“What’s Your Box?”

I believe we all grow up to who we are today from genes and the environment, the effects of “nature and nurture.” I believe their proportion of influence varies by person, and varies at each point in our lives.

In my case, I was once predisposed to run around circles in an attempt to defy my own nature, until I realized—however slowly—how important it is to embrace it and then adapt it positively to my current environment.  We all face and struggle with labels early on. If we do well in class, we are the smart one. If we get into a fight in school, we are belligerent. We go through life with these labels serving as an imaginary reinforcement. Before we know it, we find ourselves in a box.   Similarly, when we try something off our normal MO, you’ll hear, “That’s not you.”  And as much as this box may sometimes engender doubt, oftentimes it can be quite comforting. This box is how we are perceived by other people and by ourselves and it seems easier to conform to what people expect of us.

I grew up picking up so many labels.  Because I was forgetful and did not get into my first big school on my first try, I was labeled the least bright among my siblings. Because I was a bit dark in complexion, I was labeled a bit off in my own culture. Because I loved to reason out, I was known to be pilosopo. And because I took things quite emotionally, I was known as being too sensitive.

Are labels wrong?  Should we avoid them? I believe they are a part of life that we can’t escape. I believe labels may form us. They may encourage us. They may hurt or traumatize us, but these may also push us. Most of all, labels might even surprise us.

That’s why a form of catharsis is necessary at some point in our lives, hopefully sooner than later. We need to hold a mirror to ourselves and sift and examine all these labels, as it will be beneficial for us to identify the source of negative labels. Try to see the source’s place in your life, and as you go through the process of self-examination, it should be pointed out that it’s not an uncommon reaction to feel anger and assign blame. But later on, a bolder you must assume your power of choice. How?

Find that moment to drop all these labels.  Open your world to your childhood dreams or passions. Regard your qualities with objectivity and see how these have positively contributed to your life today.

I was too sensitive as a child, and my mother told me to change because it would not be good for my future. I would leave the room at the slightest comment of my being dark-skinned or some small comment over something or anything I did. My mom ignored me every time I acted up because she said it was not good to tolerate my behavior. I remember it would always be my grand-aunt or Manang Eyang, my nanny, who would come to the room and tell me that everything would be okay.

My mom was right. She did achieve many things in her life because she was never prickly. As I grew older, I transformed this sensitivity into what I call “suppressed sensitivity.” I don’t think I became less sensitive; I simply adapted and learned to delay my reaction whenever I felt slighted. When I got home, I would write about whatever it was that hurt me. I began my journals when I was 11, and whenever I felt sad, I would write poems, make collages and I would sketch. You can imagine how much poetry I have written since.

It was only when I attended meditation class at 28 that my teacher, Noelle, said that my sensitivity is a gift. He told me it is why I have empathy for the world around me, and that my sensitivity allows me to react well to situations and people. Today I thank God for having given me this journey. If I had not been told to suppress my “sensitivity,” perhaps I wouldn’t have found the beautiful gift of writing and art.

I always believe that our starting point as a parent must be ourselves. We are a summation of how we chose to internalize or not internalize each experience. I will go more into this in succeeding columns but when you decide to do this exercise, and have identified who is to blame for whatever past hurts, always remember the premise that your parents or guardians did their best, and that it was not their intention to hurt you. More importantly, for both the good and the bad, carry a ton of gratitude for what you have become, or even what you have not become.

As a parent, we do our best to guide our kids. In the process, we sometimes get trapped in expecting our kids to be a certain way. Kids react in different ways to “boxes.” Some kids push themselves hard to get our approval, while others escape and form their own world totally opposite from our expectations. We shouldn’t focus on how their behavior is testing our patience. Instead, I suggest that we focus more on being a medium for our kids in their search for themselves. I have psyched myself to never be afraid of my kids becoming difficult. I’m more afraid of seeing them lost.

I have adopted these three key principles with regard to my kids:

  • Set “growth” foundations. I try my best to use what I read in a business book, Growth Mindset. For all the labels about the “left brain,” and the “right brain,” my goal is for my kids to have an “expansive” brain.
  • Help your child digest his or her “labels.” As they got older, whenever my kids received a comment, like they’re good in a particular subject, I would tell them that this is great but other subjects are also interesting. Acknowledge the label and expand the possibilities.
  • Last, and more important, as hard is it not to impose our dreams to our kids, let’s try to listen. See how they react to labels. See if they shy away from these, get angry or hurt, or happily abide by them. We as parents might now know exactly what to do at such point in time in life, but the most important thing is connecting with our kids…the earlier, the better

20140913_145317 20140913_145137  In Photo: In all its oddity and ambiguity, The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy was a good starting point and I would put Post-Its on visuals or passages, and then I would go back to reflect on them.

(Source:  Business Mirror, Feb 3 2016, Parent Life Section)

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