have been through in life, you still have a certain degree of freedom. It’s hard to deal with so much suffering, I know. But if you are still alive, surviving today, it means that there is still a chance, a greater purpose behind the pain, a better future that lies ahead. You have the freedom to choose, and to work hard for what you want. You can make a difference and create meaning in your life!
The Tortoise and the Hare
In Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, a very slow tortoise wins a running race against a very fast hare. In the story, we see that humble determination and perseverance are more powerful qualities than arrogant privilege or material advantage.
You may feel like the tortoise, who doesn’t have the “genes” or resources to move forward quickly in life.
You may often be frustrated at how slowly things seem to be going for you! But guess what? You have courage!
Another angle to this story has to do with why we have to be in a “race” in the first place! Life doesn’t have to be a race! “Winning” in life doesn’t mean that you have to accomplish things faster than the people around you. It is okay to go at your own pace, provided you are lovingly engaged with what you are doing, while showing humble determination and perseverance.
If you are surviving in a deprived, emotionally painful state, with no parental love, no support, no financial resources, then all you have is your perseverance, your will not to give up, and your choice to keep striving. It is an act of heroism to continue your journey. Be a hero!
A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. (Christopher Reeve)
Some wealthy people are given houses, cars, and expensive luxuries, even during their childhood! As a result, they often miss the opportunity to build their own satisfaction from within. They may also miss the opportunity to nurture empathy about others who are less fortunate. In the fable, the hare chose to sleep during the race! Wealth and privilege often leads to passivity and disengagement from a meaningful life.
The tortoise won the race, not because he has the most excellent genes or resources, but because of his hard work, perseverance, belief, and character!
Meaning from Suffering
Love your whole story even if it hasn’t been the perfect fairy tale. (Melanie Moushigian Koulouris)
Experiences of suffering give rise to even more suffering in the future, through disturbing memories, mood problems, and sadness about the deprivation and loss that was experienced. But your sufferings are also your possessions, your resources. They shape you, mold you, and prepare you for the future.
In time, you may come to realize that your sufferings carry meanings that could guide your life in positive ways. Your suffering won’t be in vain. It will not all be for nothing! Believe this!
You may choose to help other people, because of your understanding of emotional pain, and your empathy. You may become more compassionate and kind to other people around you. You may develop insights, sensitivity, and a sense of appreciation that most other people don’t have. As you work towards perceiving it this way, you will be winning the battle. As long as you are still living, trying, working hard, you are winning.
You are an individual with stories, with meaningful, dynamic stories to share with others. Many are interested in learning from you—how, exactly, did you overcome those heartbreaking struggles, pain, and sufferings? How could you survive until now, with all those hurts and pain? How did you achieve your goals and dreams on your own? How did you persevere in the midst of hardships? You could be an inspiration!
Here is a short Chinese saying, that people once encouraged me to think of:
This means that you will be entrusted with a big mission. But first, you must face distress, tiredness, hunger, deprivations, and failures, in order to strengthen your will and determination, and in order to develop new strengths.
One could call this a superstitious claim. I am translating this Chinese phrase here not to encourage an “external locus of control” in you. I am translating this here, hoping that you could derive meanings from your sufferings, hardships, and abusive past experiences. You could help others with your experiences; you could help encourage others who have been through similar experiences; you could turn your painful experiences into something meaningful and helpful to yourself and to others! There could be a greater plan behind your pain and sufferings. Maybe it’s to prepare you for something greater, that you have never thought of.
The following quotes are quite similar:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)
Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place. (Author Unknown)
Beauty is having an empathic and compassionate heart that constantly shines through your face, your words, your actions, and most importantly your presence. It’s always there, no matter how old you are, because that’s the core of you. You can’t fake it, or pretend to have it. It has to be genuine in order to be called beautiful.
Beauty is a choice. You can choose to practice empathy, altruism, compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, acceptance, generosity, genuineness, humility, patience, gratitude, diligence, courage, and open-mindedness, hence beauty, regardless of what you have been through. Choose beauty instead of anger or bitterness!
If you have good thoughts, they will always shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely. (Roald Dahl)
Suffering leaves you with scars—emotional ones, and sometimes physical ones too.
But they are part of you, and you do not need to feel ashamed of them. Be a proud tortoise!
Wear your tragedies as armor. Not shackles. (Author Unknown)
When the Hard Times are Over, the Good Times Will Come
I have decided to write a small Chinese paragraph here.
A Chinese idiom, 苦盡甘來, says, when the hard times, or bitterness, are over, the good times, or sweetness, will come. I believe that sweetness doesn’t necessarily mean “money”, “fame”, “a happy family”, or all of your dreams coming true. I believe that sweetness may well mean your mentality, your growth, your gratitude, your kindness, your open-mindedness, and your forgiving heart. It’s often the most difficult and painful experiences in life that help us grow and obtain the most beautiful and honourable traits.
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. (Bob Marley)
It Takes Time, Be Patient!
Life is not a movie. It’s impossible that there could be major changes after 120 minutes—in that you could get your happiness, confidence, faith, healing, and then reach all of your goals in an hour or two. Who doesn’t want life to be like that? But life isn’t really like that: instead, it requires your time, energy, perseverance, patience, and hard work to reach your goals. There are people who could help you along the way (the government, mental health professionals, schools, kind individuals). Also, we treasure those things, those events, those goals, and those relationships more when they require more of our effort or time to acquire. Big dreams always require more of our time and effort!
Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time. (Asha Tyson)
People in Your Life
It is during the worst times of your life that you will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you. (Ritu Ghatourey)
Those who help you during the most difficult times of your life are people whom you could call true friends. I am sure that if they needed help in the future, you would be very happy and willing to give them a hand.
If there are others who have discouraged you or caused you even more harm along the way, try to let them go.
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great. (Mark Twain)
The only people worthy to be in your life are the ones that help you through the hard times and laugh with you after the hard times pass. (Ziad K. Abdelnour)
Being a Good Friend
If you are a friend, please do not ask victims of abuse to “just get over it.” Do not tell them that there are people out there with even worse suffering! These responses may be true, but they are not empathic. Pain, memories, and sadness do not disappear just because there are other people suffering more than your friend. Their feelings are real and valid from their point of view. Healing takes time!
As a friend, you can spend time with the victims, provide positive encouragement, and even help them with little things, such as chores or grocery shopping!
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares. (Henri Nouwen)
While a good friendship has healing properties, you cannot do all the healing yourself! Encourage your friend, who has been through abuse, to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a counsellor. That way, you may have more time with your friend to savour some of the simple joys of friendship, knowing that your friend’s health is being taken care of in a community of caregivers.
Strong people don’t put others down… They lift them up. (Michael P. Watson)
Life is in Your Own Hands
Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. (David Brooks)
Ultimately, you must rely on your perseverance, to jump over life’s hurdles like an athlete, in order to conquer the hardships and reach your destination. You need to acknowledge that your life is in your own hands—your thoughts and actions have a huge influence on the consequences of your own life; it is what psychologists would call an “internal locus of control,” which is a healthier, more empowered way to live.
Throughout the process, you may keep falling, you make be tempted to give up, and you may feel exhausted. Success, healing, or reaching your destination, doesn’t just happen with the click of a button. It requires 10 years or even 20 years of work. Throughout the process, there may be times that you feel hesitant. You may wonder whether your hard work would really lead you towards a bright path? What if this is a dead end? What if you can’t reach your goals? Your dreams? What if you can’t stand up? Yes, it could be terrifying if we can’t see any end in sight.
You Must Believe
Believe you can and you’re halfway there. (Theodore Roosevelt)
You must believe, believe that you can. Believe that you can win this battle, as long as you contribute your hard work and time. Have that picture in your mind. I am not sure what your goals are, but I encourage you to find your dream.
If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. (John Irving)
Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. (Tony Robbins)
Your dream could be becoming an interior designer, a painter, or an architect. Or it could be becoming a kind, nurturing mother to your children! It could also be travelling to struggling parts of the world to help those in need! It could be sticking with your moral principles in the decisions that you make in life! No matter what that is, as long as you are aware of your potential (or see a good fit between your strengths and your dream), as long as you work hard, as long as you don’t give up, as long as you persistently believe and hold onto that belief and don’t let other negative things, voices, or people destroy it, you will reach your goal! It is a long journey, but you will get there. And if this has already become your lifestyle, you would realize that even after you have reached your goal, you wouldn’t want to stop; you would only think of ways to improve yourself further, and become even more successful.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. (Maya Angelou)
To a lot of people, success means wealth, possessions, fame, and status—to me, success is discovering, revealing, practicing, and dwelling in genuine kindness.
Success is letting kindness be the core of who you are.
When one is empathic, altruistic, compassionate, accepting, open-minded, fair, and forgiving towards oneself and all other people, across all different kinds of circumstances, then one is truly successful. The greatest success is always associated with a genuine sense of humility.
Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives. (Michelle Obama)
The greatest success we’ll know is helping others succeed and grow. (Gregory Scott Reid)
Ongoing Traumatic Experiences
Traumatic experience may keep coming back throughout your whole life—through dreams, flashbacks, and triggers. The intensity or frequency may decrease for some, but most likely they won’t disappear completely. Just like many things in life, it’s important for you to become aware of it and accept it as part of your life (yes, you may have to accept having nightmares as part of your life—they could decrease from every night, to once a week, to once a month, to once every two months). Don’t let it conquer your life, however. You are the one in control. You can choose to focus intensely on it, ruminate about it during the day, and feel discouraged and depressed, or you could accept it, notice it, take some deep breaths, and let it pass (meditate!).
Memories can visit unexpectedly or uncontrollably, but you have a choice, and you don’t have to choose rumination. You can choose to find a way to deal with them without letting them ruin your mood or life.
Imagery to Cope with Upsetting Memories or Feelings
Imagine putting upsetting thoughts into a locked safe or cabinet. There will be times you may choose to open the safe, and work with the contents, but you can also choose at other times to close the door and lock it securely. You can imagine keeping this safe in a place that feels secure to you, such as at your therapist’s office, or at the home of a loved one.
I see that this is a coping strategy, to help you stay focused, to become aware of the here and now. If you are working or studying, don’t panic! All you have to do is to meditate and think of the imagery (think of your own imagery that works for you!). Once you use your imagery, tell yourself that you are also letting those memories or flashbacks pass. Then you can stay focused on the task at hand.
It takes a huge effort to free yourself from memory, but when you succeed, you start to realize that you’re capable of far more than you imagined. (Paulo Coelho)
Prepare a Kit
Sometimes, people panic too much when an upsetting thought comes—and they totally forget what to do!
