The Unspoken Rules of Inequality within Family, Tradition and Religion

For most of my life I have been scared to speak out. Yet there is nothing more I wish to do than to express. I know expression is all there is.

Most of my growing up was spent in silence. I felt I could not say the things I wished to, for no-one would understand. As a little girl, I spoke with myself all the time in English (Cantonese is my mother tongue). When I ran into situations where I needed guidance, I would ask the questions out loud, and the answers would come from within.

My entire family, for generations, have been Christians, but since I was young, I felt there were too many discrepancies in what was preached and in how they lived – something just did not add up. Why would I repeatedly feel their judgement when I was not living perfectly within their ideal, when they advocated ‘no judgement lest you wish to be judged’?

I could not speak about these things, not even to my blood family – and especially not to my blood family, because they always had the comfort and support of their bigger family, the church. I felt like the (very lonely) prodigal daughter. According to my family, there was always something wrong with me, and when I finally decided to leave the church when I turned 20, I had to live up to the identity of the black sheep – which is ironic, as throughout my growing up, my parents prided me for being the ‘good’ daughter, who listened and was ‘easy’ to discipline.

I hung onto the belief that my family didn’t accept me for who I was, and because I didn’t ‘belong’ to their faith, I felt not worthy enough of their love. I felt very confused for not being understood, for it felt hypocritical to ‘believe’ in something that did not feel right. I chose to be true to my heart, and realised that meant losing my family emotionally. This stark and hurtful discovery led me to react against Christianity, and my family then had to play out the role and confirm that I was the rebellious daughter who has fallen from grace. I bought into the belief that this meant I was all alone in the world, rejected even by family, when in-truth, it was a reflection of the emptiness and rejection I already had within myself.  I could not accept them for not accepting me: I felt orphaned and I was seeking my true family everywhere else. I felt for most of my growing up, I was running around in this circle, like a mouse on a wheel – I was not going anywhere, and the anxiety grew bigger because something was seriously not right.

What was not right was I was not myself whenever I saw my parents, I always had to put on a mask of protection. What grieved me most was that they never got to know the true me. There was no true communication or intimacy between us – they would send me a text or an email even if we were living in the same house. When my son refused to buy into what was considered being ‘good’ (which meant being subservient just because he was told to), I was blamed for creating my son to be disobedient to them, and the rift between me and my parents grew.

As I look back now, what my growing up gifted me was the opportunity to be me. But time and time again, I failed to take the opportunity. I did not speak out, truthfully, to my parents, because whenever I honored my heart, I ended up feeling ‘small’ by buying into what the world judged me to be. In turn, I swallowed all the feelings and kept contracting even more.

It came to a point where it just could not go on anymore. I refused to continue the lovelessness in my life. I started to heal. I began discovering the true love that I already am, that which was not dependent on the actions of others. I began to smile much more, despite the drama that was happening around me. The more I smiled and lived to be me, it was initially shocking to witness how those around me really stepped up to attack and judge. Well, I continued to smile even more – not to instigate – but because I truly felt my joy.

I began to communicate with my parents, with no expectation, but simply expressing the truth in my heart. From the responses that I received, it felt like I was speaking in an unknown language to them. Many times it was a very doubtful silence or, when there was a response from my parents, it would be an emotional reaction because they have no idea what to make of their daughter speaking out for herself. I continued speaking as such, not knowing how to do otherwise. I had to repeat myself, numerous times, to even have one message conveyed… but mostly, I was just repeating myself. I was met with a lot of resistance when I repeated myself. I continued to repeat myself as much as possible with love. I am not perfect and there are moments when I fall back into reaction, but now I will not judge myself with harshness or guilt as I did before– I simply return to my heart again.

