Disclaimers: I wrote this for one of my counseling course. I figured that I want to share it to the world, anonymously of course. But as usual, please have the common courtesy, don’t try to plagiarize.
When I was young, my friends always envied me. My mother is a doctor, my dad was a manager and I have two elder brothers. In the eyes of others, I had this perfect model family that everyone might have dreamed of. Nonetheless, they are just the surface level. I grew up playing with boy toys and boyish haircut for most part of my childhood. I was raised in an unconventional family where gender roles did not apply to my parents, as my father took care of us as a housefather as sickness forced him to retire early, leaving my mother to bear the burden of sole breadwinner to our family. Life is decent as my mother could still provide a living for us with her occupation as a doctor. My extroverted mother always preoccupied with her busy social life, while my father is rather introverted, prefer to stay at home and read. Therefore, for half of my childhood, my father took care of me. Meanwhile, my parents give me the autonomy and freedom to do what I want as I am the “good girl” type that they trusted me that I will not do things out of ordinary.
Changes and Impermanence in Life
But soon, my siblings outgrown, one by one moved out of house to further their study in college. As time passes, each of us has grown up a little more. Each of us is more engaged with our own personal agendas. Later, I moved out of house soon after my high school to pursue my A-level. I can feel the family being more disengaged with the distance and occasional quarrels between family members or my parents. There was once in a private conversation, my mother blurted to me about the story of her good friend’s marital problem, later proceed to talking about her relationship with my father, “you know if anything ever happens (divorce), it has nothing to do with you.” At that time, I did feel the tension in the family but I did not pay much attention as I was never around to notice the changes. Nonetheless, in deep down I might have tried to avoid confrontations as much as possible by being absence.
For the following years, I pursue my study in Hong Kong. The family warm soon replaced by new profound friendships. Nonetheless, I did not feel homesick as most of the time I am preoccupied with study and contented with my new life. I found the distance with my family could not be reconciled with more conversations through Skype. Nonetheless, each year I devote some time to visit my parents and spend time with my family; to patch things up and make up for my absentee. However, I found that my parents have aged more each time I visit them, each time I find myself sadden to see and frustrated with what I have missed during my absence. I started to think that death might just be around the corner. Subsequently the fear creeps in, fearing that it will take away everything; the constancy of life.
Early this year I received a surprise call from my elder brother, he nervously broke the news that he is engaged to his current fiancé and a baby is coming really soon. I remembered I nonchalantly ended the conversation because I was too shocked to give him a reaction.
Later, it started with an emotional breakdown on a random bus ride. I remembered vividly I was dreaded in the sudden burst of emotion as I recalled a short conversation I had with my elder brother, learning that he will be getting engaged and have a baby boy soon enough. To me, my unexpected public outburst seemed to be out of place, absurd and somewhat silly because I do believe the additions to my core family will definitely add joy into my family; given my parents love children very much. At that moment, I dismissed that incident as tears of joy.
Incongruence in self
Everything was fine on the surface, but I felt differ since then; something has changed. I found myself getting emotional every time I think about my family; even there is nothing upset about it. Even the slightest thought the word “family” was suffice to trigger the emotion. For some time, I find myself having emotional distress, soon become insufferable and almost dysfunctional to my everyday life. I could not understand how and why I felt this way. Oblivious to what I have felt previously, I found myself being incongruent and felt the deep-seated anxiety. The episode became the fulcrum for the review of my life, undergone “organismic valuing process”.
Reflection on experience
Coincidentally, I took a few counseling and art therapy classes that encouraged me to contemplate and reflect on my feelings and life. I realized, with the unprecedented birth of my nephew and new sister-in-law, my core family has changed and extended. Unknowing to me previously, now I realized that I am no longer the youngest in my family, and I missed being loved and cared for. I enjoyed the “permanence” of my core family, protection and eternal love from my family. However, I have been taking it for granted. All these time, my core family has given me the sense of constant and stability in these 21 years of my life. I recalled the phase quoted by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “the angels are lost in the contemplation of infinite glory” (Frankl, 2006, p.64). Perhaps, I had this frivolous notion of an “eternal glory”, where my family would remain unchanged and intact. When the illusion of (spiritual and psychological) security breaks, I realized I have been trapped in the struggle between consciousness and progression of life, and yearning for permanence yet the knowing the fact of flux. For times, I felt lonely as I could not be present with my new family members given the physical distance. On the other hand, I felt the deepest anxiety and fear with the thought of knowing that too soon my other family members will face the transitoriness of life; whether having extended family of their owns, illness or even death. “Only true absolute is that there are no absolute,” (Yalom, 1980, p. 423). I reached the epiphany where there is nothing absolutely right, true or static.