Here’s a strategy to help with this: prepare a kit for yourself, ahead of time, before the next episode of discomfort arrives. The kit could be clearly stated and specific steps that you would carry out when the flashbacks visit you and bother your mood. For instance,
1) find a quieter place and listen to a guided meditation clip. You can find some on YouTube!
2) have lots of water to keep yourself hydrated
3) focus on your breathing and take some deep breaths
4) have someone or something to distract yourself (distraction has been found to be an effective coping strategy for some)
There are many other possibilities! Every kit is different, as it can be tailored for your specific needs. But the purpose of the kits is all the same, and that is to ensure that you have all the resources and “steps” to face a difficult episode. Eventually, with time and practice, the routine of coping with the flashbacks can become automatic.
If possible, take a meditation class, practice with your psychotherapist, and listen to guided meditation clips on YouTube or on apps. Guided imagery meditations and mindfulness meditations can be profoundly helpful, and there is more and more strong scientific evidence which proves this!
Practice Healthy Self-talk
Do not speak badly of yourself, for the warrior that is inside you hears your words and is lessened by them. (David Gemmell)
People who have been through abuse often have internalized those critical or abusive voices.
After a prolonged period of time—especially if the abuse occurred during childhood, a time of physical and psychological vulnerability—people may come to believe in those voices and repeat them to themselves consciously or subconsciously. Some people have internalized their anger and hatred, and they would repeatedly say, “I hate myself”. The voices are so ingrained that victims of abuse would often have an immensely deep sense of self-hatred. They hate themselves so much that they would like to “destroy” themselves through engaging in self-destructive actions or self-inflicted harm (such as, cutting or burning themselves, binge eating, or self-induced vomiting), putting themselves down (such as, criticizing themselves harshly, in front of others and in their heads), having suicidal ideation, or even committing suicide in the end.
Ask yourself these questions: Am I blaming myself unfairly? Whose voice is it? Remember to modify your negative thoughts. If you have thoughts that started with hearing the hostile words of an abuser, remember that these thoughts don’t have to be your own. Even if these words originally came from a parent, or a partner, you don’t have to follow them—they are inaccurate, and you don’t have to believe in them. Replace those thoughts with new thoughts which are your own, and which are honest, objective, realistic, and kind.
Practice doing that repeatedly. Be patient and don’t give up!
Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love. (Brene Brown)
Sometimes There Can Be a Silver Lining
Are there silver linings behind your difficulties, “bad luck”, sufferings, or pain? While there may not always be a silver lining, it can be important, and therapeutic, to at least be open to the possibility that one may exist, and that it can be worth looking for. If a silver lining is there, don’t miss it. The terrible experiences in your life could make you a stronger, better, more beautiful, more humble, more empathic, and more open-minded person, if you so choose to!
Sometimes people with the worst pasts end up creating the best futures. (Author Unknown)
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. (Oscar Wilde)
What do people want us to be? What is the so-called “right” thing to do?
You know yourself better than anyone else. Find your own peace and your own comfortable way of living your life.
There’s only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. (Aristotle)
People criticized me. So I changed. But people still criticized me. So I changed more. And still people criticized me. Then finally I realized it’s what they will do, no matter what. And I changed once more, by no longer listening to those people. (Brian Vaszily)
While it is important to be yourself, it is also important to be willing to grow, and to be willing to change. It’s important to remain open-minded, to listen to others’ opinions, to reflect, and to make changes for the better. There is always room for growing and challenging ourselves in good ways!
Introverts and Extroverts
There are many different personality styles. They are all part of the healthy, normal variety of life. Introverts and extroverts differ in how much time and effort they like to spend with other people. But introversion and extroversion are both “normal.” You don’t have to try to be an extrovert if you feel like an introvert inside!
If you are an introvert, and anyone has ever criticized you for it – remember that your introversion is a gift, it is a beautiful thing, and it is normal. The criticism is founded on a lack of knowledge, open-mindedness, and understanding.
I see that introverts like to ponder a lot, and that’s why being a psychotherapist, an author, or a painter, could be a good fit for them, for example. They are quiet, but oftentimes I personally find introverts to be full of wisdom and calmness, which are certainly valuable assets. From my perspective, quietness is a very mature attitude, yet it draws so much criticism. I believe that having a respect for silence is important; for example, there is a Chinese phrase (and an English phrase too!) that says "silence is golden" (沈默是金).
I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person. (Oscar Wilde)
Like many, I am proud to be an introvert. I like to reflect, and to write my thoughts down. My life is so very meaningful, with people whom I love, yet I need to spend much time in solitude. I am a hard-core introvert, and I don't feel ashamed because of that. If you find me interesting and would like to be my friend, cool. I am not going to try to give up being an introvert just to be “liked.” When you are willing to be yourself, whether this is extroverted or introverted, you will realize that there are actually people who really appreciate who you are. I have met many people who genuinely appreciate my introversion!
The woman who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. (Albert Einstein)
Finally, one’s level of extroversion and introversion is on a continuum. You could be more extraverted or exuberant in some situations (such as at a birthday party), and more introverted in others.
Affirmation: I am happy, because I choose to be who I am. I am who I am.
Many times, it really depends on you alone, whether or not you’re willing to accept others’ help, such as from a counsellor. And it really depends on you alone, whether you have the courage, strength, and perseverance to press on and opt for healthy options in the midst of sufferings.