Eventually, my father wrote to me (we were still not communicating face-to-face), baring his heart with courage, to tell me how much he loves me by all the sacrifices he has made for me and my sisters. He also told me he is a sensitive man (another revelation!), and because he could feel so much going on around him, often times he would choose to withhold communication. I thanked him and pondered on whether to tell him the truth, or not. I decided not to withhold the truth of my love for him and my family anymore, so I spoke exactly what my heart was telling me, rather than like all the other times since little, when I would hear my heart but would choose to withhold telling my parents how I felt for fear it would make them feel uncomfortable. So I told my father I know he ‘loves’ me, yet love is not about doing, and it is not necessary ever for him to prove his love for me. My father voiced his denial, but to me it felt again like words which were sent back and forth without registering.

Yet, the change that happened afterwards was nothing short of a miracle. My father began putting “Love, Dad” at the bottom of his emails that he sent to me, which was something that does not happen very much in Asian families, or within my family. And for the very first time, I truly felt the freedom of my own love, which was not dependent on how my family treated me. Because I was no longer attached to how I was expected to give or return my love, I even spontaneously threw my father a birthday surprise within our immediate family, and that night I saw my father’s genuine joy.

And so, to me, being love is more important than upholding an Asian family’s decorum or even an Asian daughter’s role of filial piety; it is far more important than ‘belonging’ to a man-made institution that backed me up – in fact, there is no comparison between them. I do not know if my family will ever understand this, but I will respect and continue to learn to not react to their choices.

As I continued to relate to my family, I began to say ‘no’ – not just with words, but with my beingness – to all that was not truth, to the unspoken rules of inequality within family, tradition and religion, to the abuse that is so subtle within what is referred to as love. I began speaking out, instead of taking it all in and boiling up or being mute in sadness. I will continue to remind myself to speak with love and gentleness and not in reaction, because this is the love I hold for myself and for the whole of humanity. I have bought into the corruption that if parents do not side with their children emotionally, we will grow up lacking somewhat in love. This illusion has imprisoned me most of my life. But now, I take back my responsibility and hence my power. My love has always been and will always be within me.

For the first time in my life I am not afraid anymore, because now I am not only speaking, but also living the words.

Published with permission of my parents.

by Adele Leung, Hong Kong

449 thoughts on “The Unspoken Rules of Inequality within Family, Tradition and Religion

  1. An interesting article revealing family dynamics and how they play out. I guess at some point it all comes back to us and how we are but you can’t jump straight there, there are steps. The first part maybe just the awareness that something isn’t feeling ‘right’ the second part maybe speaking to someone or writing it down yourself. What is important though is to see what steps are next and not just talk about the end result. We can often set ourselves up but jumping or stepping to far ahead and not having a solid base of the last step in place. The only way to truly bring healing or a ‘result’ to things like this are to walk every step out. That way you are aware and will never step back in.

    1. I am finding that every step made, every expression voiced is important, it gives not only a clarity for ourselves but also for others. Whatever choices we have made, be it jumping steps or setting up a firm foundation, and thank goodness our bodies will always remind us, we have got to appreciate and understand, because ultimately the most important foundation is to know how patient love is.

      1. We have built for ourselves a way of life that you can live in whatever way you choose. Without an awareness of what is going on or that something isn’t ‘right’ you are left in that life until at some point there is a stop for you to see another way. Some steps lead us to more awareness and others lead us away this is just a fact of how things are. Building on a sense of awareness no matter how small you may perceive it to be is and appreciating it are the way to stand in life and make steps that will be more and more truly your own.

  2. When we speak with love and gentleness our words may be more easily heard and responded to by another. If we judge or are critical then they may react and thus not be at all open to our point of view. Imposing our views on others does more harm than good. It is the ‘how’ we say things as much as ‘what’ we say that is important, as of course is expressing the truth.

    1. Not everyone will always have the awareness to speak in love, including ourselves, but this is a process we have to initiate and still appreciate, to still not give up in expressing ourselves, to accept rather than berate ourselves and others when expression is not perfect and loving. No matter how we have chosen, if we do not give up in being love, love will not give up in finding us.

