I'm sharing this post to try to gain some insight and advice about my predicament of being an Asian American in the mental health field. I hope that it could instill a sense of community amongst Asian Americans in the mental health field - it's not easy. It may be a bit lengthy, but I am in anguish after various instances of conflict I've had with my Asian family - more so recently than before. I feel like I may have an idea of the answers or possible solutions, but I just want to write this out. Because I am hurting. And I feel so misunderstood. So, please hear me out.
Sure, families argue all the time, right? Especially as a first generation Asian American young adult, fighting with my Asian parents about cultural norms and views have been common, if not the norm. Their background of how they were raised and the influences around them are completely different to how I was raised and the ideals that I was surrounded with, I understand that. As I grew up, I knew that I wanted to study psychology and understand how people's minds worked. Not only did I love psychology but I also wanted to work towards a degree in social work because my perspective of wanting to understand people's minds come from a place of wanting to help and promote social justice. I wanted to help Koreans come to terms with the negative stigma regarding mental health and seeking services for mental health assistance. This concern for Koreans that came from personally hearing about and living out the experience of the intersectionality of race and norms and mental health led to my life choices of working hard towards higher education and degrees and obtaining the honor to become a therapist and social worker to work and connect with people to come to understand, support, empower and humanize their concerns in a more and more dehumanizing world. I love my field. I love my job.
However, my anguish comes from home. At home, I am not a therapist, psychoanalyst, researcher, or social worker. At home, I am Rachel. A daughter. A sister. However, the shift in my perceived identity was pretty sudden and pretty drastic. As I've grown into a young professional with my own passions and struggles, I was able to start a journey of understanding myself and my place in the world. Ever since my family started learning about what exactly my passions were, on mental health, asian cultural stigma regarding mental health illness, social work, etc. I was initially met with confusion with sprinkles of hurtful, condescending stereotypes regarding my field and my fascination with mental health (which I have come to understand could be a defense mechanism for something that is unknown, unfamiliar - which made sense to me). I did not take the push back too personally, I studied all this, right? I was in this field to try to bring understanding, to be in the forefronts, to show that it is okay to talk about your mental health to others. So I only became more impassioned, more excited to learn and understand in classes. My clients were not my family, but I could see the ripple effect of the cultural norms that hurt us all individually and collectively. It hurt my dad, my mom, hurt my brother, hurt me.
Recently, things have not been so easy. As boundaries between work-Rachel and home-Rachel have been blurred because of a single line. When it rears its ugly head, it mauls out my heart, making me shudder as if my cold blood is pouring out onto the ground.
"oh here you go again, you're psychoanalyzing me."
It pops up in the midst of heated arguments with my family members. Heated arguments amongst family, especially families with different generations of immigrants are not unique, I'm sure. But our arguments have drastically changed.
"oh here you go again, you're psychoanalyzing me."
When I first heard that line. I felt ...,numb. Cold. Shaken to the core. Now that I am a therapist, a social worker, someone who "studies the mind", any time I stand up for myself or assert my beliefs or opinions in any way that does not agree with my family, I am told that I am psychoanalyzing them. My feelings and the things that I stand for are delegitimized because of my education and because of what I know. My counter arguments, my assertions, my values and beliefs are waved away as me "using" my "mind tricks" to "egg them on." I am dumbstruck by this reality where my education and passion do not liberate me but shackle me. I want to rip my head apart but I try to understand, I cry, but try to understand that there are greater influences in the world at play, that this is not personal, that I am doing my best, I am not this awful person that they portray me to be.
This morning, I had an intense fight with my 19 year old brother. It was the first time that we have fought so intensely. We both grew up from an unstable childhood, and there are multiple factors that contributed to why we have always been so close. Long story short, there were misunderstandings from both end, just like any argument, but what made this argument different was that he used the line.
"here you go again, you're psychoanalyzing me."
The line that my parents throw at me when I'm trying to understand where they're coming from, why we're arguing, why they're upset, why they don't understand i'm upset. The line used to shut me up and signal the end of the conversation and the delegitimization of myself as a person who was hurt or who wants to be heard. And to hear that from my own brother. He crossed the line.
And you know what? Three things.
1. I won't go too far into detail, but I know that when certain people in my life feel like they cannot "win" an argument, or feel too prideful to admit that they might not know as much as the other, personal attacks can be made to delegitimize the other person in an effort to divert from the fact that they are wrong about the argument but do not want to admit it.
2. You do not need a psychology/ social work degree to understand someone's speech patterns and what kind of person they are. Period.
3. Maybe I am psychoanalyzing. Or maybe I am just having normal interactions like I've always had. Or maybe it is both. But so what?