When I was an adolescent, I was very uncomfortable receiving substantial help from others. I thought I could just rely on myself to do everything.
One of my mentors shared a very wise opinion: he said, “Do you know why you are so unwilling to receive help from me, or others? It is because of pride.”
In my head, I was like, “What?! Pride? That term never crossed my mind!” But shortly after, as I reflected deeply about this issue, I realized he was right: “Yes, it is true. Pride says I can do it myself, and my pride tells me that I don’t need others’ help!”
In the end I realized that I really needed help. It’s okay to receive help; there are many things that we can’t do ourselves—even if you are a surgeon, you can’t operate on someone all by yourself! Admit that there are periods in your life when you are weak; during those periods, you may need a break, and you may need external help!
Of course, there is internal help that only you can do! I’m thankful that perseverance is with me. It picks me up over and over again whenever I fall and feel discouraged. My efforts to stick with thoughts, emotions, and activities that are positive and constructive to my health have also saved me.
My strength did not come from lifting weights. My strength came from lifting myself up when I was knocked down. (Bob Moore)
Rainbow After the Rain
Taking a break sometimes is fine; but it’s important to keep in mind that structure and predictability in times of difficulties and distress can be really helpful and eventually meaningful for you. Life changes take time, although we’d always want difficult situations, illnesses, and painful feelings to disappear right away. It takes time and effort to walk step by step out of the gloom so that no matter what circumstances you are in, you’d still have the capacity to accept the realities of life and live on with love and purpose.
Perhaps there is a bigger picture that you can’t see right now. In the midst of your sufferings, all you might see at the moment is rain and storm, but as time passes by, and as you grow from your experiences and pain, you will slowly come to realize the rainbow after the rain.
Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. (Author Unknown)
Sometimes the situation hasn’t really changed dramatically—time can’t rewind; hurts and pain can’t be deleted, and the abuse can’t be undone. But if you have learned gentle acceptance, even though the situation hasn’t changed, you’d still be able to see the positives and appreciate your past genuinely, without holding onto grudges. Through practice and time, your positive emotions can be recaptured despite your unbearable sufferings. Once I focus on all the big and small blessings in my life, I feel relieved and content.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)
You can choose a positive, healthy road, regardless of your traumatic childhood, painful life experiences, and difficult environment, that all seem to have tremendous power over you.
This is a Chinese complex sentence, which encourages the possibility of “emerging from the mud without being dirty.” It encourages us not to allow poor surroundings or an adverse environment to affect the core of you. This phrase totally illustrates a core insight from personality psychology: we are strongly influenced by our social environment, but we also have stable personality traits, morality, thoughts, determination, will, and values that could help us fight through those influences! You have a choice!
The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands. (Anne Frank)
A “dead end” is just an illusion. There is always a way out, waiting for you. There is always hope and help along the way. May I encourage you: don’t give up! I understand how difficult life is, how complicated all the life problems can become, and how painful the hurts can be, but there are positive and beautiful things in life that worth your attention and time. Maybe it’s the sunshine, the rain, the beautiful blooming flowers, a singing bird, the ocean, the mountains, the trees, and the leaves. Maybe it’s a cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, a conversation with a close friend, an unforgettable meal, or even a simple take-out meal. Pay attention to your surroundings and try to generate a sense of gratitude! Happiness can be found anywhere, everywhere! It just all depends on whether or not you are willing to choose happiness: seek help, accept help, and allow others to walk with you, towards a beautiful future.
Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. (Albus Dumbledore)
It is as if we were babies, learning how to walk. Throughout the process, we’d keep falling, and at times, we might even think that we’d never acquire that skill and master it. Now that we look back, of course we’d think that walking is really not that difficult; in fact, it has become something so automatic and natural to most of us. Sometimes when we are distressed, we’d think that the status quo would stay forever. Therefore, hope is the key. When we have faith to believe, and hope to look beyond the traumatic situation, we’d have strength to move forward.
The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination. (Tommy Lasorda)
Here is a similar quote, in Chinese: 有志者事竟成
There Are Still Wonderful Things In This World
The earth has music for those who listen. (George Santayana)
Resentment can’t be the solution. Anger is a reflexive response when others hurt us, but allowing hatred to grow and take over our lives is detrimental to ourselves—we would be the ones who suffer.
Abusers, on the other hand, may often continue living without remorse.
However, their peace might only come if one day they are willing to acknowledge and take personal responsibility for their actions, and then to make amends. Sadly, and frustratingly, very few abusers actually ever do this.
Be willing to let go of that hatred in your heart, and find other positive, healthy things to dwell upon. There are many little, joyful things in life that deserve your time, and attention! You just have to pause and see and smile at it.
For me, playing with little children, teaching them, or even just looking at them reminds me of how beautiful the world is, and how simple our lives can be. They always remind me that simplicity is happiness (平凡是福)! Being able to spend time with little children is a blessing, a huge privilege.
The soul is healed by being with children. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
The best kind of people are the ones that come into your life, and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds. The people that believe in you so much, you start to believe in you too. The people that love you, simply for being you. The once in a lifetime kind of people. (Author Unknown)
We encounter so many people on the streets, or in our neighbourhood on a daily basis. Yes, you may not know them, but how difficult is it to just smile at them, or even say hello to them and start a conversation? I have encountered many strangers throughout my life who have been sincerely kind to me.