  3. ‘As I look back now, what my growing up gifted me was the opportunity to be me. But time and time again, I failed to take the opportunity.’ Great statement Adele. Most of us do miss that opportunity, then spend much of our lives railing against our parents, society and the like. But it’s us who failed to be who we are and stand up for ourselves.

  4. Well done Adele, it is a powerful thing to break down the entrenched patterns of a traditional culture, exposing its falsity by living true love, as you have shown. You have paved the way for others to follow suit, questioning loveless traditions and offering a true way forward based on what comes naturally from the inner heart.

  5. Although there is great power in the speaking up of truth and saying no to abuse, sometimes the more profound revelations for people come when this is expressed through the way we live through our beingness. Then the beauty and authority of truth lived can not be denied.

    1. How we express verbally is a reflection of how we live and so to be able to speak truth consistently with authority must come first from a foundation of having lived in truth.

  6. Speaking and living the words, Adele, that comes through loud and clear in what you write here, and I love that you’ve seen both the opportunity your upbringing gave you to learn to be yourself and speak up and how you do speak up and allow those around you to hear and do with it as they will.

  7. What a most beautiful and inspiring testament to the loving power of speaking truth from one’s heart.

  8. “For the first time in my life I am not afraid anymore, because now I am not only speaking, but also living the words”. Very inspiring indeed Adele. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story of feeling and expressing love, truth and universal wisdom.

  9. This exposes what family is. There has been much hurt within families and in the name of family and yet we hang onto this notion in the hope that we’ll end up with perfect and happy families. Its not about saying the connections of family we have are wrong, for they bring us huge learnings in our life. Just to say that there is more here than we are considering in relation to family.

  10. How each person expresses their love for another is shadowed by their past experience and history. But the more of us who express true love, the more everyone gets to feel it amongst the imperfections of human life and be reminded of the wealth of love we have within just waiting to be expressed.

  11. It is a sad fact to know that most of the abuse we experience in life comes from our blood family first and we allow it as long as we hold onto pictures of how family needs to be in the first place, as it is a lie we have bought into as a true family is based on a foundation of love, respect and decency equally for the all.

    1. To say No to the abuse to blood family is a process, a long one for me, to prepare my body and to choose to be firm and consistent. The resolute is there and it simply needs to take steps in patience and in understanding, and when loving up family happens we are already well prepared for it and simply step into it naturally. To have accepted abuse in the first life situation–family–is a realisation that abuse has been made so normal in my past patterns, and the deepening of realisation and of stepping out of this pattern comes from a deep understanding of myself and the consistency to keep choosing love.

  12. What a great blog which really highlights the dilemma and decision that everyone faces as they grow up which is whether to honour and express the truth they feel from their heart, no matter what the consequences in terms of family and friends, or squash that inner truth to keep the peace and keep up some kind of front or pseudo-relationships with our closest ones.

  13. When do we learn to not be who we are with our own parents? Is it when we get a better reaction from our smile than from our cry? The moment we feel the answer to love is being good a small rebellion starts inside that grows and grows into a volcano waiting to erupt. Depending on how good you are depends on how you will express that volcano but erupt it will at some stage. Thank you for your inspiration Adele and deep appreciation that your parents gave you permission to publish the blog because we have all been blessed by it.

  14. When you allow yourself to be overruled by a parent from when young, you learn to just be quiet and keep your ideas to yourself and loose all sense of self or confidence in your own ability to makes true decisions. And you become a master at being good and doing the right thing.

  15. It is interesting to read the account of a person who has felt isolated by their family’s choice of religious practise. When the truth is I am sure, that you were utterly cherished and adored as a baby, even if this was not fully expressed at the time. Which makes me question how the ideals and beliefs of religion actually work to support us all if they can tear apart the love that is felt for each other.

