My Inferiority Complex from Comparing

When was the last time you compared yourself to others?

When you compare, do you compare yourself to people who are better or worse than you are?

What feelings come up after you’ve made the comparisons?

The last time I compared myself with other people was just last week when I saw an old colleague of mine switch roles and become a senior manager at a major company. That same day, I also compared myself to a business school classmate of mine who is four years younger than I am in age but who is a manager at his work. In both of these cases, I felt insignificant and little because I no longer have a “senior” in my title and I’m also not a manager. When I compare, I often compare myself to people I think are better than I am, and I use that as a way to put myself down. When I feel equal to or when I feel that I am in a better position than others, I approach it with a sense of privilege and gratitude. Before I make the comparison with someone I think is better than I am, I could have been in a great mood, feeling that I’m doing well in life. But once I start comparing, I turn all my accomplishments into naught. I deny that I’ve done anything well or right.

I shared these feelings of feeling less-than with a friend. The friend asked if I could also become a senior or a senior manager if I wanted to. Sure I can. But then I asked myself, is that what I want? At this point, no, and I also don’t feel ready yet to advance in my role. When it comes to job titles. I have had “senior” in my title before, but those titles were mere title changes that gave me a bump in my salary, not necessarily titles that gave me more responsibilities or extra experience. I have foregon the senior title a couple of times for more money. In my mind, I’d rather chase money than a title. However, guilt forms within me when I think this way. Why don’t I want more? Why am I not driven the way I should be?

Another example of feeling inadequate because of comparing relates to the long-term goal I set this year of wanting to increase my salary to 300K in three years. I still need to work out the steps on how to get there, but I thought the goal is achievable and not too lofty. But when I saw on social media that some people set goals to have a 6–7 figure monthly income, I wondered if my dreams are too small. When people in my life share their dreams that seem far fetched for myself, I also wonder if my dreams need to be bigger?

There are moments and in certain areas where I feel completely confident. I can work a crowd at large parties. I can have exciting one-on-one conversations. I am excellent at job interviews. I walk into the gym like I own the weight room. I grew an Asian American social group from 500 members to 3000 members within three years. When I was deep into the translation and interpreting business, I spoke with authority and clarity and also taught others how to support our community with people who have limited English abilities.

But I have long held insecurities about my capabilities at the workplace. I also have an inferiority complex of where I am in life compared to where I think I should be, and where I am going compared to where I think I should want to go. When it comes to my career, every single step feels like it has been challenging as I’m always trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of the role. Even though I’ve received accolades and promotions, I never feel that I am good enough. I always feel that I am not enough.

When it comes to business school as well, I often feel that my classmates are smarter than I am and have better experiences than I do even though I have no bases for my assumptions.

Last week, I had a team project for business school. I felt anxious about it because I have never worked with the classmate. He’s spoken up in class and made some good points. I felt that he is smart. I was nervous about the project and worried about how I would come across to him. I was also feeling stressed because it took me a while to grasp the assignment. Thankfully, I finally understood it and I was prepared––I read the case. I formulated my thoughts, and had a point of view to share. Once I did that, I felt much better. In our team meeting, I was actually more prepared than my teammate, and we had a good discussion. I did not feel less than, but like an equal. That was a win for me. It was a win because even though I had felt less than, I didn’t let it hinder my performance. I still did what I needed to do, and I proved myself wrong.

This is how I am in the workplace a well. I always make sure that I prepare ahead of meetings. This is a good thing, but what I need to alter is the reason why I’m prepared. I should be prepared because it is best for me and also my customer, not because I want to make sure I don’t feel less-than at the meeting.

Sometimes, when I feel little, it shows in my body language and others can see as well. Years ago when I was researching which business school in Chicago to apply to, I went to an info session held by the admissions office. My married ex came along with me. At the time, he was finishing up law school. Before the session, there was an hour of meet and greet, with h’ourderves and cocktail tables for people to mingle. The admissions director was making his rounds. When he came to our table, he looked at my ex and me, and asked him, “why are you deciding now to get your MBA?” My ex immediately redirected the admissions director’s attention to let him know that his wife, who was standing next to him, was actually who is interested in applying.

