Emotional Tiers

I wrote a little while ago about how we can choose our responses to everything that happens to us, but going further, sometimes we can choose our emotional state. For instance, even though I was unemployed and searching for work only a few months ago, I didn’t want certain types of work, like the service industry, factory jobs, construction. These are all things I could have considered, but I didn’t want to because of the emotional tier I wanted to occupy. I didn’t want to work in something I’d find too embarrassing to talk about. In fact, I quit my previous job during a time when people were being laid off and moving back home. When my dad fled from the Viet Cong, I’m sure that any job I had over my lifetime would be better than living under their regime. Some people are content with being miserable at their jobs. They take in a lot of abuse in order to get that paycheque or pat on the head. At some level, I have to appreciate that some people can raise a family on my retail salary, whereas I’m just preoccupied with buying better clothes and a new 3D printer.

I’ve observed that satisfaction with your life starts with a decision. As a kid, I knew that when I grew up, I didn’t want to struggle to find work or money. I knew I would go to school, but later on, I learned that getting myself into a relationship would also provide financial relief (and responsibility). Even through the unemployment, I could have done a ton of things to escape financial hardship. I could have not quit my job in the first place. I could have stopped counselling. I could have moved in with my in-laws. However, I refused to leave my emotional tier. I was relatively content with my setup, such as my living situation, my transportation strategy, my food intake. Instead, I refused to change up a lot of things which would have helped my finances. It was more challenging to get by because I didn’t want to lose any ground, even temporarily.

On one of my days off last week, I went for a nice meal, biked around the river through the yellowing autumn leaves, and laid in the grass with the sun shining on me. It was a beautiful day, but I still had to choose to be content. Even though I wasn’t over the moon or having the best time of my life, that kind of peace and quiet is hard to attain. Things aren’t always perfect, but when they aren’t bad, that’s great. We can’t always escape to Hawaii and stare out at the ocean or take a long weekend at the cabin, but there are pockets in our everyday spaces where we can transport our minds and stop worrying about everything. Presented with this kind of peace and quiet, it’s tempting to complain that I’m bored, but compared to just last year, my life’s amazing now that things aren’t blowing up anymore. I have to make intentional decisions to be glad because otherwise, I would be unhappy with my life no matter how good it got. On the flip side, there is no pleasing some people, who find any reason to be unhappy with themselves and others.

I’m feeling better about myself. I’m receiving more compliments for my work and my looks, which is a new experience. I’m sticking with a hairdo that works for me instead of buzzing it, I’m buying nicer clothes for my wardrobe, and I’m moisturizing. A friend patted me on the back the other night, and they were like “Whoa, someone’s been working out!" I have been working on my back, but I never thought anyone would notice. That compliment will probably stay with me for weeks. Each nice word I receive now feels like someone taking a brick away from the walls built up around my old identity. I was a perfectionist growing up, so I was never good enough for anyone, especially myself. I was awkward and nerdy (an awknerd), so I felt like I never fit in with most people. I hated myself, so I was ashamed of who I was and what I did. Most times when I would receive a compliment, I would correct the person by making a self-deprecating joke about how lame I truly was. Now people say I’m cool or I’m awesome, and it’s all terribly humbling and terrifying. Look how hot I am:

New profile for every account.

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The compliments spike my anxiety. This goes back to a topic I covered while in counselling. My core belief about myself fits a certain definition. People tell me what they think of me, and if their comment conflicts with my own definition of myself, it’s physically and emotionally upsetting. I tend to have low self-esteem, and people saying such nice things about me is scary because it doesn’t usually fit in with how I identify myself. I have a distinct fear that they’re manipulating me to gain favour and to eventually screw me over. Ya, not a great response. I’ve never considered myself good-looking, but now that I think about it, there have been a decent amount of girls that had crushes on me based on only my looks. I don’t know why it is, but it’s usually people my parents’ age that say I’m handsome. I’ve never really accepted these nice words before. I used to fish for compliments and then reject them once I got them. Now that the counselling has helped me change my self-perspective to be more positive, I’m getting better at receiving compliments. I want to find other ways to feel good about who I am. Apparently it’s common that when people finish therapy, they start dressing better. Feel good, look good.

When you get to take control of your life, it takes a decision to be happy (plus a lot of time) before you reach that emotional tier. It doesn’t simply fall into your lap. Even when bad things keep happening to you, it takes a willingness to fight back and refuse to be broken down in order to eventually be content. It doesn’t happen right away, but given time and persistence, it’s attainable. I used to think I was supposed to be miserable. I was supposed to suffer being around people who brought me down, and I was resigned to my fate of misery. The situation only improved once I decided I wanted to be happier. It took years of hard work and support from my loved ones, but I’ve dealt with a lot of my emotional baggage, which has allowed me to feel better about who I am. I’m dressing better, working out more, and people are starting to notice. Not only that, but I’m noticing that they’re noticing, which feeds back into my goal of wanting to feel better about myself. Instead of criticizing, I’m being compassionate with myself and allowing myself to feel good, to reap the rewards of the hard work I’ve put into fighting my demons. Being in this emotional tier makes me want to cry.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le