Written by Joann Thach
*This post is inspired in recognition of Asian American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month for the month of May.
“Trauma is when we are not seen and known.”
Bessel van der Kolk
I grew up in a traditional Asian-American household. Any sign of intense emotion– joy, anger, or sadness, was frowned upon. I learned from a very young age how to internalize, suppress and repress.
As a first-generation American-born Asian female, I was often told to silence my expressions of emotion, torn between two cultures of being Chinese and American, confined by various gender norms. I did my best to navigate my tumultuous adolescence, colored by physical violence, verbal abuse, and negligence from my incapacitated father and absentee mother.
To cope with my circumstances and survive, I escaped into fantasy worlds crafted by video game designers and buried my head deep in the pages of historical fiction novels. It is no wonder that as a young adult in college, I grew to see emotions as “bad” and slowly fell into a deep, unknowing depression as I struggled to understand myself and the purpose of my being.
I was pushed to the brink in my early 20s and I knew I had to seek help for the dark thoughts that I carried inside me. Thankfully, through education, talk therapy and radical open-mindedness to challenge my beliefs, I started my path to healing the inner wounds that I carried with me since childhood.
However, for the collective majority, trauma persists due to the negative stigma that is associated with getting help for our mental health needs. One of the unfortunate challenges of not getting help for our mental health correlates with a higher likelihood of suicide attempts. Suicide continues to be a serious public health concern, ranked eleventh for top causes of mortality in the United States in 2021. According to CNN, “the CDC conducted a study in 2021 and found that children are facing increasing mental health challenges, with significant shares of both teen girls (57%) and boys (29%) saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls said they seriously considered attempting suicide.” With this current trajectory, it is more important now than ever to develop awareness and understanding of what trauma is and how we are affected by it – through our worldview, our beliefs and narratives, and our actions and behaviors.
The journey to healing is not an easy one; it is an internal and continuous trek that requires intentionality and self-reflection because of how pervasive trauma can be in our culture– from personal functioning to social relationships, parenting, pop culture, economics and politics.
Through my journey so far, I have come to accept the circumstances that I faced as a child, recognizing that my situation and upbringing is not a personal attribution of my parents’ failure, but a manifestation of broader social issues, like poverty, racism and sexism. These social issues will continue to persist through generations like a vicious trauma cycle if it continues to remain unacknowledged and unknown to ourselves.
The key to liberating ourselves and achieving self-clarity lies in facing our own history, as an individual, as a family, and as a society, braving the emotions that it might bring: pain, shame, or fear. Let’s make a commitment to be courageous and start that journey within ourselves.
Please note: If you are experiencing domestic violence, intimate partner violence, gender based violence, please see our resources.