Something about how the director of admissions assumed that my tall, white, male, blonde-haired, blue-eyed partner was looking at business schools, made me feel little. I felt insignificant because I’m am short and I didn’t feel that I have the stature of someone impressive, especially when I was standing next to someone else who is 6’4. I also have the complex of not being where I should be in life and so I was already feeling insignificant. Once I feel little, I feel like I also shrink in the space I’m taking up. That interaction and event was a bust for me. I didn’t reframe my mindset and felt inadequate the rest of the time. I stayed little and did not have a great interaction with the admissions director.

The truth is, I did that to myself. I made the assumption that he didn’t see me as business school material. I made the assumption that I didn’t stand out. For all I know, he could have thought we both were looking at business school, or that he was just asking everybody there the same question. That I let that person’s possible opinion deflate my confidence is something that I need to work on. My ex and I talked about this after the event. He was surprised by how quickly I deflated and also pointed out that I have a tendency to defer to people who I think are better than I am. This was 3 years ago, and I’m still working on the moments when I want to defer to people because I think they are better and therefore always right.

After that experience, I attended all pre-business school events by myself. I made sure to go by myself so I had no one to lean on when I felt uncertainty. I made sure to remind myself to stand tall and not defer to anyone. I was nervous for every single event, but I took deep breaths before walking into the room, and made my rounds. I did so well it took my own breath away. I took control of the room and situation, not the admissions directors. The interview and networking event I went to before I got accepted to Kellogg at Northwestern University was amazing. I was on it. I was in control. I was confident. All of that showed through my interactions and personality that day, and I think all of that helped with the admissions’ decision to accept me into the school.

The little moments when I feel big are moments that I am proud of. I am big! I can take up space. I belong and I am just as competent as anyone who got hired into my company and got accepted into my business school.

Going back to feeling little. I feel little when I compare. I feel little when I let society determine who I should be, how I should act, where I should work, what position I should hold, and how much money I should make. I feel little when I don’t fit into the box. I feel little also because I don’t take credit for what I have achieved and what I am capable of. I know in my mind that I am not what I believe myself to be, that I am more than what I tell myself I am. But I think so little of myself in certain cases that it is crazy to anyone who know me that I think that way.

What do I need to do to feel confidence in these areas? What I need to do to counter these self-doubts and insecurities?

I know that a mindset shift is needed for me to truly feel confidence in work and school, to keep in mind that I am competent and not let my confidence escape me. Here are some actions I can take whenever I start to feel less-than.

Question the Limiting Beliefs. When I feel inferior, or as if an imposter, I need to sit down and evaluate my thoughts and feelings. Are they accurate? If there are areas I can work on, write those down and take steps to improve myself so I can build confidence in those areas. If I am belittling myself again, I should jott down what I am good at, what I have done well, and challenge my inferiority complex. I need to own what I know. Own my achievements. Own that I am good enough.

Accept that I can also Be Better Than Others. I can be the alpha, too! I don’t need to always be the beta in work and school. I don’t ever need to make myself little just to make other people feel better. Sometimes I do that. I make myself seem less knowledgeable because I am afraid to be the one who knows the most. Why do I do that? Who does it even serve? I need to learn to accept that I do know things, that I am capable, and that when I own it, I can share my knowledge and truly become a leader.

Accept the Compliments I Receive. I don’t take compliments well. I say thank you but I don’t agree with the compliments most times. I see what other see, and I see why they say what they say about me, but deep down inside, I don’t believe it. I say thank you because I know it’s what is expected of me, and there’s no need to show my insecurity in front of people who don’t matter to me. I need to work on believing in myself and my worth so I can truly accept what others see in me and believe me to be.

Keep Moving Forward. I haven’t been one to stop taking action just because of my fear of not being good enough. I need to continue not to let my fears and feelings of unworthiness hold me back. This is one way I can prove to myself that I am so much more than I believe.

Document It. We are forgetful beings. When things go well, I celebrate them for a few seconds, and then I go back to the grind. When things go unwell, I can focus on it longer, feeling down. But the truth is, there are more good moments than bad, but I fixate on the few occasions that make me feel little. Documenting my wins will help remind me that I am so much more than what I am feeling in the current moment.

