If You Try to Protect Yourself, You Are Labled as "Disrespectful"
Release your inspiration...
Host: Welcome to the podcast.
Naomi: Thanks for having me.
Host: Can you give us your name and a little bit about yourself. We'd love to hear your story, whatever you feel comfortable sharing.
Naomi: I am Naomi. I'm Filipino and I am a survivor of a family, emotional and verbal abuse from an Aunt. So this pretty much all started when I had moved to California for college, and this was an aunt that I had known since I was a child. It's not an immediate family member, but you know, for Asians extended family is immediate family, same thing.
She was always known as the crazy one growing up. There was just always a lot of drama and all these fights that had circulated around this one particular person.
So I had left to go to college in California, originally I am from Hawaii, and I was encouraged to go to California by my dad because my aunt had lived near my college and he didn't want me to be alone. That was one of the main driving forces and why I chose to go to school in California.
Already from the get go, once I moved, it was off to a pretty bad start. My first morning there I woke up and I was very, very homesick. I missed my parents. I missed my life in Hawaii, and it was just a big adjustment. I didn't want to go anywhere, I was moping around in bed and just sad and crying.
My aunt got mad at me and started yelling at me about ¨why was that? Why was I crying?¨ because ¨I shouldn't be sad and I'm in a new place and she's there¨ and made it all about her. That was the first instance of when drama had started to happen. It escalated throughout the years, with her getting mad at me about things that she didn't agree with. These would turn into explosive fights. And these fights could happen anywhere. It would be yelling and just a lot of tension and conflict, and yelling at each other outside, and in public. We yelled at each other at Disneyland.
Throughout those years it just got worse and worse, to where I couldn't do anything or go anywhere without her having an issue with it. The escalation really happened around my junior year of college when my parents started to have marital issues and my dad's PTSD started to get a lot worse.
So, because of me being the oldest and because of the relationship I have with my parents, I took a lot of the pressure of their marriage. I would be speaking to both of them on the phone, and there were a lot of suicide thoughts or comments that were made. Also divorced thoughts and comments that were made. I was just trying to contain it as much as I could from California, and trying to get them the proper help that they needed.
With all this pressure, I would have her (my aunt) in my ear telling me things like ¨They don't care about you. Do you see that they don't love you? If they loved you they would do this! If they cared about you, they would do that!¨ .
It got to the point where I didn't want to talk to them anymore. And I essentially cut them off and stopped answering their phone calls. I would take so long to respond to text messages. By that point, I was isolated.
Not only that, but my aunt bought me everything that I wanted. Passage trips, clothes, anything I could ever possibly want, she would buy me when I had been isolated from my parents. She had also put a roof over my head. She paid for utilities, she paid for everything, the only thing that was under my parents control at this point was my cell phone and everything else was covered by her. So, not only was I isolated from my family, I also financially relied on her.
Once I was isolated and I was living with her, the fights escalated. They got to be explosive to the point where it really started to take effect on my health. Not only my mental health but I mean my family in general.
After fights there would be moments where I would go into a catatonic state and just be staring into space. Not talking to anyone, not feeling anything. I had panic attacks after fights where I looked like a crazy person. I would be screaming and pulling out my hair and hitting my head, because I was just trying to make sense of it all.
And its too much for someone's brain to handle when they're fighting with someone and it's just constant arguments and constant tension and constantly being told, like, you're crazy and you're stupid and you're dumb just over and over and over. So that continued to happen for another three years and I also wasn't allowed to go anywhere by myself, I wasn't allowed to hang out with my friends by myself. If I wanted to, she would get mad, and it would turn into a fight. So to avoid those fights I would invite her. And can you imagine a 30-year-old at a college party... It's awkward.
I turned a blind eye and accepted it because anything was better than fighting. I didn't want to fight over it, because the fights turned into things that were ugly. Our fights had gotten bad enough to where the cops had come to our house for a domestic call to check in. It was just a really, really bad and unhealthy situation.
And the breaking point was when I had a childhood friend coming to town to see me. He and I had gotten pretty close and she didn't like that. It made her very, very angry to see me and him getting close. After he had left, It escalated and turned into a fight. And I just knew in the pit of my stomach I had to leave. Because I was done, I guess. Sometimes I look at it, and I say that my childhood friend coming into town was a reminder of the person I was before I met her or before I had lived with her. Being reminded of that person, I wanted to go back and I knew I needed to go home. So that thought was already in my mind, but when I would try to look for a new place to live or somehow try to stay in California I couldn't afford it. Again, I was financially relying on her.
