Discover more from WRITE, TO HEAL by Mimi Zhu
I Cannot Control How You'll Feel
and loving myself while sitting with that fear ❥ + *BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT*
I’ve been homesick. It is a palpable ache that makes me feel like a child again. I have no family in the States, which is partly why I treat my close friends like family. They are my chosen family and they are all I have here. I’ve been thinking about relationships (even more so than I usually do), particularly the ones that I hold close to my heart. As I wrote in my previous newsletter, I am now so much more present in my body. I notice when people are being present with me. My relationship with my mother has challenged me to look at all the other loving relationships I hold close; growing, learning, and morphing together.
Unfortunately, this has uncovered some difficult truths that I have been reluctant to face. My relationships are shifting. Sometimes, quite naturally, we drift apart, and sometimes, we deeply grieve a closeness that hurt us too much to maintain. I have experienced a lot of relationships where our mutual inability to face our own pain brought us “closer” together. We were not taught how to love each other, and we used each other for distraction. We could not possibly know each other because we did not know ourselves.
Being in close relationships is not easy. As I have committed to nourishing deeper relationships with my loved ones, I have noticed within myself a subconscious tendency to recreate biological family dynamics that may not always be healthy. I have noticed my anxious attachment, avoidance of conflict, and an intense impulse to appease. Being aware of it has provided me with the first step in undoing those patterns and creating new ones. Connecting the dots of our ingrained familial conditions allows us to see the tools our families were given, understand each other with compassion, and also do the rigorous work of reshaping what family and closeness can look like.
But as we do that reshaping, we grieve. We grieve who we used to be, we grieve old patterns, and we grieve the coping mechanisms that weaved themselves into our lifestyles. And sometimes, we grieve not the people that we lose touch with, but the fact that we never really got to know them at all. I am realizing how important it is to be seen and heard in honesty; sometimes more so than being liked.
My therapist of three years told me that “people-pleasing” has always been a struggle I face. Because I grew up quite lonely, my greatest goal was always to be liked. I observed characters and tropes and collected a list of charming personality traits that people thought were likable. I experimented with them and performed them with exuberance. When I figured out how to make myself likable and popular, I adapted behaviors that solidified that image of me. It felt like I had discovered a secret formula. I felt powerful when I was popular.
But, of course, people still disliked me for their own reasons. Sometimes we were incompatible, sometimes both of our projections got in the way, and sometimes they just weren’t interested in being my friend. I would always take it personally and overcompensate to appeal to them and win their affections. Sometimes it would work, but I was always exhausted by all these relentless efforts that felt unnatural to me.
This came from a childhood belief that I had to earn the love of my parents, especially my father. I had to do so with achievements and accolades, and even then it was not enough. When I would finally say no, that I had had enough, I would often be punished. My "no”s and my feeble attempts at setting boundaries were usually, and unfortunately, met with fury. I know a lot of us may have experienced similar kinds of trauma, and while we are reckoning with compassion that our parents were raised in a different and difficult time and that their behaviors are passed on through generations; the harm has been done.
I have learned that one of the most difficult and healing practices I have ever engaged in is being honest with myself. Now I am called to really be honest with everyone else; especially when the truth is ugly. I’ve had to let people know the painful things I was feeling, I’ve had to say no, and I’ve had to ask for what I need. None of these are easy tasks for people who grew up in households that put pressure on them to be the caretakers, the strong, and the silent.
The biggest challenge of all is seeing that even when I am trying my best; being honest, vocalising my needs and honouring my choices, people may dislike that. I have to learn to be okay with that, and I have to let it go.
Being a people-pleaser is, in some ways, grasping at control. It is controlling my image, which in turn controls people’s perceptions of me. However, even if I had some people’s perceptions under control, I do not feel free, and I am exhausted by the need to continuously perform. Many of us, especially queer and trans-BIPOC, have to shapeshift to survive in different environments. I know that some of us have to people-please just to get through our day-to-day lives and make it through another day at home or work or school. So, when I talk about renouncing people-pleasing, I’m specifically referring to my close and chosen interpersonal relationships as spaces in which I want to feel free. How painful it is in our close relationships when we cannot feel liberated in honesty with each other.
I am realising each day that I do not have much control over what you might think of me. Sure, I can control a fabricated self-image, but I don’t have much energy for that anymore. I’m tired, and I want to feel free, especially in the ways I engage with you, people who I may not personally all know, but still care about, because we are connected through the bizarre worldwide web by the bond of the written word, and by a collective dedication to our healing.
My book Be Not Afraid of Love is coming out in two months. I’m terrified and I’m nervous, and I’m worried about what you’re going to think of it, and of me. I’m scared that you’re going to find me stupid, pretentious, or corny. I’m frightened that I’ve made a colossal mistake, that important dimensions of the truth have slipped my mind, and that this book will be an eternal document of that…I’m scared that the book is not perfect.
And it’s not. I know it’s not, because it’s a complicated document of what I felt when I wrote it; still healing and deeply vulnerable. It was what I needed to write to survive. It is a book I wrote to continuously work through my trauma-informed coping mechanisms and my fear of intimacy. I received my advanced copies a few weeks ago, and when I did, I was mixed with emotions. I was deeply moved because a dream sat in my hands, touchable, feelable, readable, and then a dark cloud of doom loomed over my head. I can’t change it anymore. It’s done, it’s here. It’s real. I have no control over the book, and I have no control over what you will think when you read it. But I am proud of it. I really am.
So, all I can hope for is that you like it. I cannot control how you feel about it, though I can control how I want to take care of myself at this time, and how I want to talk about this book and the writing process. I just know that I don’t want to lie because silencing myself to accommodate everyone’s desires comes from a deep-seated belief that I don’t deserve to be loved for the person I am, trying my best. And if there’s any takeaway from Be Not Afraid of Love (which I still have to rigorously practice every day), it’s that I do. We all do.
So I’m very excited to reveal to you the cover of Be Not Afraid of Love, which is coming out on August 23, 2022 with Penguin Random House. Furthermore, you can go this very special link where you can find more information about the book. <3 More to come, very very soon.
It might not please everyone, but I’m very pleased to have written it and to be sharing it with you.