They don’t know me, they don’t have to please me, yet they put the effort to say hello to me and compliment me sincerely, so that I learned something different. You never know, how impactful it could be when you compliment others genuinely; you might make their day, change their direction, or even inspire them! Smile, and say hello. Practice having eye contact, in the way it is appropriate in your culture. Be respectful, no matter whom you encounter, and no matter what kind of job position you are in. Don’t look down on others, and try to reflect on the fact that we are all of a same kind after all: humans, who deserve respect and kindness.
No matter how educated, talented, rich, or cool you think you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all. Integrity is everything. (Author Unknown)
Be empathic, be humble, and be kind. Not just because this is such a normal, respectful way of being, but try to think of it as contributing a little bit to the society. There are enough of sadness, troubles, arguments, wars, and horrendous things going on in the world. Sometimes, without many resources, we may think, “What exactly can we do to help?” Start with small things. Maybe you will get more insights down the road and discover that actually, you have so much more to give than you could imagine.
I always like to ask people, “What are some of your hobbies?” I ask because I want them to become more aware of the things that they really enjoy doing, and be more in touch with those things. We all have very busy schedules, and sometimes, we just forget about how important it is, to find time for those things that make our souls happy! I love to write (apparently!), read, paint, draw, bike, swim, watch the sunset, hike, make crafts, scrapbook, take photographs, play music, cook, and many more. There were times that I neglected these things and thought that these hobbies would distract me from my goals. Guess what? My life became dull, with much less energy too! It’s important to make a schedule, deliberately making time for these seemingly “less important” events, incorporating these extremely healthy activities into our daily life. I never regretted spending time on painting or writing or making crafts or playing music, although they can be very time consuming; they give me so much more energy afterwards, than if I were just to sit at my desk and look at my school work, for example.
Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things. (Kurt Vonnegut)
Be adventurous and seek out all the positive things in the world—they will help you carry on. Being connected to nature is the best place to start! Remember to look at the trees and the flowers when you go outside for a walk. Visit parks and forests, notice the sounds of the wind, and the birds. Notice the smells of a forest, a garden, or a beach. If you visit a beach, feel the sand under your feet. Put your hand in the water. Pick up a seashell. Throw a stone into the water and watch the circular waves after it splashes. These experiences are soothing for the body, the mind, and the spirit. They are a foundation for building better mental health, and a better connection with the environment in which we all live.
Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing. (Camille Pissarro)
Help Other People
Sometimes your struggles become your expertise. (Lauren Kate Ciminera)
Those who are the happiest are those who do the most for others. (Booker T. Washington)
One of the greatest gifts in life is feeling that you are treasured and loved by others. But from my personal experience, sometimes I see that it is an even greater gift to have the opportunity to love and take care of others, regardless of whether they treat you the same way or not. The key is not about give and take, but the process of giving—being able to share your altruistic love with others.
Our lives are full of unpredictable sufferings. If we are able to show our concerns for others and reach out our hands to help those who are in need, perhaps many can better cope with their tragedies and find beautiful meanings in life.
From my perspective, serving/helping others is not a task, a responsibility, or a choice—it is a foundation of my life. Serving others will bring renewed joy and peace one time after another. If there is love, we do not calculate the costs and benefits, but we’re delighted to have the privilege to contribute as much as we can, without the expectation to receive anything back in return at all.
It is about our orientation, our actions, our attitudes, our thoughts, our words in everyday life... and most importantly, our hearts. Serving others doesn’t require you to be in a specific position or having a specific title; you can serve others in your everyday life—by simply opening the door for a disabled person, by smiling at others, or by giving change to a stranger.
The famous psychologist Alfred Adler summarized these ideas about an altruistic lifestyle under his term “social interest.” It’s not just the actions—you could donate a lot of money to charities, but that’s not it. It has to come from within, from a genuine loving heart. It’s not just the actions, but your heart.
Last but not least, having the opportunity of helping other people should not be associated with a sense of power, superiority, pride or arrogance. A good example of this comes from the Biblical story of Jesus. Being a leader, he “did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45). Being in a position of helping other people who are less fortunate than you are does not elevate you to an upper position. Being a leader means: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The most admirable leaders treat and see themselves as servants, and they serve others humbly and respectfully. I find this a beautiful and inspiring way to live.
I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved. I know that I can give love for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month, but I can give. I am very happy to do that, I want to do that. (Diana, Princess of Wales)
The fact of experiencing joy in working for the good of others, or of coming away with unexpected benefits for oneself, does not, in itself, make an action selfish. Authentic altruism does not require that you suffer from helping others and does not lose its authenticity if it is accompanied by a feeling of profound satisfaction. (Matthieu Ricard)
To All Parents
I encourage all parents or guardians to take a parent-child relationship course before entering into parenthood.
Your parenting style has a lifelong impact on your children, and parenthood is a very serious matter. Children are precious human beings, who deserve the purest kind of consistent attention, nurturance, care, guidance, and love. You may perceive that physical punishments, harsh criticism, shouting, or neglect are strategies that help control your children’s behaviour, but that’s just temporary—the damage, on the other hand, can be permanent! There are many more positive, healthy, enjoyable, and effective strategies out there, available for you.
