I have recently been immersed in the topic of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn't happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.
Recently I listened to a podcast episode called Trust Your Body on one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugars. In the episode, the hosts, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, and guests, Hilary Kinavey, M.S., L.P.C., and Dana Sturtevant, M.S., R.D., discussed the never-ending cycles of dieting that affect so many women. One of the women who wrote to the Sugars talked about how tired she feels about "being on the roller coaster" of weight loss and self-esteem. I can relate to her struggles as I have been on the roller coaster myself for most of my adolescent and adult life. The struggle with our bodies is so pervasive, oppressive, and multi-generational, as Cheryl Strayed asked, is it possible to ever be free of it? How can we dismantle the connection between morality, worthiness, and femininity with women's body image? The hosts discuss how women's appetite and desire are controlled by a male-dominated society. They talk about Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth that links women's appetite for love, sex, money, food, care, etc. to women's rights and equality in the home, in bed, in the work place, and in the world. Women are hungry for so much more.
One of the struggles that I often see with my clients, my friends, and within myself is the balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves. The dilemma of whose-needs-come-first is one that I am intimately familiar with as an Asian American woman. Both as a woman and as an Asian American, I was taught from a young age to put the needs of others before my own as the highest virtue. It sometimes feels impossible to give to myself what I so readily give to others (e.g., time, attention, compassion, love, rest). The reasons why it is so hard to balance self-care and caring for others can include: there isn't enough time or energy to do both, I would be selfish if I focused on my needs, I don't really deserve to be cared for, and I feel loved only when I am needed. What I have learned over time is that always putting other people's needs before my own is not a sustainable way to live and it is the fastest way to reach burn out, resentment, and the ending of a relationship. In this blog post, I want to present a different way of thinking about this struggle. Instead of framing it as an impossible and unending dilemma, it might be helpful to see it as a stage of growth and development that is very normal and very human.
Fairy tales, folktales, and mythology have traditionally been the messengers of moral lessons. Even the acculturated, modernized, and romanticized versions from Disney can provide some pearls of wisdom. There is nothing quit like a Disney movie to warm my heart and make me cry. I saw the new Disney movie Moana this weekend. Of course, it is full of the movie tropes and scripts that Disney is so well known for. The climax and ending are predictable and the cultural references are blended together and watered down. I won't go into a full critique of this movie as cultural appropriation as many writers have already done so here, here and here. I am just glad that the heroine is a person of color, which is a small step in the right direction.
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