Love Myself. At the end of the day, I need to accept myself. Accept where I am in life while knowing that I’m taking steps every day to grow and become more and more myself. Accept and love myself for how I am now, and tell myself every day that I am enough. This is a way to affirm to myself that I’m moving in the right direction.

Do some of these feelings happen to you?

If you also feel insecure, feel little, or inferior, I hope that you also know that you are so much more than what you believe yourself to be. Observe yourself more. Listen to what others are saying to you, and embody those compliments. You are enough right now. Don’t let even yourself tell you otherwise.

My Relationship with Sex

Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. We didn’t see my parents kiss or show affection. When there are sex scenes on movies, we awkwardly cover our eyes or make gawking noises to show our disapproval. One time my dad jokingly grabbed my mom’s butt and breast. It scarred me for life.

My parents never had a sex talk with me. All I remember is that my dad told me not to go visit any boys because they only want one thing—he didn’t say it out loud, but I know he meant sex. I don’t think my parents had the birds and the bees talk with my brother either, so I actually had the conversation with him when he was in high school about having safe sex and consent. I wanted to make sure he knew it is okay and normal but also that he needed to be safe. I wanted to normalize sex for him even though it was something I struggled with into my early 30s.

The way we avoided talking about sex is what gave me a stigma against sex. I always felt that sex was dirty, rachet, and animalistic. Being raised Christian, growing up in a church, and also growing up as a rule follower, having sex was completely out of the question for me. When I met guys in high school and college, I was always explicit that sex is not gonna happen. I would say, “I don’t do sex.” Later on, even as I became less religious, I still insisted on not having sex and wore my virginity as a badge of honor. I was a virgin until I was 24.

My married ex and I met when I was 20 and we dated for four years before we got married. We kissed and went a few bases, but never had sex until we got married. It was important to me to wait and I appreciated his patience. But little did I know that I carried a stigma that sex is bad and dirty. It was something I carried into our marriage. I felt dirty and gross when we had sex. I didn’t want to be like a wild animal doing animalistic things. I didn’t understand it. I was ashamed by the act. It felt demeaning even though it is supposed to be an act of passion.

When we separated, I decided that I wanted to explore my sexuality. This was a drastic change for me. I went from sex avoiding to focusing mainly on sex. I went from holding onto my virginity for my dear life, to being scared of sex, to exploring it like I have never seen sex before. This is what led me into the bad relationships between 2017–2018, where sex was at the center of those flings.

After I broke away from those bad relationships, in 2019 I went on dating apps for the first time to meet people. It was new and exciting to meet people outside of my usual circles, but sexual compatibility was still on the top of my mind. I would sleep with the guys by the second date if there was some chemistry. My thought process was that I didn’t want to waste time dating to find out that we didn’t work in the bedroom. I needed to make sure we were sexually compatible to even consider moving forward. But that strategy didn’t work. I still picked a guy who wouldn’t commit, and the same story of me being with a guy who didn’t want a girlfriend repeated itself.

I went on a break from dating for about half a year and then went on dating apps again at the end of 2019, going into 2020. This time around, I was more intentional. I had a sense of the qualities I was looking for in a guy and slept with no one until I met the one guy I thought had potential. I also waited four dates before we tried to have sex. Even though the sex didn’t work, we still decided to date after talking for 6 months. I decided that we can work on the bedroom pieces through patience and conversations. No longer did I use sexual compatibility as a main benchmark. What I looked for instead was someone who knows who he is, who has a steady career, who has passions and hobbies, and a support group of his own. Someone who is self-motivated and would push me to become a better version of myself. I explored what I needed and observed and communicated. The relationship didn’t work out in the end, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned how to be true to myself and my needs.

I’m sharing this because I’ve learned over the years how important it is for each of us to have a healthy relationship with sex. This is also a topic that we all think about but are embarrassed to discuss or timid in exploring, which is also part of where the stigma comes from. Opening up that door for myself to explore what it means to have sex, what sex means to me, has been an important part of my development and personal growth.