If you are trapped in a vicious cycle of negative behaviour towards your children, following the footsteps of your own parents who also treated you poorly, be the one to stop! Don’t let the abusive behaviour pass from one generation to another. Many adults are still sobbing when they are reminded of their parents’ mistreatment during childhood. But make a change now! It is never too late to change, and to make amends! If you have done harm to your children, begin by acknowledging your actions; make a sincere apology; and strongly consider finding a therapist to help you work on making permanent changes. If you do apologize or attempt to make amends, remember that your children may not be in a place where they are able to accept your words. They may have been too injured or damaged by what happened to them in the past… but it is still a good place to start, to offer words of peace and apology.
Mental illnesses are a biopsychosocial matter. That is, they are influenced by heredity and other physical factors, as well as by life experiences, personal choices, and social environment. Your children may be prone to develop mental illnesses genetically, but the family environment plays a tremendous role in your children’s lives! Studies show that a healthy family social environment is a protective factor against psychological problems in children. Create a better future simply through loving your children: show empathy, altruism, and compassion. Authoritative parenting (which basically means kind and loving, with clear, fair rules strictly but gently enforced) is associated with many more positive outcomes in children, compared to parenting which is harshly authoritarian (where the parent is like a dictator or tyrannical boss), indifferent, or indulgent.
The Bystander Effect
If you experienced childhood abuse, and were trapped throughout your childhood, you may have wondered, “Why didn’t anyone do anything to rescue me?” We know that the sooner you escape from your abusive environment, the less harmful the impact would be.
Why do people not intervene to help, if they know that a harmful situation is going on? There are many possibilities:
First, witnesses may lack knowledge and education of what abuse is. The term “abuse” is not something that people would like to acknowledge or admit or be familiar with. There can be a tendency, due to lack of education or comfort with the issue, to simply deny that anything harmful is going on at all.
Second, many cultural traditions, such as in China, focus on maintaining group harmony. Some people may feel that speaking up—even about a very bad thing going on—would disrupt group harmony. This feeling is reflected in a Chinese idiom, 置身事外, which talks about the practice of apathetically placing oneself outside of other people’s situations and not getting involved. Many Chinese people are also focussed on “filial piety” and interpret this in a black-and-white manner, by believing that parents are always right, or by believing that one must obey parents regardless of what they are doing.
Third, some witnesses are afraid of the abusers themselves. Many abusers have power and wealth, and a sadistic or psychopathic personality, which deter people from wanting to reach out and help.
Fourth, the bystander effect. This is when a witness simply assumes that the issue is already being dealt with by someone else: the belief is that some other witness is already going to help, so no further action is needed. The trouble is, everyone in the whole group believes the same thing, therefore nobody does anything!
The bystander effect was first discussed in 1964, after the murder of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who lived in a busy New York City neighbourhood. She was attacked by a madman with a knife; the man came back half an hour later, and attacked the victim a second time before she died. Numerous people heard or observed the attacks, but very little was done to call for help or offer direct assistance. The communication which did occur (such as to call the police, or to shout at the attacker) was somewhat helpful, but it did not occur in a clear, consistent, strong, timely manner… so there was an incredibly tragic delay, and a poor innocent woman died. The other people in the neighbourhood either assumed that someone else had already dealt with the issue, or that the issue was not as serious as it seemed. The lesson here, is that we all have a responsibility to pay attention to individuals who are in need of help. We cannot ignore cries for help, or assume that someone else will deal with it. Even if it is too dangerous to intervene directly, it is always possible to do something, such as to call the police.
The life’s work of famous psychologist Philip Zimbardo has to do with understanding the roots of evil behavior in human society. One of his key findings has been that evil things often happen simply because people gradually, passively go along with bad behaviours which start to occur in a group, particularly when there is a hierarchy of power within that group. Once certain bad behaviours start to occur, this starts to become a new “group norm.” Individuals who feel this behavior is wrong often feel inhibited or afraid to speak out about it, because they feel that they might be criticized or punished by others in the group. This can happen in communities, and it can happen in families. People tragically follow along passively, and allow harmful or abusive things to happen, without intervening or calling for help.
Zimbardo challenges each of us to be a “hero.” His idea of being a hero is to be willing to speak out about injustice, and to be willing to help a person in need, even if everyone else in your group is remaining silent. Speaking up, or assisting others, can be scary, and can require physical and emotional energy—but these actions are brave and noble, and can be part of living a deeply satisfying life.
If you are a neighbor, a friend, a mentor, a teacher, or a tutor… and you notice abuse going on—please, report this to the government or the police and help the victims escape from their abusive environment.
How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great. (Bill Bennot)
Pass on Love and Care. Don’t Pass on Abuse and Hurts.
Be thankful for all the difficult people in your life, and learn from them. They have shown you exactly who you do not want to be. (Author Unknown)
There is no excuse to abuse other individuals just because you were hurt or damaged or scarred during your own childhood!
For those abusers who had brutal childhoods themselves, the task to be done is to work on managing anger, hatred, or fear, in a calm, positive manner. Seek help from a mental health professional! If this help is successful, perhaps the next step could be to think of ways to help others who have had similar experiences.
Your experiences could become more than just painful memories—they could be “worthwhile” if you were able to use them positively!
It is often said that “everything happens for a reason.” This is a cliché, yet there is a deep wisdom in it as well. A task we have on earth is to live meaningfully, kindly, and peacefully—so that you and others could benefit from your existence. Passing your “hurts” or “hatred” to other people is a vicious cycle, which would not benefit anyone at all. It is instead better to pass along your recovery from hurt, rather than your hurt itself.