So the breaking point happened when we had got into an argument about something and it got really, really bad. Just yelling and pushing and to a point where she had left with my cell phone. So now, I was cut off and unable to call anyone. The only thing I had on me was my iPad so I Face Timed my parents. I called them and told them ¨I don't care anymore what I say, I don't care what I do, I don't care if I changed my mind, you need to get me out of here right now¨. I can still remember the look on my dad's face when I said that. It was just absolute concern and fear for what was going on.
So they booked me a flight and I booked a shuttle. This was 12 o'clock in the morning in California. I grabbed a suitcase and packed whatever I could, whatever clothes I could find, whatever little trinkets I had that I knew I wanted to take with me. I knew whatever I left she probably wouldn't give back or I might not be able to go back. When she came home from wherever she was, she went frantic and lost it. There was yelling. There was her trying to pull the suitcase away from me, her sitting on my suitcase, pushing me down, holding me down... it started to get physical. There were no punches that happened, from what I can remember, but I was bit at one point. I was pushed into furniture. I blacked it out over the years, I still can't remember the details of everything else.
So the airport shuttle came at three o'clock in the morning and I just grabbed my suitcase and left. And then I got on a plane at five and within five hours, I was back at home in Hawaii. My phone was still locked because she had somehow locked my phone completely, so I had to use a Payphone to call my mom. I didn't know where she was, I didn't know if she was going to show up.
And once my mom showed up and my sister showed up all she did was hug me and hold me and I just cried in the middle of the airport. I wish that I could say it was over from that, but it wasn't.
I was getting notifications that someone from California was logging into my social media accounts and logging into my email. Just accessing everything. I had to change my passwords for everything. I had to quit my job, and my volunteer job from Hawaii and tell them that a personal situation had come up and I had to leave unexpectedly.
She continued to harass me and my parents, she would try to call my parents to get hold of me, and they kind of worked as a barrier essentially to protect me from her. She would send email after email. I probably got like four or five within a week that would start out as apologies, but then turn into telling me how horrible a person I am, what a horrible Christian I am, and how it's all my fault and I'm crazy. It turned into just a verbal attack. I had to block her from my email also.
And when I went back a month later to grab the rest of my stuff I found all my things packed into boxes on the curb because she wouldn't allow me into the house. To this day, I'm not. I don't have a lot of my stuff. My stuff is still in her garage. I still have shoes and just random stuff that is in her garage. My passport is somewhere in that house and I've never gotten it back to this day, and this is four years later.
Host: Oh my God
Naomi: Yeah. I haven't spoken to her in four years, and when I had first got home, like everything was great, I was kind of in this honeymoon stage when I had first gotten home. I was around my friends, I had found a job after trying to find a new job for a year so things are on the up and up.
But then I started to see the effects of what happened in California, when I started to date a guy, who is now my husband. When you're in a relationship with someone and conflict happens, especially when you start dating. I started to notice that when there would be conflicts, not even just with him just around other people, if there was heightened conflict or tension I would start to have a panic attack. I would get shaky, I would want to pull my hair out, and all this stuff. So that's why I noticed that everything that happened with her was affecting me mentally. Even after I had left, that continued to show up throughout my marriage. And after having kids, having that escalate when I had postpartum depression.
But even with all that and seeing the effects of it, I still couldn't say that it was abuse, because I just didn't know what it was. I didn't know how to explain what had happened with my aunt. Until I started volunteering with a domestic find shelter in the area and I heard the founder's story.
We had gone to an event and she had shared her story for DV Awareness Month and she said in her speech, ¨they don't have to hit you for it to be domestic violence¨. That's when it kind of dawned on me. Oh, my gosh I was emotionally and verbally abused and there was a reactive abuse involved also. I could finally understand what happened. I could start to wrap my head around it and I don't think I was able to start healing until I was able to accept that it was emotional and verbal abuse .
And especially when it comes to emotional and verbal abuse. I think it's just easier to fall into within our culture and with the values that I was taught with her being family. You just have to take it, and just let it go. Even if it’s not the right way for you to be treated, you're not taught to speak up against negative comments and verbal abuse. They're your elders. You have to just let it go, you can't be disrespectful. And if you say something, you're disrespectful.
I think that's why I put up with it for so long and even after this happened, I told my family about how it was emotionally and verbally abusive. I will outright say it to them. But they will still refer to her as my best friend, because we were really close. They'd be like “Oh, I spoke to your best friend today¨. She is not my best friend, she is anything but that, and they will still talk about her nonchalantly as if I want to know what's going on in her life and I don't.