  16. Often in life we think we are the odd one out, the one who is not included, but what if being that point of difference makes us a person who can reflect a new way of living? A way that is based in love beyond bounds, a way that says no to separation between people for any reason.

  17. When we do exactly as our parents want we become obedient to their demands, yet when we speak from our heart it is felt by both parties and when we make love and truth our continued communication it can bring around an amazing amount of change.

  18. This is a very powerful blog Adele. It can feel almost impossible to go against family traditions, but truth is truth. What a beacon of light you are for your family and the people around you.

  19. Wow Adele. What a powerful message. Letting go of the attachment we’re brought up to have with our ‘blood’ family is a huge HUGE thing. It’s such a taboo thing to speak ill of your parents or family members (unless they have done something that everybody knows about that makes them ‘bad people’). I was brought up in a mixed race family, my father being Egyptian and mother French. Like with many traditional cultures, family is everything and it’s such a sin to not follow there lead. Stepping out of that, in the face of being completely ostracised, is really quite amazing, and supports everyone around you to be who they naturally are, not who they think they have to be.

  20. Even when we know the truth we often prefer to adopt the lie that others around us are living rather than be willing to put our heads above the parapet. This is understandable because for centuries when the churches had absolute power, calling out the lie got you killed, but these days the churches don’t have the power to torture you and burn you on a fire, so we can all move on and start to speak the truth that we know.

  21. We make decisions in life based on ideals and beliefs and we think this is loving! We even choose the people in our lives based on the ‘doing’, I will do for you and you will do for me hence I am not chosen because I do not buy into this game. I have felt rejection but this is when I made it personal. When I read into the situation I understand… I am here to be and express love and nothing less and sometimes this way of being is not welcomed simply because it exposes another and the choices they are aligning to… they can feel the truth.

  22. This is a powerful blog Adele, there are so many pictures and ideals with families about how we ‘should’ be, many people never challenge this and spend their whole life living in this reduced and loveless way. How inspiring to read the steps you took to break free of this and to begin to live and express true love and equality amongst your family – what a blessing they all receive.

  23. When everybody around us lives a lie and we choose not to live that lie then we are very rarely popular as we are a constant reminder for everyone around us.

  24. Being loving with others does completely change the status quo, it also leaves others with no where to go and without our emotional needs and hurts to bounce off, how we interact with each other changes. Some totally rebel and fight this whilst others humbly begin to let go of their prejudices against you. It really is an amazing experience to live love.

  25. Adele it’s an extraordinary sharing, thank you for being so open with your life. There are many amazing points here but for me the consistency in speaking the truth with love, no matter the resistance, is so valuable, as whether a person receives now what is spoke or many lives later they have been given the gift of love and truth.

  26. “I felt for most of my growing up, I was running around in this circle, like a mouse on a wheel – I was not going anywhere, and the anxiety grew bigger because something was seriously not right.”
    This was my experience in growing up and it continued throughout my life, until I steadily began to honour and again hold value in what I was feeling.

  27. There can be quite a force that comes at us to keep us quiet. The pot does not want to be stirred. But an unstirred pot burns and ruins the food. So whilst the shake up may be unwelcome by many, it’s loving.

  28. It feels like when we speak the words but don’t live them we are still trying to convince ourselves of their truth. But when we live the words, we have embraced the truth and hence have moved beyond doubts. Powerful reflections Adele, thank you.

  29. Thank you Adele, your blog highlights the roles we can fall into that serve no-one and keep us from connecting and being the Love that we all ultimately crave and know – because that is what we are made from.

  30. It is shocking how often culture perpetuates inequality and awesome that you hold true to yourself and speak from the heart so that not just your family but others can feel that there is a different way that does not require subservience to culture of any sort, religious, family or community.

  31. When I asked a group of women why they didn’t feel it was OK to put themselves first when it came to self care, their no. 1 answer was family and 2nd culture. We can blame or we can live the change we want to see in our lives and in the world.

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