Don’t allow your wounds to transform you into someone you are not. (Paulo Coelho)
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I handle my hurts and scars with care, using positive, therapeutic ways to overcome the challenges.
How To Be Kind?
Sometimes, I am a bit uncomfortable when people give me very positive feedback, because I am afraid that I am not living up to those compliments or standards. Just like everyone, I am an imperfect human being, full of flaws. But for the rest of my life, I would love to continually practice being kind, to myself, to other people around me, and to the world. I believe that genuineness, like righteousness, will always slip through—you can’t fake it or make it up.
I love what Mother Teresa said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
When You Are Ready, Share Your Experiences!
Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison. Share your testimony. (Author Unknown)
Sometimes, people who have experienced abuse would not feel comfortable sharing their stories with others, especially when they are still struggling a lot. They have a tendency to hide themselves and their experiences, because letting others know may possibly bring shame or risks of feeling judged. Sharing could potentially trigger negative emotions and memories.
But when they are in the process of recovery, they may feel ready and free to tell others their stories, and to be open about their experiences. For some, it takes a long time to get there. It takes a great deal of courage to be able to tell someone about your past.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to act in the presence of fear. (Bruce Lee)
With repeated practice and “exposure” of sharing (especially towards people who are empathic), you would gain greater confidence in sharing your stories, without fear and maybe even without tears. After all, there is nothing to feel ashamed of because you were not the cause of the abuse (always remember that!). The purpose of sharing is not to have sympathy or pity from others; the purpose of sharing is to gain freedom from your past, and to gain freedom from suffering. Using our freedom of speech and expression is a pathway to healing. By practicing your voice, you are bolstering your strength and confidence.
Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. (Anon)
The healthiest way to deal with your past, that hurts you or makes you unhappy, is to courageously acknowledge it, accept it, and then share it with others—in a calm, cool tone of voice. You may or may not cry—
Never apologize for being sensitive or emotional. Let this be a sign that you’ve got a big heart and aren’t afraid to let others see it. Showing your emotions is a sign of strength. (Brigitte Nicole)
but the key is your attitude and the way you express your stories. Are you sharing it in a way that facilitates learning and insights? Are you sharing it in a way that shows deep reflection and even a sense of gratitude? Don’t fool yourself into saying “I don’t care about it.” If you have had an unfortunate childhood, saying “I don’t care” doesn’t show that you are strong. It may be a psychological defence, which could protect you in some ways, but also be causing you problems in other ways—especially if the “I don’t care” stance is appearing elsewhere in your current life.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)
Last but not least, when you share your stories, people may criticize you. Your intention is what matters most; once again, it requires your awareness to determine whether you are sharing your stories because of unhealthy motives—such as to gain sympathy or attention from others, or whether you are sharing because you would like to empower yourself and empower others. Let people say what they say, but make sure that you do all the healthy things for yourself and for others.
You will find that people will always have opinions about your decisions. Don't take it personally, it’s simply because they’re not courageous enough to take action in their own lives. Be a leader in your life and pay no mind to those who lack the courage to do the same in theirs. (Steve Maraboli)
I believe that you can share in an honest way to present the truth of your experience. You embrace your life, your past, your pain, and your scars! You accept them; you acknowledge them, and you are not afraid to tell people about it because they are part of you! Sometimes scars from the past can make you stronger. Rather than avoiding your experiences, or feeling afraid of being asked about your past experiences, you take control over what to tell others and when to tell others.
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. (Elie Wiesel)
Not everyone will always give you an empathic response. Some people might even judge you or question you, or accuse you of saying things that are exaggerated or untrue. But don’t let those negative voices or attitudes discredit your courage or deter your willingness from opening up about your past. Don’t be discouraged, and don’t stop sharing your history because of them.
When faced with senseless drama, spiteful criticisms and misguided opinions, walking away is the best way to stand up for yourself. To respond with anger is an endorsement of their attitude. (Dodinsky)
Shrug your shoulders and move on. Don’t stop the healthy, positive things just because of others’ negative voices. Keep practicing! Keep sharing!
Not only would it help you grow and develop into a better person, but you will also help and inspire others, who have gone through similar experiences, to overcome their struggles and challenges. Don’t underestimate how powerful your story could be! Once again, your sharing has to be true, sincere, and with a genuine intention to empower self and others.
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do. (Brene Brown)
Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others. (Author Unknown)
Artwork & Advocacy
I admire people who choose to shine even after all the storms they’ve been through. (Author Unknown)
One day, I visited the Art Gallery in Downtown Vancouver. There was a very unique exhibit which a mother designed in hopes of bringing awareness about child sexual abuse. Her daughter committed suicide in her early 20s—she had different kinds of mental illnesses after experiencing sexual abuse as a child. There was a wall with many pictures, from infancy to adulthood, of this beautiful lady who decided to take her life at a very young age. It is always heartbreaking to read or hear stories like these.
I admire the mother, the artist, who was courageous enough to show us her daughter’s pictures and share with us her daughter’s devastating experiences—in order to bring awareness and facilitate prevention.
