Go with a smile!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Emotional avoidance

I think I have to face up to it – I am a cold person. It’s only when you admit that you have a problem, then you are on the first step to solving that problem. The problems exist because you are not aware of it. People have characteristics, their brain is wired to ask some questions more prominently and others less so. So something like “what is the other guy like, what’s he thinking?” is something that unfortunately doesn’t rank very high on my list.

There was this chick I had a short internet fling with some years back. And this wasn’t even like codfish because I had never met her in real life. At the end, after saying goodbye, she said, “you’re a little cold, you know.” At that time, I thought it was just some lame excuse, until it occurred to me: I probably did come across to people like that. But was it that I was really cold, or did I just seem like that?

Then there was a friend Ghost. After 1 drunken tirade at Sniper (the same one which earned me the moniker “The Man”), he also proposed a nickname for me: ice. I thought it was funny at that time but have come to realise that it has some meaning.

When I think back upon the times I played football, I was never good at it. My preferred position was usually central defence. Partly because you didn’t need a lot of skill, partly because I was big. My strength was that I didn’t panic easily. My weakness was that I was too passive. Both are the sides of the same coin. I was the iceman.

When I spent 4 years in a cold and dark place, I paradoxically told myself that I loved winter, in spite of having grown up in a tropical country. It suited me because inside I was a little frosty.

When I helped my sister move out of her North Carolina place, there was a dog who was scared of lightning. During a thunderstorm, it would come and look for me. I bitchily called it an "emotionally needy canine" and while my sister laughed at that, I think inside she must have been thinking, "this guy needs to open his heart".

It’s true, that I make a lot of crazy jokes, but they help to counterbalance the coldness. I try to do the right thing, but when that happens, it’s because reason is guiding me, rather than because I know by instinct what the right thing is. I have to think about whether people are happy or sad, I have to find reasons. I have to be mindful and watchful.

There has always been one constant in my life: I have had very little need for human contact. I have only ever felt truly alone on 2 occasions. One of them was when I was hanging out with a clique and I knew that nobody in that clique really liked me. But that was just a while. The other occasion was college. It was an extreme situation: being in a foreign country, I knew a few people, and I was alone most of the time. The winters were long and cold. But I was good at keeping myself occupied with things, trivial things and such – I probably suffered much less from this than most people in my situation would have done. Even when I was a kid, I remember that I was emotionally avoidant. It definitely wasn’t only that my mother was pushing me away emotionally, I was also doing the same to her.

I was infamous at family gatherings, as a kid, for being the one who refused to kiss ppl goodbye. On one hand, it’s true that kids should not have to be subject to that bullshit. On the other hand it could not have been very endearing to the aunts that I would kiss them goodbye and wipe my lips afterwards. I was not Marcel Proust. I wasn’t born to thrive on human contact. My sister used to kiss me in order to irritate me. It worked. I would then make up stories about how her saliva was the most vile poison known to mankind (believable because she’s a scorpio).

I have never excelled in inter-personal relationships. There are plenty of people out there who have much better relations with their parents than I had with mine. I don’t think my parents are bad people by the way. Even my mother who I consider to be a flawed person, has her strengths. But it could be true, as my sister once complained, that there is no love in the family. It’s easy to blame the parents for that but I think everybody (including myself) shares some responsibility.

It’s too easy to blame your parents for teaching you the bad things. But this is from a book I read about relationships by Judith Rich Harris. What happens is that both the parents and the children have the genes that make them difficult to get along with. Then the parents and the children don’t get along, the parents aren’t very nurturing, partly because they are not inclined to be nurturing, and partly because the children are assholes. In this way, it is everybody’s fault.

In brief, in many respects we are the typical asian family.

Now that I have badmouthed my family, it’s time to give them some credit. My family, especially my father’s side, have gone through really tough times. My mother’s side also has a few strong characters. Surely I’m not alone in this: it’s an Asian thing. And the Asian way? Stoicism. We talk about fortitude, we talk about stamina, and we talk about ren3. That infamous word, which when written in Chinese is a knife blade on top of a heart - endure. And it is a very double edged concept, because while it is very useful for fortifying yourself against shit, it also has the effect of inviting people to give you even more shit. You had a great leader like Mao, he gave China the greatest famine of the 20th century, as well as the cultural revolution, and you still think he’s a great guy. That would make me think that Chinese people are the greatest fools on earth if not for the fact that recently North Koreans have proven themselves to be more worthy of that title.

My problems have been different at different times. When I was younger and more clueless, I was blithely unaware of stuff that was going on all around me. When I was older, as a teenager, I got too wrapped up in my troubles that I was hardly aware that it would have been easier telling people about it... well actually a little hard because normally your family would be the first people you turn to for help. Sometimes my parents were there for me (especially if those are things they are interested in, like education, or sending me to the hospital when I break my bones). But I have never sought help from them for emotional problems for various reasons, one of which is that they themselves were a big source of those emotional problems. Again – some fairness. I don’t tell them my problems. And they have criticised me for not telling them my problems. But then again they haven’t been very good listeners either.

Now that I’m an adult it’s a different story. There’s this scene in Zhang Yimou’s “Hero”, where the assassin is granted an audience with the emperor he was sent to kill. The emperor, well this was the Qin emperor and obviously no fool. He asked the assassin, are you here to kill me? The assassin said, “what makes you think so?” and the emperor pointed to a grid of candles between them. “There is evil qi emanating from you. You see? You have even managed to deflect all the candle flames.” Well, not that I want to kill people, but there is evil qi flowing out of me a little too often.

Seen in this context, I would say that my brief, online relationship with codfish was one of the strangest, most atypical episodes of my life. It was almost as though, in 1 brief year I more or less compensated for the emotional barrenness of the rest of my life.

But come to think of it, I don’t think it was hardly a coincidence that this took place when I was in college, at the one time when I was the most deprived of human contact – and yet when you are among Americans, you see a whole range of human contact you wouldn’t normally see among Asians. (To put it in a nice way). And she was an online entity to me. Your brain fills in the things that you cannot see, and it probably generated the image of a perfect girlfriend (until she started to mess up). When you have a real girlfriend, I’m sure you will find 1001 annoying things about her.

When was the last time I did something for love? To be frank, a very very long time ago. I have to be a nicer person. Both for my own sake and for the sake of those poor ppl who have to occasionally put up with me. That will require some change. And I’m wondering where it will come from.



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