Below I share some of the things I’ve learned about how we should view and handle sex to promote a healthy relationship with it. As always, I am not a professional. These are my thoughts based on my experiences.

Own Your Sexuality. There was a girl I knew who was in sales and she took pride in the fact that her sexuality, gender, and looks, got her many of her deals. I had been in sales before working mainly with manufacturing clients, which is a middle-aged male dominated industry. I refused to use my sexuality to get deals. I wanted to be respected by what I know and I wanted to close deals because the customer has a need in the services we offer, not because of how I look. Although our views differ in that, I applaud her confidence in using what she has to her advantage. It is an empowering move to know that about yourself.

When it comes to bedroom talks, owning your sexuality is important as well. It’ll allow you to get the pleasure you need and make it a lot more fun. To know your body and your sexuality is power.

Don’t Let Sex Fog Your Decisions. We all have our physical needs and our need for connection. It’s easy to compromise other aspects of a relationship if sex is on the top of your list. Explore your own body and learn to take care of your own physical needs as well so you have the power and control over it, not some random guy.

Masterbation is normal. I learned from my girlfriends, too, hat having toys is not shameful. In fact, it is empowering.

We Should Have More Conversations about Sex. When my girlfriends and I started to open up about our sexual histories, it can be cringey to hear or share because of our predisposed biases on how a lady should behave, but it is also empowering to see that we are all in the process of learning and exploring our sexualities. Having more conversations about sex in general will also help us normalize it.

Don’t Judge. Don’t judge your own or other people’s sexual experiences. We each have our own process of self-exploration and have different levels of needs at different times. Recently I thought about just having casual sex and had conversations about exploring it, but I recognized that I would eventually want more than just a sexual relationship, so I forfeited that conversation. It’s okay to explore your options. Just make sure you are 100% on board with your decision. It’s also okay to back out last minute. You can change your mind.

The other piece to judging is that there unfortunately is slut shaming in our culture. When men sleep with several women, they get high fives. When a woman admits that she’s had casual sex or multiple sex partners, she gets looks telling her she should be ashamed of herself. I hate that double standard and disagree with it. I didn’t judge myself for exploring the option of casual sex. I recognized that I have needs and explored the options I had. Even if I had decided to have a pure-sexual relationship, it is nothing to feel ashamed about because it would have been what I wanted and have consented to.

Set Boundaries. Know what you need and set boundaries for yourself. Figure out what you’re okay and not okay with before getting into a sexual situation to make sure you’re being true and authentic to yourself. If you are okay with a booty call, go for it (but be safe). If you need dinner and a movie before that, set the expectation. You need commitment before having sex? Set that expectation. It’s okay to ask for what you want sexually. The key is to be true to yourself and don’t do anything that you don’t feel 100% into doing.

I’m still in the process of learning and understanding myself more in this area, such is thinking through what I need and want and also setting and sticking to boundaries. Ultimately, we all want to make sure we are being safe and that we are approaching sex in a healthy way.

My Upbringing with(out) My Mom

I grew up without a mom. I have a mom, but she was absent. If she wasn’t sleeping, she would leave home for a week or a month at a time. Don’t ask me where she went. I have no idea. When we lived in Taiwan, we relied on Mcdonald’s and favors from extended family for meals. That’s why I couldn’t describe much about what Taiwanese food was like when I moved back to the US in 2002. I grew up on McDonald’s.

By nature, my mom is a free spirit. She is goofy and lively. She loves attention and is always the life of the party. She loves meeting new people and loves large gatherings. She can strike up conversations with strangers and become best buddies with them. My mom was the envy of other moms because of her lively personality. She always wore fashionable clothes and got fashionable haircuts–she was never afraid to express herself through experiment with her looks. She’s artistic in her fashion style, she lives through music and dance, and she is also creative in the kitchen, where she can cook up everything amazing. I’ve always thought that she is the most beautiful and in her element when she is creating new dishes. But as fun as she is as a person, she wasn’t a good mom. We didn’t get to see her a lot until we moved back to the US in 2002 when she had no choice but to stay home. Before that, she was more fiction than real. When we were in Taiwan, my sibling who wasn’t even six yet at the time, would turn on the entryway light before going to bed just in case mom came home that night.

