Survivor Guide- AAPI Edition
I've had so much violence done to me in my life. From so many people I loved and trusted. From people I was supposed to be able to trust not to hurt me. From a culture I want more than anything to connect with. From a country and society that will always see me as an outsider.
But what's worse is that a lifetime of this violence, bettering from the outside, forced its way in and made a home. It became an internal voice, telling me to do violence to myself. And that I deserved it. Deserved to be hurt. Because I was a bad person.
The shit I said to myself. Did to myself. When I think about taking that inner hate and doing it to someone I love.
How do you move on from that? Honestly I don't know anyone who's ever fully done so. You learn how to cope and how to process. You force yourself out of bed when all you want to do is sink into oblivion and go through the motions so well that sometimes even people praise how easy going you are, how happy and positive and energetic you are. You practice navigating the ups and downs until it becomes easy and you don't feel seasick everyday. You develop a sense for when you feel that inner voice crawling back up and do your best to lift yourself up. It doesn't always work. Mostly it does. Sometimes it does.
Why is it so hard? It's hard when your inner narrative is abusive. It's a cycle that's so hard to break. Especially when the source of your inner abuser voice is still around, encouraging it to grow.
I escaped my primary abuser. The voice that grew from him has become weaker and weaker over time.
The voice from my abusive AAPI family. That's another story.
Especially when its an APPI family. Family connections are culturally so important. Filial piety. Children are expected to be respectful of elders, to be there for them. When we speak about trying to tell our stories to non AAPIs, we often hear of the reaction.. ¨Why would your family treat you that way? Why do you put up with it??¨. Its how our culture is. How our families are. Including feeling obligated to be there for your family despite how they treat you. Even as they abuse you, you feel the need to support them. Feel the need but also dread being told you are disrespectful and a bad child.
So it's within this framework that we begin. For survivors and for allies. AAPI and non AAPI allies.
Knowing what we know, how do we seek to move forward? How do we as survivors begin to navigate the trauma and work towards setting boundaries, learning what we love and need for ourselves, and building towards healing?
And how do we as allies, be the best structure we can be in this journey?
Knowing how to navigate abuse is challenging, particularly in AAPI communities where the cultural norm is to shame the abused for failing to conceal their pain. The cultural background of a survivor plays a crucial role in navigating their situation. Using what we know from studies, and from the experiences of AAPi survivors we have compiled a guide for both survivors and allies in abusive situations. Obviously, this is one tool in a larger toolbox and what is listed here may not work for everyone. It is recommended to try and see what works for each individual.
As an AAPI Survivor
First, and very important: there is no pressure to rush and no specific timeline. Much of the abuse we see in AAPI families is emotional abuse aka subtler forms that may have been normalized over time. However, many times emotional abuse can escalate into or appear alongside other forms of abuse including financial, physical and sexual. If there is physical/sexual abuse or if you feel compelled to self harm: please call an advocate!
Go at your own speed, take your time gathering resources, talking to whoever you feel, and deciding what is best for you. With that said, here are some suggestions that can help you decide what is the best next step.
Let’s start with definitions. Start slow and ramp it up.
Emotional abuse: a pattern of power and control by one individual over another using tactics such as insults, minimizing, gaslighting (distorting or denying reality to confuse someone), isolation, and jealousy. It is a form of Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence can be found in romantic partners, work relationships, and family. It is a choice by the abuser, and can happen to anyone. 4
Identify the behaviors that are abusive/toxic/harmful
By understanding these behaviors/dynamics, you will be more easily able to identify similar red flags in future partners/relationships as well as be able to identify the same behaviors in yourself. Break the cycle for the next generation!
Things like! Insults, gaslighting manipulation, targeted cruelty, coercion.
For example… if your parents greet you with ``you're less fat this time¨. Bigger red flags if you ask them not to, and they say ¨we are only trying to compliment you! Why are you so offended! Or… you're being terrible for speaking back to me!¨
I feel like for AAPI families, being told you're terrible/oversensitive/disrespectful when you try to set boundaries is a big one to watch out for.
And having your appearance critiqued.
And being compared to others.
Another big Asian one- ¨why aren't you as good as XYZ?¨ ¨You're a failure because...¨
So that's definitions and things to be watchful for… now let's ramp up… focusing on yourself.
It's easy as a survivor to get stuck in a cycle of ¨why would they do that, what's their motivation, how could they¨ right? And it is a balance. You don't want to get stuck in analyzing the abuser and their behavior and the why because at the end of the day, it's more helpful IMO to focus on yourself. Yes you want to know what you are dealing with, but you and your should be the priority. Abusers choose to abuse. And nothing you have done made anyone abuse you. Nothing you have done means you deserve to be abused.
