Who Are You Trying to Prove Yourself To?


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“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~Mary Engelbreit

Some might say that their past haunts them like old ghosts. As for me, my ghost is my childhood.

I was raised in a moderately traditional family, as opposed to some overly traditional Chinese families where everyone lived by a thick rulebook.

Luckily, my family was a little more lenient, which I consider a true blessing. However, I felt as though my parents held me captive inside a glass box. Whenever I thought about being chained down from what I needed, I felt a part of me die.

I now realize that they never held the key to my escape. The horrifying truth came to light when an old, bitter anger rose up from within me a few days ago: I was my own captive.

Like I said, my ghost is my childhood. No matter how I’d trace and redraw the lines, I’d end up with the same result.

I was no angel as a child; in fact, I was far from it. I was a bad student, which was a big deal in my family, and my parents reacted just like any other parents would when they learned that their oldest child was being disrespectful.

So it was no surprise when they decided that I was going to have a hard time in life, and that I was going to end up in a community college while my baby brother would head off to a big shot university and then make the big bucks.

Though I was merely a child, I understood exactly what they meant when they uttered those words. Luckily, I straightened out after being placed into a summer school because of my poor academic skills.

When I was young, a close relative who my parents trusted sexually harassed me. It was only when I was older that I understood what had happened, and I was enraged when I learned that my parents did nothing to stop it.

I felt like I was thrown to the side, used and unwanted because of what had happened. I thought it was a contributing factor to why I ended up the way I am.

Sometimes bitterness clings on even when you know you should let it go.

As I grew older, I started to immerse myself into the arts, painting and sculpting. I was far more interested in philosophy and traveling than my parents’ expectations of me, becoming a doctor or an accountant.

But I wanted to make them proud; I wanted to prove them wrong and maybe even erase their belief that I’d never amount to anything great.

When I arrived at college, my first course of action was to declare my major in the nursing field because I enjoyed helping others, and because my parents urged me to do it, since being a nurse meant earning big bucks.

Hope returned into their eyes. However, while volunteering in a local hospital, I soon came to learn that I could not handle being around dying patients because I would feel melancholy and get a little sick.

It was hard to tell my parents that I could not be a nurse for that reason. Eventually, they stopped trying to make my uncle, who was a doctor, convince me to become one. They lost their hope in me again, so they looked to my brother who had recently graduated from high school. Hope returned to their eyes while the old bitterness grew in my heart.

A week ago, I got a job offer to work in the education field—a field my parents say I was not meant for. The achievement that I earned did not feel so great anymore, and I felt unhappy about my accomplishment.

It felt as though my life was ruled by my parents’ opinions, and I felt like I could never be as great as my younger sibling.

After a few years of feeling like I’d never amount to anything as great as my younger brother, I realized that I blinded myself from seeing all of my accomplishments. I was too busy waiting for my parents to see me as an individual instead of a hopeless cause.

When I started to look back, I saw that there was nothing I could have done to stop what had happened to me.

Yes, it was an awful thing that happened, but there’s no reason to dwell over the past if it only pulls me down. There’s no point in remembering what my parents had said many years ago, because they were wrong, and people can be wrong.

So why was I still unable to let go of the memories that made me feel so small?

The answer came to light last week while I was free writing. I spent most of my life correcting myself and scolding myself for not doing better. I would remind myself of my past to encourage myself to overcome my weakness, but I’d end up hurting myself and blaming those around me for shaping who I’ve become.

I used my past as a weapon instead of a helpful guide. All this time I thought I was waiting for my parents to be proud, but really I was waiting for me to see myself as someone I can be proud of.

It’s hard to let go of the past, especially when it haunts you and makes you feel like less of the person you actually are.

But if you learn to accept the past instead of wishing you could change it, it will no longer control you. You may also find that the person you want to prove yourself worthy to is you.

Photo by overgraeme

About Amy Eng

Amy Eng is a young rookie writer with a never-ending obsession for the arts, especially in sculpting. Her goal in life is to make an impact on someone else's life through whatever medium is at her disposal.

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  • Jeff

    Amy I hear you! I’m of a similar background. But at the end of the day we have only but ourselves. That’s the most important person to take care of – yourself

  • Realization that people in authority can be wrong and may not have your best interest in hear is a powerful one. And it can be very hard to bear when you realize that the closest people in your life may do you more harm than good, even if they carry the best of intentions. As long as you are willing to forgive them and continue to love them all the same, you will do well, Ms. Eng 🙂 Responsibility for our happiness lies within ourselves, and when you discover a person who nourishes your power to allow yourself to be happy, you fall in love with life again and them too, of course 🙂

  • Very good article Amy. I am in the process of looking at my past in a different way too and proving myself – to myself.

  • Great read. Thank you.

  • Amy you represent to me true bravery. I have so many years made a point to stress my own failures and inadequencies. Finally I got to the conclusion that it isn’t my hardships that have trapped me, it’s myself at the end of the day. Facing this truth requires true courage and honesty.