Before I had the mom who would not come home at night, I had a mom who was always sleeping. In 1992, my dad quit his job at IBM to pursue something different in Taiwan, leaving my mom alone in the US with three kids (ages 1, 4, and 7). One of my female cousins stayed with us during this time to attend our local high school and was able to help out, but looking back, she was only 14 and was already changing my brother’s diapers. I don’t remember anything about my mom during this time, except for the fact that she was always in bed. When she wasn’t in bed, it felt off seeing her roam around in the house. Looking back, she was probably depressed. Being in a foreign land, raising three young children by herself is no small feat.

My mom was physically around, but not emotionally. My underwhelming lunches were a symbol of my mom’s disassociation with motherhood. I had an old-school, pink barbie doll lunch box. The rectangle kind that had a metal latch. There were days when my entire lunch box would consist of a boney drumstick wrapped in foil, or a lonely egg wrapped in foil. It was a sight to see the egg roll around in the empty box. I was embarrassed when I compared my lunch with my classmates’ lunches that included sandwiches and fruits and snacks, or even chicken noodle soup. I had a good rapport with the janitor at the school. Some days when looked sad and hungry, he would ask the lunch lady to give me a free lunch. One time, I was hungry and didn’t have food, so I stayed back in the classroom after everyone had left to the cafeteria to go through my classmates’ backpacks to steal change to buy lunch.

My mom didn’t show us that she loved us. There were days in elementary school in the US when I missed the school bus and had to walk to school by myself. It was little over a mile but it felt like a long way for a young child. In fourth grade in Taiwan, we sang a song about mothers in music class for mother’s day. The lyrics compared a mother’s love to the moon that watches over us with warmth and guidance. I cried for a mother that didn’t match the description. I cried for the sadness I felt when seeing daughters holding hands with their mothers. That night, I told my mom about the song and how it made me feel. Her response we defensive, “that’s because you feel sorry for not being a good daughter to me.” I felt that I was not understood.

My mom never showed us physical affection nor complimented us. We never hugged, but one day, a family friend brought over her little daughter who was probably three years old. My mom squatted down to meet the child’s height and hugged her while complimenting about how cute she was. I didn’t even know how to react to that scene because that was a side of our mother that I’d never seen nor experienced.

My mom wasn’t there when my body started to change. When puberty started and I grew breasts, my paternal aunt was the one who took me to get my first training bra. When I got my period, my mom found out but did nothing about it. I didn’t have pads. I cut out plastic bags to tape onto my underwear and rolled up toilet paper as the padding.

Because she was rarely there when we were growing up, I never connected with her on a deeper level. We did try in 2010 though when I was in Chicago and my sibling had gone off to college in NYC. At this point, my mom was living alone with my brother who is the youngest amongst the three of us. I called my mom every day on my drive home from work. The thirty minutes we shared on those days were ones that I looked forward to each day. We kept this up for at least 8 months before she moved back to Taiwan, but once she moved, our communication completely ended. The next time I could reach her was at least 6 months later. I felt abandoned all over again, also betrayed because the last eight months felt like a lie. I felt she only talked to me because she had nothing else to do.

I was resentful of my mom for a long time because of her absence in our lives, because of the negative mindset she passed onto us, because we continue to have challenges communicating. I cope with this by keeping our interactions to a minimum so that I don’t get angry at her or her at me. Right now, in this moment though, I don’t feel the resentment I had held onto for so long. This is a recent change, and it didn’t dissipate until I put myself into her shoes, imagining what life must have been like for her. She had all three of us by the time she was 35. I am 35 now and I feel that I have just begun to have a clearer picture of who I am, and I feel that I still have so much to learn and grow and experience in life for myself.

I see that she must have been struggling internally and dealing with emotions and conflicts that made it hard for her to be present as a mother. Perhaps she was struggling with her marriage–my parents fought a lot. Perhaps having children for her wasn’t something she really wanted but was expected of her. Perhaps she didn’t have the support she needed to raise her children. Perhaps, because she was raised in a wealthy family by maids and help, she didn’t have strong role models to emulate when she became a parent. Perhaps she mourned for a life she could have had and still wanted to continue to live that life even if it was frowned upon, even if it meant being an absent wife and mother. I have all these questions now, but I won’t know the real story until she is ready to share.