Psychoanalysis is defined as: "a system of psychological theory and therapy ...investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association."
From the above definition, you can see that there are elements of psychoanalysis that we all do in our interactions with other people in our daily lives. You don't? Let me try to explain:
- "Investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind": When I am talking to someone, I could want to know why that person is feeling some sort of way about something. Is this not common? When someone tells you that she is deathly afraid of dogs and refuses to be near one, could you not question, "Hm, I wonder why? Maybe something happened in her past and it still hurts her now?"
- "bringing repressed fear and conflicts into the conscious by techniques": In any common conversation, could I not use techniques such as asking someone directly why she or he feels a certain way about something? Or if something happened in her past? Could I not try to be a decent and good human/friend/whatever to try to see where this person is coming from? Does that turn me into a psychoanalyzing bigot? I really don't think so.
The main takeaway for me is that my family uses the line the way that they do because of their implicit unconscious negative bias regarding my field and what I do amongst other factors such as their pride and confusion regarding my field and its values and purpose. Whether I am psychoanalyzing them or not, I know that I come from a place of trying to connect - trying to encourage growth and understanding. Simply put, psychoanalysis is positive in my light and it is negative in their light.
Despite my efforts to explain and explain, they don't understand that psychoanalysis is a theory and technique used to uplift and empower others. They see it as a weapon. They see my field and my knowledge as a threat. So they see me as a threat when I speak up. And do I speak up bringing psychological theories to use against my family and like a know-it-all asshole? I don't. I really don't. I never enjoyed the theories as much the compassion and humanity that are essential but sometimes overlooked in psychology. Each and every argument is escalated by their bringing up of my education and field. I'm just being me, Rachel, their family member, and when they bring up my education I just stand there with my mouth agape, like, "where did that come from? how did you get that from what was just said?" The argument goes from father vs. daughter, mother vs. daughter, brother vs. daughter, to them vs. this loud-spoken stranger who has become so cold and analytical because of what she studies and does for a living.
The issue for me is that while I believe that I can separate the workplace and home, my family seem to be unable to do that. They say I've changed. And yes, I have but not in the way they say I did. I have grown immensely as a person and learned to think logically, learned many skills to understanding the world, understanding people, and understand myself. But they attribute all of these changes that I am really proud of as being a negative change and having had occurred because I am now studying mental health. No longer their daughter, no longer my brother's older sister. No longer Rachel arguing/ debating with them, trying to understand them; they put me into a box and see me as something else now. They don't hear my words as me, they hear it as "psychoanalysis", a term grossly misunderstood by their implicit negative cultural bias.
Not going to lie, that hurts. Because it tears down everything about myself that I have come to really be proud of. They see my "change" into being a young adult, connecting anything negative perceived about me as an influence of studying their skewed version of psychology.
"Oh why are you so angry? Wow, you're a social worker you should be more understanding."
Why does being a social worker matter in this situation where I am expressing feelings of being hurt?
"Rachel, why can't you understand me? I thought you were a therapist."
I work as a therapist at my job, I am your daughter right now not a therapist and I am trying my best to understand you as your daughter.
"Do you treat your patients the way you treat me? Why do you treat your own family worse than strangers."
You're not my patient, you're my dad. I'm trying to understand you. Why would you believe that I treat my family worse than my patients?
"Hey, I want to tell you something but don't use your psychology skills to try to read my mind or something."
Psychology isn't voodoo. Why would you think I'd try to maliciously read your mind?
And every time, I am internally screaming. Screaming, screaming and screaming.
What really sucks more (if that is even possible) is that they see their perception of me as a representation of people who are working in the mental health field - further spreading harmful negative stereotypes. And it makes me question, would these arguments be happening if I had just gone into another field? Did I willingly and stupidly tie a ticking time bomb onto my head? I have been called naive a lot in my life, is this another case where I tried to butt my naive head into something that cannot be helped?
I am very proud of my education and how far I've come. I am no longer the 18 year old, insecure, broken girl in freshman year of college contemplating how and when I should end my life. I learned of my own brokenness, I reflected on where it all came from, I found solace in understanding my mistakes, bad decisions, and the toxic influences around me that had led me to that point. I am proud of who I am now and I am happy to have devoted my life to empowering and lifting up other people. Because no one was there when I needed them and I want to be that person to others.
As aforementioned, I know that there are bigger influences that are playing in my family and our interactions. I get it. Intersectionality of cultures, negative stigma, Confucianism, inter-generational stress etc. etc. etc. But I'm writing this as Rachel. A first generation Korean-American daughter who feels misunderstood and alone.
What do you think? .. About all this. Can you relate? Or not? Please let me know.
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