    Thanks for your article

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story/journey, truly a wonderful epiphany, congratulations!!! I love what you said here..”I used my past as a weapon instead of a helpful guide. All this time I
    thought I was waiting for my parents to be proud, but really I was
    waiting for me to see myself as someone I can be proud of” AWESOME! 🙂

  • A life trying to gain acceptance and live one’s existence through the eyes of others is equal to the feat personified by the myth of Sisyphus, who daily pushes a boulder to the top of a hill…only to have it roll to the bottom and begin the process anew.
    Kudos to you for your awakening. Once we discover the cause for our own discomfiture we accept responsibility for how we feel and what we do about it. No more “you make me feel” or “I do this because you…”. Parents may want the best for their children, but their choices are made in their own best interest, ultimately, and not that of the child.
    Thanks for sharing this, Amy.

  • Susu

    Amy…well put. You are already a success to be so young and have this awareness. It took me a long time to accept my own definition of success…which is balancing work and family. Some colleagues in the past have put me down for not climbing higher professionally. If we all had the same idea of success the world woild be a boring place. You go girl!

  • greentreegrove

    Thank you for this incitefull post. Letting go of the past is hard for me too. I keep wanting to fix it somehow!

  • Thank you Jaydeep!

  • Dave, I hope you find your past to be one of your great mentors. My advice: look to the past to become a better person but don’t let it reopen old wounds unless you plan on learning something from it 🙂 Good luck!

  • Thanks, Brian! That means a lot 🙂
    Sometimes we forget that we have the ultimate decision: we could either accept whatever mistakes we made and find a way to get past it, or we could bury ourselves in regret and resentment of our actions.
    I’m glad you’re accepting your past–like a true warrior.

  • Thank you so much, lv2terp!

  • You’re absolutely right, Mark. There will come a day when we have to put our foot down and decide what’s right for ourselves.

  • Haha! Yes, I agree, Susu! Don’t listen to what your colleagues say unless you find their criticisms useful. If they’re not, let it roll over your head 🙂

  • Thank you! You can fix it if you give yourself the chance to accept everything that has happened. Good luck 🙂

  • I completely agree, Alexey!

  • Jeff, I totally agree with you. But don’t forget those around you who love you. Unfortunately, love isn’t always displayed the way you want it to. Sometimes you just have to trust that those who truly love you-even if they don’t always show it-only want the best for you.

  • Pete

    I totally agree that it’s difficult to let go of the past. But not impossible. The trick is to feel it, accept it and drop it (let it go).

  • Hi Amy, the part where you wrote “there’s no reason to dwell over the past if it only pulls me down” is a takeaway that I think is very useful in trying to get past those ghosts. Its hard to do at times but focusing on things that build you up instead can be one of the best ways to counter the alternative.

  • Geraldine

    Amy, excellent! Good for you! Never stop living your dreams and traspass always what you think your bounderies are, because they are only ilussions, the reality is the infinit power of god that lives in you. Thank you for shearing this.

  • sri purna widari

    Inspiring. I am proud of you!

  • Thank you, Sri!

  • Thank you, Geraldine!

  • You are absolutely right, Nicole. Look back at the past if you think it will help you, not consume you.

  • I agree, Pete!

  • Neslyn

    Exactly! I wanted to rephrase this line “But if you learn to accept the past instead of wishing you could change it, it will no longer control you. You may also find that the person you want to prove yourself worthy to is you” – I really love this part.
    I was once in this kind of situation, perhaps, until now.
    Also, I learned that If you keep yourself thinking about your past, it’s merely the same as dwelling in it. And the worst thing is you tend to miss every good opportunity in your life.
    Enough with the past! Be as you ought to be who your are in the present! And never be afraid to what lies ahead in the future 🙂


  • “Enough with the past! Be as you ought to be who you are in the present!” haha, I love this!

  • Confused londoner

    Amy I know exactly how you feel having Chinese parents myself. I strived throughout my youth to keep them happy as they were never 100% happy with my older brother and sister so I tried to learn from their mistakes. Until I had a recent relationship where my parents had not even met him but decided he was all wrong for me due to his background ( which in hindsight I should not have told them about, but I was trying to please them). I have now broken off this said relationship but I am struggling to understand how to keep them happy and myself happy. I’m 26 and worried I’m not going to meet the right person, particularly as they need to be Chinese but I live in London. I know I need to accept myself and not try to get my parents approval but it is difficult. I haven’t reached that turning point yet

  • I know how you feel.

    About 3 or 4 years ago, I was dating a hispanic, and my parents were extremely frustrated with me when they found out. Like you, I broke off the relationship but it had nothing to do with him–it was because it was important to me for my parents to like my boyfriend. And I have regretted it ever since because it wasn’t something that he or I did.

    Sometimes you have to make the necessary decisions that will make you happy. Your parents may not approve who you are dating at first, but as long as who you find makes you happy, that’s all that matters. Don’t forfeit to what your parents want or else you might miss out on someone who’s worth the fight. Good luck 🙂

  • Loreto

    Do the things for your own self, not for the others, that’s what I learnt. You dont have to prove anything to anyone.

