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Slowly tearing down my 'suit of armor'

By Van Ly, staff writer
On March 15, 2014

  • Culinary arts student Krishna Pan sets up cookies to be served during the 7th Annual Food and Wine Event held in the Gymnasium on Sunday. Qing Huang / The Advocate

Growing up, I learned how to not feel.
Emotions in my family were viewed as a weakness - a fatal flaw that would be the downfall of success. Logic, on the other hand, was viewed as a strength, a merit of success.
I am the youngest in my family and the only girl. I have four older brothers. My eldest brother is 44 and the youngest is 24.
When I was 5, I looked up to my brothers because they didn't let anything affect them. Nothing could penetrate their suits of armor. They were invincible.
I was the complete opposite of them. I had no suit of armor. Every little thing affected me.
I cried on my first day of kindergarten. I cried when I watched the movie "Lassie."
Each time I cried my brothers would laugh and poke fun at me. The only comfort they gave me was by telling me, "Lys don't cry. We don't feel anything."
I wanted my brothers to stop calling me a weakling. I wanted to be strong. I wanted the power my brothers had over their fears and emotions. But most of all, I wanted to live up to my family name - I wanted to be a "Ly."
From then on, I began to build my suit of armor. Whenever I felt anything, I buried those feelings within me. Sadness. Fear. Confusion. Happiness. Eventually, I stopped feeling anything. I became indifferent and numb.
I knew that sadness had frowns; fear had eyes closed; confusion had question marks; and happiness had smiles on people's faces. But I didn't know how to feel or understand emotions.
"I don't know how you do it," a friend said to me when I was 16.
"Do what?" I asked.
"Be numb," she said, as her eyes began to tear up. "I wish I didn't feel anything."
At this point, I started to freak out. I didn't know how to comfort her.
The only thing that I could muster up was to ask her what happened.
"My grandfather died," she said.
"I did everything I could to forget," she continued, "but god, it hurts. I miss him. I miss him so much that I can't function any more."
I was silent. I didn't know what to say because I couldn't feel. But in that moment, I wished that I did. I wished that I could feel.
Now at age 20 I am still afflicted by an absence of emotions. My fatal flaw was my logic, my attempts at rationalizing my emotions. Contradictory to the lessons taught by my family, my lack of emotion was my downfall.
What I learned is that by shutting off one's emotion, one shuts down everything else. Sorrow, fear, happiness - they can't exist unless you allow yourself to feel what you're supposed to feel.
Each and every one of us has built an armor of steel-like emotional callous at some point in life. The presence of our suits of armor is evident in times when we become second-guessers, expert dismissers and harsh inner-critics.
Each time you shield yourself with your armor, you keep yourself not only from others, but from yourself as well. You lose out on understanding yourself while trying to make sense of every little thing.
Emotions are what make me strong, even though at times they make me feel weak. The greatest suit of armor is one's own skin. Exposing my true self, leaving myself vulnerable, it allowed me to feel everything, regardless of how scary it may be.
By confronting my feelings and facing things head on, I allowed myself to understand myself - I allowed myself to grow.
So take off your suit of armor. You are stronger than you think.

By Van Ly

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