I grew up in a Filipino household surrounded by an American community, which often meant resolving conflicts. Whether that was between my American classmates and my too-Filipino self or my Filipino parents and my too-American self, I usually felt like I had to hide parts of my identity depending on who I was interacting with. In school, my teachers and peers told me that I was not expressive enough, that my voice was not loud enough when I spoke in class, and viewed me as a quiet, acquiescent girl who kept to herself. Meanwhile at home, my parents would scold me that I was too expressive, that my emotions, especially the negative ones, were inappropriate, and deemed me a disrespectful child who had become too Americanized. This intrapersonal conflict, coupled with Filipino cultural norms to internalize my emotions, impacted my self-expression and ultimately my mental health as I became older.
I found my coping mechanisms through music and writing. When I was angry, I would play intensely at the piano. When I was sad, I could spill all my tears onto paper. Retrospectively, I've realized that I hid my writing because I hid my emotions, and at the end of the day, I could shove my emotions into a locked journal and access them when I needed to. However, I found out that these creative outlets could only hold so much, and my emotions began bubbling over more and more frequently. I also realized that because my parents internalized their emotions, too, conflicts would be addressed when someone finally snapped and everything brewing in the back of our minds would demand to be heard.
In the Filipino culture, we emphasize preserving the image of the perfect Filipino family, which impacts our perspectives of mental health. We are more concerned with saving face than saving our people from the long-lasting effects of internalizing our emotions. Men are taught to be stoic in the face of adversity, inexpressive amidst grief and pain, while women are expected to gracefully and delicately endure even the harshest of situations. In my personal experiences, I have seen people sweep taboo secrets of depression and abuse underneath their rugs in the name of saving face. I have seen the silent suffering of people pressured by cultural standards, who are hesitant to seek help and support because of stigmas surrounding therapy or counseling. While I wish that a blog post like this would help transform Filipino perspectives surrounding mental health, I know that this issue is so deeply embedded in our culture. Change will involve a united community and the ideas of its diverse members. So what's my contribution?
As a young Filipino-American female, I share my writing and my stories to demonstrate that it is okay to share. I myself have struggled or continue to struggle with anxiety, pressures of perfectionism, and being very hard on myself. What I've learned recently is that negative emotions are just as valid as positive ones. No one should be happy, agreeable, and perfect all the time, and no one should feel compelled to remain emotionless when they feel anything but. Learning to accept and express negative emotions as a part of life means that we are learning to accept and express ourselves. We should not be ashamed of our emotions because they make us live our lives so vibrantly! They make us human, and that’s all we are expected to be.