  • Katie

    Amy, I LOVED this article! I am the eldest of 7 children, and I was the bad student/girl, too. I always felt that I was overlooked, invisible, not worthy of my parents’ love (I was also overweight). I had eating disorders, I did drugs, and I got into a lot of trouble. My parents told me I couldn’t be what I truly wanted to be — a dancer — because I was too fat (and too short — something I had no control over). And I BELIEVED them. I never pursued it because they told me not to.

    I’m now 38 years old and a working professional actor on the stage. Even at 38, I still dance. And it’s because I believed in myself. I believed I could do it. I at least had to try, right?

    I think one of the hardest things to admit is that our parents can be wrong. Sometimes painfully wrong. I have forgiven them.

    Thank you so much for your sharing. It’s always nice to see that you’re not alone. 🙂

    Best of luck to you!

  • Thank you, Katie! It means a lot to me.

    I’m so happy to know you didn’t give up on yourself. There’s a quote that popped into mind as I was reading your comment: “A diamond is created under intense pressure” (it went something like that).

  • I agree!

  • Brandt Hott

    You were the scapegoat in your family. Its doesnt matter what you accomplished, or how much greatness you achieved, they would had always looked down on you. As children we want the love and acceptance of our family. When they make us their outcast we struggle into adult life trying to find acceptance, self-criticizing, self-humiliating, because we just aren’t good enough in how we see ourselves through our parents eyes. There is no reason to carry the cross for others. In the end you cannot judge yourself through someone elses eyes, when they never even knew you in the first place. We have to first love ourselves for who we are, independent of the opinions of others. And then set the example for them to learn by. If one has missed the love of their parents because their parents made them the scapegoat to hide from their own problems, just the same, the parents have also missed out on knowing their child and sharing in the pure beauty of that creation.

  • Registered User

    Hi Amy, this was posted a while ago but I wanted to say thanks. I don’t have a similar experience to yours with expectations from parents, but these words really struck me: “I used my past as a weapon instead of a helpful guide.”

    I had a difficult childhood as well, and a lot of traumatic experiences where authority figures did things that harmed me, and there is so much rage that can come from it because as children we don’t realize what is being done to us; we just absorb it. There have been so many instances where I trusted adults and thought they’d know best and they turned around and tore me apart, terrified me, made me feel broken and worthless. And then those few individuals that were my true guardians and loved and protected me… I feel like I failed them and never truly appreciated them enough.

    I also use the past as a weapon against myself. To let go feels like it justifies everything that happened; justifies those people. I don’t know how to change those feelings, but realizing it is like a weapon now that I’ve turned on myself… not one that’s been used against me by some other aggressor… is eye-opening. Maybe a step in the right direction. So thank you.

  • Black Bart

    There are some rules in life you have to follow for happiness:

    1. ACCEPT yourself first. That makes accepting other people’s nonsense easier. It turns the volume down if you are OK with #1.

    2. ACCEPT the world is flawed. This planet is F’d right now. Don’t worry about it. It’s ALWAYS been on the brink of destruction be it famine, plague, wars, economic collapse. The downswings in our societies make room for upswings, so that leads us to….

    3. DO NOT worry about what you cannot control. This one especially is for all the MANAGERS out there in the world. I pity middle management because they have the higher ups over them dictating the way reality SHOULD go and then they have the soldiers on the ground telling them the way reality DOES ACTUALLY go. What a horrible place to be in. These poor souls never get to give up control and just float on the breeze like milkweed.

    4. DON’T be an A$$HOLE. I think every culture has their own version of an A$$HOLE. Don’t be one. Pretty simple.

    5. BE OK with how much money you have. You’re not a billionaire… So what? Do you eat, have a bed, have lights and four walls? There ya go! You’re not out on the street.

    6. BE grateful for even the littlest bit God has given you. If you always want more, you will spend a lifetime feeling like someone kicked you in the balls.

    7. BE yourself. Don’t edit your speech, act a certain way, be false. So, society has some “rules” for this stuff…. WHO CARES? All those rules represent is that a long time ago, some nerds sat down and said “We should do this and this…. and this should be like this and that should be like that….” Lots of SHOULDS.

    8. DON’T “SHOULD” people…. Don’t tell others how to live life. It’s not your job. Back off and deal with your own little pile of poo.

    9. CUT OUT people who hurt, belittle, dump on, or otherwise demean you, your character, your efforts, your projects, and ESPECIALLY your dreams. Those people are fools and you don’t have to pay them any mind. They’re jealous that you have dreams and hopes and projects and goals. They abandoned them long ago and they want you to be as sad and lame as they are. F that. Don’t give in.

    10. Have INTEGRITY. If you say you’re gonna do something, then DO IT. If you mess up, then clean it up. Acknowledge you f-ed up. Don’t be perfect. Be authentic. You will keep people believing in you and they will help you get what you want in life.

    So, there’s my list. Hope it helps.