It’s surprising for those who have met me in my adult life when I tell them that I was painfully shy as a child. Painfully. Shy. Like to the point where my 2nd grade teacher forced me to yell from the opposite side of the basketball court in front of the entire class to practice projecting my voice… totally traumatizing. And not surprisingly, I was a target for bullies. So early in my life, I was convinced that I was weird and no one liked me (well, my family liked me of course but I figured that they were obligated to like me… but the cool kids in school didn’t like me so I convinced myself that I was weird and deserved to be treated unkind).
Fast forward to middle school - the most awkward time of most people’s lives! But something changed when I started 6th grade with new kids from the other elementary school: 1) I started dancing competitively, and 2) hormones. Yup, boys started being interested in me! How strange… they obviously weren’t interested in the shy and weird me that no one liked, so I’m going to become the coolest me I can be! I got comfortable being “on stage” while at school, which I learned through dance, and I would “act cool” at school by watching the coolest TV shows (Saved by the Bell was a favorite because Kelly Kapowski was the prettiest and coolest girl ever), wearing the coolest clothes (from The Limited - complete with skinny pegged jeans), and playing Nintendo. And you know what… it worked! People liked that Ming-Wai!
(Full disclosure: Only my closest friends knew that I watched Star Trek TNG and PBS, hated trying on clothes, and was totally bored by video games… and all those things are still true today 30 years later!)
Anyway, I played the game. I faked it. It was obvious in my little world that people liked the new Ming-Wai WAY more than the old Ming-Wai and I was totally okay with that. Bye Little Ming-Wai! You’re totally embarrassing and I don’t miss you at all.
Over time, I forgot about Little Ming-Wai. She did not meet my expectations of who I was supposed to be. I lived my society-shaped expectation of a successful, modern woman. And I was happy! And people were happy for me! Things were great!
It was only after I had kids in my 30’s when I started feeling the emotional triggers. I had a good government job, lived in a nice neighborhood in the ‘burbs, and had a wonderful and healthy family. This is what I wanted. This is what I had been working for all these years. It didn’t make logical sense. So I tried to dismiss it.
But I couldn’t.
At my son’s first back-to-school picnic, I watched as he played tag with a group of kids. He was transferring from a wonderful Montessori school that encouraged showing emotions and hugging, so when one of the kids pushed him away after my son tried to hug him… it literally brought me to tears on the playground. My son seemed unphased, unhurt, and continued to play. After I pulled it together and we came home, I ended up crying in fetal position in the shower while bravely sitting in my emotions and trying to understand where they were coming from. I got out and journaled frantically and eventually wrote “I HATE YOU!” to that 6-year-old little girl that used to be me. Little Ming-Wai was still within me… hiding quietly in the dark of my subconscious.
I was mortified!!! I had no idea!!! And now I felt so guilty!! I saw her - a scared little girl who was the same age as my own children. It broke my heart and I immediately knew that I had to hold her, love her, encourage her, be her. I had to be me.
I wish I could say that this is where the story ended and we lived happily ever after! It was a big breakthrough… but there was more come.
Another trigger was me crying anytime I would see Mr. Rogers. Bizarre, right? He kept popping up because the Mr. Rogers movie came out and everyone was posting videos and articles. My internal dialogue was speculating all sorts of crazy things trying to rationalize it and I was too scared to dive into this trigger for almost a year.
Coincidentally, my sister met someone in her Rosen class who was a counselor that specializes in childhood trauma and works with the inner child using a technique called Compassionate Inquiry. I was scared to death of what I would find hidden in my subconscious. It took me a while to book a session with him. Once we met (via Zoom), I told him about discovering Little Ming-Wai after the picnic and we worked through her to understand that Mr. Rogers’ motto “I like you just the way you are” was one of the few role models that I felt encouraged me to be just the way I was when I was a kid.
That blew me away. What a powerful message for all of us who didn’t feel like we belonged. My eyes still tear up when I think about Mr. Rogers and all the kids he encouraged to believe in their true self - including this 40 year old kid.
I’m still on my journey to fully love and live my true self. I totally expect there to be more triggers, more discomfort, and more healing discoveries along the way. I’m still fearful of what others will think of me when I decide to live in alignment with my true self and step away from what I think society expects me to be. But I know it’s “when” and not “if” and that’s a big step from where I was a few years ago.
If this story resonated with you and if you feel comfortable, please share your story in the comments below or contact us. At ming+ming, we believe that there is immense power in putting your story out into the world and helping others feel like they are not alone in their healing journey.