Besides, I am aware of the fact that I am truly alone. So to speak, what I have experienced, Erich Fromm will call it as existential loneliness. For which, I find my university experience has been overwhelming, while try to fit in the environment has make it worst after many failed attempts. Although I am in Hong Kong, with the densest population in the world, I had the epiphany that I am aware of being existentially alone. Without the presence of my beloved family and friends, I found my life almost suffocating if not difficult enough. I longed for love and attention from others. For some time, I found myself lost in this ever-changing life.
At one point, I pondered, “What is the meaning of life?”
I yearned for the answer and knowledge. While, I am fortunate to stumble upon a few great writings that could relieve my predicament. One of which is the book by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. His writing has given me the courage to see my life differently. His arduous experience as Nazi prisoner made aware that the difficulty of my life is rather trivial, and his impeccable endurance is the most admirable quality that I hope I can have. He pointed out that we must see that life is meaningful, and meaningful under all circumstances including the most difficult one. I find his writing to be particular inspiring and gave me some insights about life.
Meanwhile, I am fortunate enough to learn more about Buddhism philosophy in one of my lecture class “Life and Buddhism”. Although I do not identify myself as a religious person, I found a few philosophy taught by Buddha on life are particularly appealing to me as they resonate my predicament. It is said that life is impermanence, where our existence are conditioned in which we are subjected to constant state of flux without exception. Therefore, the attachment towards these conditioned phenomena will become the cause of human suffering (Mahāthera, 1994). Knowing the fact, at least it gave me some solace.
As such, I began to understand my assumptions that responsible for my life predicaments. I am aware that my anxiety has arisen from my reluctance of accepting the true nature of reality. With the new profound understanding, I had a heightened awareness of my fabricated and constructed reality. Thus, I began to embrace my fear and anxiety towards impermanence of life. I learned to be mindful and more attentive to my own feelings, especially fear and anxiety. I realized that those feelings are mine, escape is impossible and irrational resistance only makes it worst. Alan Watts once said, “To remain stable is to refrain from trying to separate yourself from a pain because you know that you cannot. Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain” (Watts, 1951, p. 97). By simply being aware of the present moment, I acknowledge and learned to accept my feelings, yearnings and my humanity. As what Satir believed, to be congruent is to be harmony with one’s self (Lee, 2002). Acceptance is a beginning. It affects how I see the past, whilst affecting my future.
I learned to be vulnerable does not mean I am weak, whereby I have sought help from counseling service in the university. I found my experience as a client is particularly empowering as I see it as my desire, courage and commitment to change for a better. Meanwhile, it has further strengthened my determination to pursue a counseling profession in near future. I believed my past struggles allowed me to understand the pain and difficulties of others with a sense of humility, as a wounded healer. “When I am in touch with myself, my feelings, my thoughts, with what I see and hear, I am growing toward becoming a more integrated self. I am more congruent, I am more “whole,” and I am able to make greater contact with the other person” (Satir, 1987, p. 23). By learning myself, I believed it helps to develop on my wisdom of helping others. Nonetheless, being self-aware is insufficient. I must act upon it, with my freedom of choice. I need to bear the responsibility, put effort into initiation and springs into action. Therefore, I strive to be my authentic self, to be the master of self.
Frankl, Viktor E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Fromm, E. (1956). The Art of Loving. Harper & Row
Mahāthera, N. (1994). Fundamentals of Buddhism: Four Lectures. Sri Lanka: Buddhist
Lee, Bonnie K.. (2002). Congruence in Satir’s Model: Its Spiritual and Religious Significance.
Contemporary Family Therapy, 24(1), 57-78.
Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. London: Temple Smith.
Satir, V. (1987). The Therapist Story. Journal of Psychotherapy & The Family, 3(1) 17-25.
Watts, A. (1951). The Wisdom of Insecurity. Pantheon Books.
Yalom, I (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.