Sunday, November 27, 2005

Emotional Baggage

We all carry emotional baggages with us. Someone once said, "Our childhood experiences pretty much define how we're going to think and behave as adults." I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. Gawd, as well-adjusted as I'd like people to believe, I carry plenty of baggages with me. I try to explore these baggages in my stories, not as personal catharsis but, rather, as observations and universal themes such as "acceptance" or "respect" or "expectations." I think most people could identify with these baggages.

As a child, I always felt that I could never be good enough. I tried so hard to be perfect, so that my parents and my peers would like and even respect me. I beleived that love had to be earned, not given, and once you earned love, you had to keep at it because it was not eternal or unconditional. As a child, I felt that everything was based on conditions, whether they were good grades, nice manners or awards and honors. Kids like me competed in everything, and everything had a price, including love. When I was a kid, I didn't know or feel that my parents loved me unconditionally (I know better now). I was an overachiever, because a large part of me knew I wasn't perfect, and I had to compensate for that imperfection. I was never the brightest, strongest, fastest, most hard-working kid, and my parents always made sure I knew that. Whenever I fell short, I either had to try harder, or to lie and cover up. A lot of times, the easiest thing for me to do is to deceive my parents (because I was naturally lazy). My brother got disciplined all the time because he wasn't as smart or as (apparently) hard-working as I was. So, to avoid his fate (and the belief I had that he wasn't very well loved by my parents), I wanted to be everything my brother couldn't be. To earn their love, I'd do anything.

Now that I am an adult, I still feel that way, and this feeling extends far beyond my family circle. I continue to have a nagging feeling that if I'm not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, or nice enough, goshdarnit, people WON'T like me. And people not liking me would be the worst punishment in the world, sometimes worse than death.

As my first novel is coming out, this feeling continues to nag me. What if I'm not good enough? What if my parents don't approve what I'm doing? Here I am, practically a middle-age man, and I'm scared of whether my parents would still love me if they find out I'm a failure.

So why do we still carry these baggages with us if we recognize them? Why is it so hard for us to toss them over the side of the road and be rid of them? What does it take for us to stand tall and proud without the extra poundage? Does it involve years of therapy and/or mind-altering pills? What?

My stories explore these questions, and sometimes I present idealized answers. But in real life, I suppose I'm still searching for the real answers. And I can't wait to reach enlightenment. Some day.

5 comments:

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

I think we all have some type of baggage we carry. That's life. When one recognizes the baggage and learns from it is when it becomes less of a burden. It's when the baggage is thrown at us daily by others that we become weak and insecure. That is when we must stand up, stand proud, and know we are doing the best we can.

Ray Wong said...

Yeah, but sometimes, it's just difficult.

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Believe me, I know difficult! Everyday isn't always sunshine and roses, but I try to keep smiling anyway. Even better is when I can make someone else smile. And if I can make someone else smile when I'm frowning or at my lowest, it helps change my day as well. :)

Suzanne said...

It must have been in the air, Ray, I blogged the same topic a few days before you did. I used to say that I could never be perfect enough, so I can really relate to what you are saying. I think exploring the baggage in your stories is a wonderful way to wrestle your "demons". You can demolish them in so many creative ways. (grin) Here's my blog on the topic:

I’ve been reading the science fiction series by Lois McMasters Bujold and this quote is so timely. I'm middle-aged, not a younster, but I do feel like I’m growing up now and it’s a most interesting process. It’s not like I’m becoming something else, an adult, it’s like the stuff that made me feel childish is falling away and now I’m becoming myself.

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMasters Bujold p. 203

..."Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one. It's so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap."
"Yes, exactly," said Kareen eagerly. "You understand! So---how did you make them stop?"
"You can't make them---whoever your particular them is---do anything, really," said Ekaterin slowly. "Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that's hard."

Ray Wong said...

Thanks, Suzanne.

Actually, I'm doing much better. I am able to say "I'm sorry you feel this way" and walk away. I am able to remind myself "I am not responsible for their misery or unhappiness." I am able to pursue my own happiness without constantly feeling guilty about it. But there are still times when I feel like a child, like I disappoint. There are times when it's hard to not become a child. I guess we can never really be rid of our baggage. We just need to live with them and chip them off one bit at a time.

We learn so much through the first 20 years of our lives, then we spend the last 40-60 years unlearning them!