Even though she wasn’t around a lot, there still are some fond and appreciated memories. My mom took me to all my lessons––piano, violin, ballet. The drives to violin class were at least 45 minutes long each way and we always drove at night. After class, my mom would drive us through Mcdonald’s and buy me a Big Mac. I loved the moments when I would kneel on the floor of the last row of our Toyota minivan, using the seat as my table, and devour the burger. When I performed at concerts for violin, my mom and I would arrive early and she would have vocabulary and grammar workbooks with her for me to practice during the downtime. I still remember the characters in the workbooks, such as Al the Alligator. Although homework isn’t fun, those were rare moments when we spent time together. When I received a Pizza Hut reward for a free single-person pizza through school, my mom always would drive me to claim my prize. Those moments made me happy.

When we moved to Taiwan, my mom also would commute an hour with me on the Mass Rapid Transit system to get lessons from a renowned piano teacher. The journey was long, but she made the time and invested the money in me to do so. When we stayed at hotel rooms while on vacation, my mom somehow figured out how to wake up early, and would wake us up by wiping a warm washcloth over our faces. Those are happy moments of when we seemed like a perfect family. Another moment from Taiwan was from when we first moved there. I was born and raised in the US until 1994. When we moved back, even though I was able to have basic conversations in Chinese, I didn’t read that well. I had to repeat third grade instead of moving onto fourth grade because of it. My mom would spend nights reading with me as I followed along the texts. Her reading with me helped me pick up the characters much faster and I was able to catch up to my grade level within a month.

I tried to think about learnings from these memories, but all I can think of are actions that I can take to improve my relationship with my mom. To be honest, the feelings of anger come and go depending on how I’m feeling in a particular moment. Perhaps you have some ideas for me instead. Please share in the comments if you do!

  • Forgive My Mom. My mom has her shortcomings but she never aspired to be an absent mom. Parenting is not an easy task and we’ve turned out okay. My mom shows love in her own way. One of the ways is through food, and we see that whenever we are able to get together. Holding onto the past with resentment is not going to help improve our relationship. I’m sure she tried her best with the emotional capacity she had.
  • Be Compassionate. I don’t know what was truly going on in her life. I suspect that as a free spirit who got married and had children because it was the expectation of her family and society, she had trouble reconciling with who she is and what she had. My mom is human after all. Whatever it is, I should approach it with empathy and compassion.
  • Be Courageous and Open with Vulnerability. As I was thinking about this post, I messaged my mom who lives in Taiwan, “I used to feel resentment toward you because you weren’t home when we were growing up. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe you were going through struggles internally that made it hard for you to be there. Would you share what raising us was like? What struggles did you have to go through? I appreciate you a lot and want to understand your story.”

    I have never asked something so personal and open to my mom and her response was a positive surprise to me. She thanked me for raising this specific topic and that she will be more than happy to share with me when the timing is right. Being courageous also means that I need to be willing to share how it was for me and my siblings growing up without her and how it had affected us. How it’s made us not want to have children because they may suffer, or how our self-esteems have been affected because she had nothing positive to say about us.

What we see is often just how someone else’s behavior impacts or have impacted us, but we forget that there probably is a story behind each of our actions. I hope one day soon, I can hear these stories from my mom. She called me the other day sharing with me other stories from her childhood. I intend to keep the conversation going so I can eventually get to how raising the three of us was for her.

Thank you for reading.

My Body Image Struggles

Shenyun Wu

I had a complicated relationship with food and my body image in high school. Media played a part of it, but the needle that broke the camel’s back was when my dad told me that my face looked a bit rounder. In his way, he told me that I was fat. In his perspective, it was an innocent comment that he must have never thought about again, but that meaningless comment was the catalyst to my eating disorder and struggle with my body image for several years after that.

