In the Wilderness of Feeling

In collaboration with Love, USP, The Cinnamon Roll brings to you stories from the community. In these stories, individuals share reflections about their own personal struggles and how they managed to overcome them.


Emotions are a powerful force in our lives. They can motivate us, free us and uplift us, just as they can depress and drag us down. How do we ensure that our emotions are managed wisely, for both our sake and others? How do we open ourselves up to the wide spectrum of emotion, without losing our balance or sense of self? Stacy (Year 5 Sociology) reflects on how sports helped her develop a stronger sense of self, while acknowledging the challenges of maintaining a self-worth that is not dependent on external achievement or validation.

My first year in university started on a mixed note. My newfound confidence and energy pushed me into joining a lot of interest groups, activities and leadership positions. On the other hand, I still had a lot of social anxiety, anger issues, and emotional baggage from past relationships, which affected the way I dealt with relationships in university.

I spent the first two years in university getting into fights with people and getting triggered very easily. I was operating on the survival mindset of  “if I don’t use my anger to stand up for myself, people will step all over me”. After every single fight, I would feel guilty and terrible – something felt very morally wrong about using my anger in that way. But at the same time, I would comfort myself with the thought: “at least I’m standing up for myself. At least I’m learning how to set boundaries, even if I’m doing it imperfectly.” I had a very mixed relationship with my anger – on one hand, anger was a precious emotion because it helped me stand up for myself, but on the other hand, anger was a destructive emotion that burned bridges and hurt people unnecessarily. I wondered if I would ever find the right level of anger/assertiveness that could protect not just me but those around me as well.

Apart from anger issues, I also had serious self-worth issues. When I was in JC, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a debate senior/coach. He told me that I was uninteresting, unintellectual, unattractive, incurious, and so on. He told me that people were only friends with me because they pitied me. He told me that the reason why people weren’t friends with me, was because I wasn’t “good” at anything. It is difficult to put into words how badly he eroded my sense of self-worth, my trust in myself, and my trust in others.

Till today, I hold on to the belief that he never intended to be abusive. I believe that his arrogance genuinely led him to believe that his words were  “constructive criticism”.  Nonetheless, the effect that he had on me was disastrous, and even after he dumped me, my suffering continued as I entered a series of similarly abusive relationships. My relationship with him started and ended in 2010, but I truly broke the cycle of abuse only in early 2016. Floorball saved my life 🙂

Floorball is an immensely important sport to me. I started playing floorball with USP in 2013, joined the IVP team in 2015, and joined a Division I Women’s League Team in 2016. I channelled a lot of the anger and hurt that I had from my past relationships into floorball, which inadvertently helped me become a better player. My league coach once told the entire team: “People like Stacy are very difficult to find. She’s one of the few who has the drive and determination to succeed.”

When my coach says things like that, it brings me a great deal of pride, but also a sense of bittersweet sadness. I love being motivated. I love being driven, successful and confident. But at the same time, I also know the price that I paid to become this way. I have always wondered: for every driven person out there, what emotions in their past are motivating them to be that way? Is there a way to be motivated, without being driven by pain?

I started going for counselling in early 2017, with the USP Pastoral Care Counsellor Yun Sian. She is absolutely a wonderful person and I was genuinely sad to see her go, but I am glad that she will be coming back to USP after her break is over. She helped me realise a couple of  important things that are simple but easily overlooked:

  • Your self-worth is something that is inherent to you. It is not dependent on how good you are at sports, music, grades. It is not dependent on how many friends you have. Self-worth is something that you have independent of external factors.
  • Your anger is an important emotion. You have every right to be angry, and you have every right to set boundaries. But you must find the right level of anger and make sure that you don’t use it unfairly to hurt others.
  • Be patient with yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to be imperfect. Forgive yourself, breathe, and try again next time. You should not try to prove anything to anyone but yourself.

I still struggle with bouts of depression and anxiety. There are many situations I wish I could have handled better, many friendships I wish I could have been more careful with, many things I wish I had or hadn’t said. Truly, there are times when pain makes you forget how tough your training can be, and turns you into someone you are not.

Who am I when I am not depressed, anxious or angry? Who am I when I am happy, free and confident? There is a Stacy inside me who is lively, confident, spontaneous, vivacious, energetic and strong. I am absolutely certain that she exists because I have met her on many occasions, and I know that she just needs more time to fully emerge. I look forward to the day where that version of Stacy becomes stronger than all the other versions of Stacy.

 


Emotional abuse, unlike physical or sexual abuse, can be more difficult to detect. People who are the targets of emotional abuse often downplay the situation, mistakenly considering themselves to be just “too sensitive” or “overreacting”. If you suspect that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, this online resource can assist you in understanding your situation: https://liveboldandbloom.com/02/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse

Please do not hesitate to contact the following sources for help if you require emotional support:

Ms Rachel Lam, USP Pastoral Care Counsellor – 6516 4076 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm, off on every first Wednesday of the month during school term); usplymr@nus.edu.sg

NUS Counselling and Psychological Services – 6516 2376 (Monday – Thursday, 8.30am to 6pm, Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm); cps@nus.edu.sg

AWARE Women’s Helpline – 1800 777 5555 (Monday – Friday, 3pm to 9.30pm)
AWARE Sexual Assault Care Centre – 6779 0282 (Monday – Friday, 10am-midnight except public holidays)

NUS Lifeline (For Crisis Situations) – 6516 7777 (24 hours)