And I know that there will come a day, where something will happen and our family will have to get together and I'm going to have to face her. I have no say in that because it's family, so it puts me in a really difficult position because I don't know what's going to happen when I face her. I don't know if she's going to act as if everything is okay. To me it's not like I don't want this person around me, I don't want this person around my children, I don't want this person around my husband. But again, because it's family it's a reality that i'm going to have to face one day.
So that's my story of trying to wrap my head around. This experience that happened in my life that I didn't deserve and that was unfortunate that nobody deserves and trying to work through it.
Host: I'm sorry.
Naomi: Well, it is what it is.
Host: How do you think being Filipino affected your experience?
Naomi: I think it's just, there are very strong values a family has about family members. She was never taught to take responsibility for it, and everyone just kind of brushes this aside. They are being very passive about it, because if they are family that makes a behavior excusable.
But it's not. I think we should be taught and I would want to teach my children that you don't deserve to be disrespected just because of blood. You don't deserve to be talked down to just because of blood. Family is important. But there's still boundaries that need to happen.
Host: Do you think that your values of respecting elders have primed you to be emotionally abused later on in life?
Naomi: I think very much so, because we never want to be called disrespectful and anytime you see something or you speak up when you don't agree with something you're labeled as being disrespectful. When in reality you're just protecting yourself. It's not only that, it's also being primed to not cause conflict with other family members and to again let things go. I should have been taught that it's okay to have personal boundaries even with family, and it's okay to walk away if there are toxic family members.
I probably wouldn't have stayed for five years or probably would have recognized it in the beginning, as this is a toxic relationship, and I should not stay here. I can continue to have this person as a family member and have a basic relationship with this family member, but I should not have been as close to her, as I did.
Host: You mentioned that your family either just completely ignores the fact that she abused you despite the fact that you called them. They clearly took it seriously because they flew back home. However now they will intentionally refer to her as your best friend. Do you think that's just part of your culture? Your family values despite knowing the pain that she caused you?
Naomi: It just makes them uncomfortable. They still can't really wrap their minds around what abuse can be because they're still stuck on that idea that you have to be hit to be abused and…
Actually, I forgot to mention this earlier, the next morning when I was in Hawaii after having fled when I woke up I had bruises all over my legs and no clue where they came from. So, even my parents had seen all the after effects of that and they just stay away from the conversation completely nowadays.
Except, they will still throw at me the times I cut them off without understanding the isolation, the concept of abuse. I really think that they just make comments like that to make it okay for them. Because they're uncomfortable with it.
Host: Do you think they understand how hurt you are by this?
Naomi: I don't think so. I don't think they'll ever understand how much I've had to heal and process from this. I think the only person that probably understands is my husband, because he's had to help me through the healing process for the past couple years. He has firsthand seen my panic attacks and the effects that the abuse has on me that my family has never seen. I think they saw it once and they thought I was being dramatic, but it was a triggered reaction. Because conflict or somebody saying something to me to put me down instantly will put me back in that abusive place and my body just reacts and my mind just reacts even though I'm not there anymore.
Host: What was it like for you as a Filipino survivor trying to communicate your story? What barriers did you come across?
Naomi: The biggest barrier that I've seen, not only with myself but with other Filipino survivors, is that we've told our story to somebody who isn't Filipino or isn't Asian and a lot of times their reaction is ¨why would your family treat you like that?¨¨ Well, why don't you just walk away?¨. They can't understand how deep our family ties go and how deep our culture is when it comes to family. It's not as easy as it sounds. You're going up against a lot when you speak out against family doing stuff to you and most of my family members still don't know the truth about what happened. Only a select few know the truth.
Host: What's one thing you want to say to people who are not familiar with AAPI cultural values? What is something that they should understand if they want to help reach AAPI survivors?
Naomi: I would say to remember to look at the abuse within the framework of a person's culture. Don't look at it from your own personal framework because our families may function differently than your family. And it's not even just the Asian culture framing that you should consider, but like with my situation I'm also from Hawaii so you also have the Hawaii culture that goes into it as well. So just keep in mind that there are other factors to Asian American abuse that you might not necessarily be aware of, because you don't come from that same culture.
Host: How do you think your story would have changed if you had not been Filipino if you had been like a white blonde girl named Becky from the block?
Naomi: I think it would have been easier to walk away in the beginning, I don't think I would have been as encouraged to go to school near family. Other families may not necessarily have that same idea of how family takes care of family, depending on the family, though.
Host: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
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