I already had a hard time with food to begin with. Since I was young, my mom would make us finish all the food on our plate or in our bowl––not even a grain of rice should be left behind. There was one time, I felt so full I thought the food was filled all the way up to my throat. I finished the food but had to throw up the food right afterward. I was less than 7 years old at this time. The rule of cleaning up a plate is why I lacked a sensor that would tell me to stop when I was full. My mom often commented that I didn’t have a sensor when I would eat a full bag of chips, but she didn’t realize that she had made me this way. Apparently, my sibling had the same problem of not stopping when full as well. I eventually learned in my early twenties that it is okay not to finish everything on my plate, and that it’s okay to stop when I don’t feel like eating anymore. I don’t always have to eat to the point of making my stomach explode.

I developed an eating disorder pretty quickly after my dad’s innocent comment. I didn’t know that binging and purging was a thing, but I got the idea from a scene from Miss Congeniality where the girls decided to party at a club before competition day with a giant pizza, and someone said something about “throwing it up” so the calories don’t matter. Needless to say, I became bulimic. It was perfect. I could eat all that I wanted, throw it up, and not worry about getting fat. I remember finishing Costco’s 12-inch pumpkin pie, which is around 3.5 pounds, in one sitting, and then going to the bathroom to discard the content from my stomach, up my throat, and into the toilet. It’s disgusting, but I couldn’t stop and didn’t stop for two years.

Having an eating disorder isn’t just physical. It actually takes a huge emotional toll on a person. How can you think for yourself and focus on anything else when your mind is occupied by the worry of getting fat, about what food to binge so you can get rid of it later, about how much calories remain in your body. I was depressed. I felt unworthy.

I think my parents knew––I haven’t confronted them about this yet––but they probably thought that I was just going through a phase. Luckily I was able to stop after going to college but I know that many other individuals who go through eating disorders get into extreme situations where they damage their health and require professional intervention.

When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because of any outside factor. It was because I finally decided I need to be nice to myself, that this is not good for me, and I can do better. It is an addiction. You try to stop, you stop. You relapse, then you try to stop again, and relapse. I have relapsed a few times over the years, but today, I’m in healthy relationship with food and also my body.

The truth about the old me was that I was not fat. Not in the slightest. My current weight is the heaviest I’ve ever weighed, but I like my shape, I love my body, and I am amazed by all it can do––I’m actually on a quest to lift 225 lbs by end of Jan 2021. Today, I can lift 180 lbs on my 114 lb frame.

I share this because it’s an important part of my past, but it’s also why the words we use with people is so critical. They can have a huge impact on a person, including yourself. Media plays a huge role on our self-image and body image, but how we talk to ourselves and the people around us about our body and theirs can have a positive impact if you choose to.

1. Start with You. Do a self-check on how you speak to yourself about your body. Do you criticize the reflection in the mirror? Do you call yourself ugly? If the words you choose are not ones you’d use on a friend, don’t use them on yourself either.

2. Positive Self-talk. It’s easy to nitpick your physical looks, but that is not helpful. Reflect on the great things your body is doing for you. Be grateful for the body that you have.

I have an athletic body type and I actually did not wear shorts nor sleeveless shirts until I got into my junior year of college. I was self-conscious about my muscles because it wasn’t a sign of beauty when I was growing up in Taiwan. I continued to have a love-hate relationship with my body-shape into my late twenties. Some days I’d like my muscles because they make me look healthy, other days I’d hate them because I feel too masculine and unapproachable.

Now, I tell a different story to my body. I tell my body that it is strong and resilient, and each day I surpass a goal at the gym, I learn that I am mentally and physically strong as well. My body has taught me that I can achieve so much more than I believe I can if I’m just willing to put in the time and push myself. I can take that determination and strength to other parts of my life.

3. Take the Focus Away from the Body. We all need words of affirmation and positive feedback, not only for looking beautiful, but other attributes that make us great. Make a list of attributes that you appreciate about yourself and that people have praised about you so you remember that you are more than what you look on the outside.

When you are encouraging your girlfriend, talk about attributes that make her great, such as how resilient she is, how smart she is, how dedicated she is. Take the focus away on just her looks because she is so much more than that.