Focus on yourself
What do you want? Identify what is best for you in your life and work to fill those goals. Separate what is ¨obligation¨ vs ¨happiness¨ E.g.: if you do not want to have kids despite pressure from family
Easier said than done. I recommend trying stuff! Do you one day feel like having a happy hour beer at that new bar across the street from your apartment? Did your new author drop a book and you saw it passing by your local neighborhood store? Friend has been pestering you to try that online yoga class? Give it a go! Even if it becomes a one time event, you now know more about yourself and did something because you felt like it. And maybe you'll have a cool story for the future.
Build self love
Self love and confidence makes it more doable to set boundaries, navigate toxicity, and advocate for yourself.
Ways to build self love include:
repeat positive expressions to self (it may take time before it feels ¨normal¨ or not silly).
Identify things that make you happy (no matter how small) and make them routine.
Form relationships with those who validate you through actions
Build a network of people who can support you through:
Creating a safe space where you are comfortable explaining your situation
Brainstorming self care and/or safety plan ideas
People you can call in am emergency
Consider speaking to a therapist
Now for next level stuff…
As a reminder I am not a therapist.. But this worked for me.. And I recommend it. I do recommend you do the first and second level stuff cause it will make this next section much easier! Sticking to boundaries and caring for yourself is less of a chore when you have built in self care habits and a good support network.
Recognize that inner abusive voice
Stuff like ¨this hapens to me because I am a bad person¨/ ¨I deserve to be hurt¨/If I hurt myself I wont fuck up again¨
Maybe the inner voice comes back, you try to cut people out of your life, sabotage yourself, intentionally hurt yourself because you believe it's inevitable, people will leave/hurt you anyways?
Learn to recognize when you're entering this space. Learn when that inner abusive voice is trying to take over the conversation and how to disarm it.
For me it's distracting myself. SQUIRREL! Or fake it till I make it.
Be able to recognize when you're entering a negative space… once you do you can combat it.
My trick for how to recognize it? Imagine saying the stuff to your best friend. Someone you love. Would you? Or would it be too mean?
I recommend combating it when you're in a good space, because it's easier at that time than in the moment.
Re-frame triggering statements that you tell yourself into ones that encourage self loving ones.
Instead of ¨bad things happen because I am a bad person¨ try ¨I do the best I can, and that's all I can do. Sometimes bad things just happen¨ Or change statements like ¨If I worked harder I wouldn't be a failure¨ to ¨I will set goals and move towards them, taking time to care for myself¨.
Learn to recognize when people who act abusively towards you start using abusive tactics. Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize especially when it's a family member and these have been your dynamics. Start with how it makes you feel… not good?
It doesn't have to be the MOST devastating ever, if someone says or does something that is uncomfortable or hurtful (even a little) that is enough.
In terms of boundaries. What happens when you try to set them? Would your family respect them, or get defensive?
If you can set boundaries, GREAT! Do so!
If you cannot… because youŕe labeled disrespectful… Here's my question. What are the effects of spending time with your abusers? How does it affect your mental health? How long does it affect you? Does it make you happy? And would you consider physical distance? Not seeing them in person, having limited contact?
For some of us, physical distance has been the answer. And it's hard. Family ties are crucial in AAPi communities and the backlash can be devastating. But sometimes compared to the damage done by not creating this distance and being subjected to the abuse… what's the lesser of 2 evils?
For some of us, who cannot create space.. Either we don't want to, we still want to have a relationship, we feel we cannot…
I recommend putting up mental barriers.
Learn to recognize the abusive behaviors that will be used against you.
Practice saying ¨this is this person, this is their issue, it has no reflection on me, I do not deserve this¨
Boundary example! Let's pick a common verbal abuse insult… Does your Asian mother comment on your weight? Do you dislike it and wish she did not? Here are some options for how to set boundaries
Say to her, ¨do not comment on my weight because (reasons)¨. Upside, it's direct. Downside, she may respond with gaslighting, comparing you to someone who would never talk back to her, and not change her behavior
If you decide not to be so direct, develop a strategy for whenever she does so to create emotional distance and ¨Decharge it¨. Maybe repeat to yourself a mantra like ¨This is hurtful behavior and I do not deserve this¨
Consider physical distance or limited contact if this is a possibility
Form connections with individuals who do respect your boundaries. Being able to experience when people respect your choices is validating and confidence building
Above anything else, please remember that abuse is the choice of the abuser and never the fault of the survivor. No matter what, you do not deserve to be abused.
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