I admire all of those who have been through abuse standing up tall and telling others what they have been through—to bring awareness, inspiration, and change to the world. As a psychotherapist, I am committed to bring awareness, in particular about child abuse. All human beings deserve to be treated with love and respect; all of us deserve a happy childhood and a healthy development.
Abusers Who Accuse You of Lying
Abusers may accuse you of lying.
It is not a surprise that abusive people would claim that their victims are lying! It is often consistent with their past behaviour, of being cruel, of never making amends or taking responsibility for their actions, and of blaming others for their own wrongdoing.
It is important to stay calm, if you have been falsely accused of lying.
It requires a tremendous amount of courage to share one’s experiences of abuse. It’s scary, and the process of writing or sharing is a long, arduous, painful journey. Most other people can’t really imagine what it’s like.
There are many sources of evidence to support and validate your stories about abuse. Your involvement with government agencies, therapists, witnesses, and other people who have been involved with your story, will help strengthen the evidence against the abusers. People who are confronted with the harmful things they have done will often try to defend themselves, and may question or challenge your evidence. This process can itself be extremely difficult and possibly traumatizing. Be brave.
Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it. (Author Unknown)
When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. This misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did. (Jill Blakeway)
Stand up for the truth! But if there are some who doubt your story, shrug your shoulders and move on.
In some cases, entire nations are unwilling to admit some of the tragic or traumatic events that have happened in the past. After World War II, countries on both sides of the conflict were traumatized due to the horrific events that took place. In some instances, such as in post-war Japan, there has been a reluctance for governments to frankly admit responsibility for traumatic events, and there has been a reluctance to apologize in a formal manner. As part of this reluctance, sometimes history textbooks in children’s classrooms have not adequately described their country’s involvement in cruel behaviour and wartime traumas.
I have heard of numerous stories from my grandparents about how Chinese people suffered during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
It is important for people to know the truth, even if some of those involved are reluctant to talk about what happened.
Similarly, sometimes people are so disgusted by their own mistakes in life, that they are unable to talk about them. They may run away from their mistakes, or deny them, or bury them. They may accuse victims of lying.
The healthiest way to proceed is to admit and embrace one’s history, no matter how cruel or disappointing it is, to reflect on one’s mistakes, and finally to make changes and make amends. In general, the behaviour of the German nation after the Second World War is a good example of this: the nation took responsibility for its actions, and did not try to hide or deny the many terrible things which had taken place. As a nation, they have apologized, and they have tried to make amends for the harm that was done. In Canada, we are just beginning, as a nation, to apologize and to make amends for the cruelty which was imposed on the First Nations people, such as in residential schools in the past century.
Apologies and amends cannot change the history, the cruelty, the pain, and the suffering. But it helps victims or descendants to move on from their psychological struggles more easily. It is at the very least a gesture of honour and respect. It should be viewed as brave and honourable to admit one’s mistakes—it is a sign of goodness and strength, rather than a sign of weakness or shame. Most importantly, though, apologies and attempts to make amends may help the psychological wounds of the victims to heal more rapidly.
One admirable characteristic of the Chinese nation is its spirit of diligence. China does not blame wars and other historical events for holding them back. There is instead an intense striving to become a strong country. While there may be some debate about specific ethical issues in Chinese political history, I believe that this spirit of diligence is powerful and noble. Everyone has a choice, to work hard, to reach their goals, to become empowered, in a healthy, ethical way.
Become Stronger Every Day!
To all of you, wounded, may I encourage you to practice being stronger and stronger every single day. While not many can understand you, feel your pain, be with you, and help and support you, you yourself have the capacity to stand up and face the world, as long as you keep living and keep striving for a better life. It’s much harder for you, than other people, to achieve your goals and dreams. But may I take this opportunity to give you a positive encouragement: I am so proud of you, for being alive, reading this article, and thinking of ways to be a better, tougher person.
When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. (Abraham Lincoln)
I pray that you won’t give up your life and that you will persevere. While suicide may be a tempting alternative to you (if you struggle from depression), please seek help from a mental health professional, persist with treatments, and remain hopeful! Sometimes it takes time to find a therapist who is right for you—please be patient and persistent! Everything is much easier said than done, I know. But it takes time to reach your goals, to get better, and to be healed. No matter where you are on your journey, you are a beautiful person, who deserves respect, love, and care.
Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome. (Author Unknown)
Plasticity of the Brain
The brain has “plasticity”—it is malleable throughout the lifespan; it literally grows differently according to different environmental experiences, both positive and negative. New synapses and dendrites—perhaps even some new neurons—are constantly being created, so that humans could learn new skills, change cognitive patterns, and adapt to the environment.
Change is Possible! Have Hope!
No matter how arduous and painful this journey is for you, there is hope. Change is possible—it requires time, perseverance, patience, belief, hard work, willingness to seek and accept help, love, and kindness to make it happen!
Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. (C. S. Lewis)
Choice, not chance, determines your destiny. It’s up to you to decide what you are worth, how you matter, and how you make meaning in the world. No one else has your gifts—your sets of talents, ideas, interests. You are an original. A masterpiece. (Regina Brett)
I wish you well.
P.S.: This website should not be used as a replacement for other necessary professional psychological services or other therapeutic treatments. If you are in need, please contact a mental health professional or a general physician for appropriate treatments. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the crisis line in your city. BC Crisis line: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
P.P.S.: All examples given here are based on my knowledge, studies, or personal experience. I do not describe any specific individual client’s case here in my writing.