4. Body Shaming Is Not Okay. Calling someone too skinny, or too fat, or too muscular, too anything is not okay! It’s their body and not yours. You do not have a right to put labels or define how they see their own body. Don’t call yourself any of that either.

5. You Have Control. If you’re unhappy with your body, that’s okay. It’s where you are now and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But if you aren’t happy about where you are now, you can change that. You aren’t stuck.

Just like how you make changes in other aspects of your life to improve your living situation, your financial situation, your job situation, you can take small actions that will make you feel better about yourself. Start bringing a little movement into your daily life, make more conscious choices about at least 1 meal during the day. By setting small, achievable goals, you’ll be able to get to larger changes that will bring you the difference you want to see.

At the end of the day, what matters is how you feel about yourself. Invest that effort and energy on yourself so you can feel your best self.

6. Sympathize and build resilience. If you know someone who is struggling with their weight and body image, be kind to them and listen to them without judgement. It’s not so easy for someone to just “stop obsessing about their weight.” There often is a deeper issue behind the behavior.

You don’t have to agree with their struggle, but they need to feel that they can come to you. Be encouraging. Help them focus on other things they have control of in their lives and help bring up their self-image by taking the focus away from the body to things they are good at and attributes you appreciate about them. Help them be kinder to themselves and plan activities that can encourage positive feelings to their bodies, such as walking dates, group exercise dates, or healthy-meal dates.

We all deserve to be loved, regardless what shape and size we are. Be kind to yourself and those around you when it comes to body image.

It’s Not Too Late for Change

Despite the recognition that all of our experiences have shaped us and brought us to where we are today, it’s natural for us to be looking back and figuring out what we could have done differently.

If there’s one thing that I still feel bad about, it’s that I did not stand up for my brother when I found out that the neighbors had bulled him over three decades ago. I wanted so bad to storm up to the neighbor’s door, to knock on it, and demand an apology for my brother, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. It bothers me till this day.

Your story of regret is likely different, but whatever it is, it’s not too late to make changes to make up for the missed opportunity. I hope the steps below will help you move forward into a better you.

1. Accept the Past
There may be events in your life, or actions you’ve taken, that you wish you have done differently. The past is gone now, and you must accept the decisions that you made back then.

2. Acknowledge the Event
In my case, I wish I had done more for my brother back then when he could have used that additional support. Recognizing this tells me that my brother is important to me and I want to be there for him. I acknowledge that I wasn’t there for him that day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there for him now.

3. Make Changes Now
The simple fact that you’re thinking about this means that that you are a different and better person now. The next time you try to put yourself down for a decision you made in the past, remember that you can make a different decision moving forward.

We all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them.

What is something you wish you had done differently in the past? What has worked for you in terms of coping and moving on?

When You Are Not Kind

Today, I was unkind.

I was dismissive and judgmental and irritated based on preconceived biases I have on a person. This person did nothing to deserve the way I treated him. Whether it was apparent or not to the person, I did not behave in a way that is in line with how I want to be treated.

First step to self-improvement is acknowledgement of my mistake. I strive to treat others the way I want to be treated, but realize that I am not perfect. Upon some reflection, the steps below are things I can do to avoid hurting another person the way I did today.

1. Check Your Behavior
Most of us know when we aren’t acting the way we should. We typically know how our actions can impact another people’s feelings. When you notice that you are acting in a way that is hurtful or unfair to another person, take pause, and try to stop that behavior on the spot if you’re able to.

2. Create Space
When you are irritated or impatient with someone, it may be a sign that you need space from this person to avoid further damage to the relationship. Create that space and step away.

3. Self-Reflect
Think about why you behaved the way you did and what you can do to avoid or change that. It’s not easy to admit the ugly side of us, but thinking this through will help us make changes and become a better person.

4. Communicate
If I were the other person, I may be confused about why I was treated the way I was. I apologized for my behavior and recognized that I need to have some space between us. Whether the result is that further space is needed or that we can move forward, at least no one is left in the dark.

Be fair to others. Be fair to yourself. We are all humans with feelings and we all deserve to be treated the way we want to be treated.

Have you treated someone else in a way that you’re not proud of? Why was this realization troublesome to you? What are some things you did to change that?