Cindy Shu (Interview)

Art by Sam Liacos.

Licensed marriage and family therapist on the importance of boundaries when reevaluating relationships and self-care coming full circle.

What does emotional wellness mean to you? 

Emotional wellness includes both emotional awareness and helpful tools to manage emotional experiences. As we acknowledge, observe, and make meaning of our emotions, we can utilize appropriate tools to navigate feelings to take steps toward emotional wellness. Emotion is information. They inform and guide how we respond to life stressors. For instance, if one is feeling stuck and overwhelmed from the pressures of work, emotional awareness leads the individual to reflect on helpful tools to help cope. Perhaps this individual chooses to slow down, take a deep breath, and optimizes connection with loved ones and nature. When we are attuned to our emotional experiences, we can make informed decisions that promote wellness. 

Being rooted in our own identity helps us to assess whether relationships are supportive or detrimental. 

Cindy Shu

How can we take better care of ourselves emotionally, in regards to our mental health? 

More than ever before, managing our mental health must be a priority. Due to the pandemic, we have been forced to socially distance from one another and spend more time alone. As a result, many have experienced sadness, increased substance abuse, and feel disconnected with self and others. Many have experienced a significant rupture such as loss of a job and death of a loved one. Given this, the top three ways to care for our mental health include: managing negative thoughts, practicing self-compassion, and reaching out. 

The human mind is powerful. Thoughts and feelings influence behavior. When we feel undeserving of love, we either choose to withdraw or put up barriers to prevent others from drawing close to us. This negative thought cycle increases feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and isolation. However, if we feel deserving of love, and we believe we are valuable and worthy, we will invite intimacy and connection with others. We can either feed into negative thoughts or consciously shift our thought process to be helpful and empowering. 

It is easy to be trapped in negative thought loops such as, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a burden to others,” and “I can’t let others see the real me.” It is hard to actively reframe these thoughts with, “I am good enough,” “my loved ones care about me, even when I feel overwhelmed,” and “the real me is loved and cherished by those I’m connected to.” 

The “new normal” is redefined by you, and you alone. 

Cindy Shu

The first way to care for our mental health is from negative thoughts to empowering affirmations. Secondly, it is vital to practice self-kindness and compassion. Life is hard. Be patient with yourself. Silence the inner critic. Acknowledge your present feelings and experiences without the need for judgment. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate through waves of emotions. Lastly, reach out. This may feel counterintuitive, but reach out to a loved one, a trusted person, or a helping professional. You do not need to suffer alone, or in silence. Human connection allows us to feel seen, heard, and understood. 

 How would you advise one to find a balance in the “new normal,” in regards to the pandemic? 

If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is that change is unavoidable. Change requires us to be flexible and adaptable. The key to finding balance in the “new normal” is to refrain from comparing our lives to others. Social media has a sneaky way of making ourselves feel less than, or feeling “FOMO” when we see others posting beautifully curated photos of food, travels, and romantic relationships. Yet comparison is truly the thief of joy. We don’t know how others are truly doing beyond filters and perfectly staged photos. Rather than feel envious, we ought to redirect our attention unto ourselves. Perhaps the “new normal” isn’t packing your day with social engagements, but instead, you are spending quiet time journaling, listening to music, or reading. Perhaps the “new normal” isn’t seeking validation through hard work, promotions, and raises. Instead it is finding validation in the person that you are and nurturing your relationship with yourself and others. Perhaps, the “new normal” is prioritizing yourself rather than putting others before you. In fact, instead of putting your health on the back burner, you make a point to see your medical provider, dentist, or choose to move and nourish your body in a way that feels good. Perhaps the “new normal” is redefined by you, and you alone. 

Self-care is a complex concept for women of color, specifically immigrants and first-generation Americans. How would you advise Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and POC to practice self-care? 

Speaking specifically to children of immigrants and first-generation Americans, self-care can bring up feelings of guilt and shame. Children of immigrant parents are cognizant of the sacrifice that their parents have made to afford them a better life in a new country. We see parents hustle tirelessly in restaurants and hotels without ever having the concept of self-care cross their mind. If anything, self-care was directed toward the care and provision for the family. Self-care can be viewed as selfish, especially among those with collectivist values. Self-care is not selfish. It is a radical expression of self love and preservation. As a child of immigrant parents, I have felt the need to earn self love through hard work. I could not have fun, until I finished my homework, extracurriculars, and helped with family needs. I couldn’t rest or sleep in. However, I’ve come to see self-care as an opportunity to honor myself and the sacrifices from past generations. My lineage experienced wars, poverty and suffering. Because of their sacrifice, I am able to choose self-care. For me, self-care comes full circle. Caring for yourself increases your capacity to support your family, friends, and community. 

Self-care promotes feeling safe, grounded, and present in your body. Self-care can look like a myriad of things: journaling, listening to music, taking a bath, reading a book, and. eating a hearty meal. Self-care can also be a deep appreciation of your cultural values, learning from elders, practicing spirituality, and practicing familial customs. Self-care is unique, individual, and incredibly special when you’re able to incorporate cultural traditions. Self-care is feeling connected to your community and feeling seen in your shared experiences in safe spaces that honor mutual values. 

What’s your advice on letting go of feelings towards someone that no longer serves us? 

Letting go of our feelings or even the relationship takes courage and strength. It is our strength when we choose to let someone go in order to prioritize our wellbeing. As individuals focus on self-growth, increased awareness, and insight–it is common to outgrow relationships. When we hold onto our truth and intentions, we are able to let go of our feelings toward those who may not be supportive of our well-being. When we learn to first validate our own feelings, trust our intuition, and follow through on promises to ourselves, we can build a strong personal foundation. Being rooted in our own identity helps us to assess whether relationships are supportive or detrimental. 

Vulnerability is the courage to show up wholly as ourselves.

Cindy Shu

What do you recommend to remain vulnerable? 

Vulnerability is the greatest gift to ourselves and others. To be vulnerable is to be authentic. There is no need to bend to the expectations of others. Vulnerability is the courage to show up wholly as ourselves. To remain vulnerable, share how you feel. If you feel hurt by someone, find the courage to communicate those feelings. Being vulnerable means taking risks and being open to the possibility of failing. Vulnerability leads to intimacy, greater connection, and empowers others to be vulnerable as well. To be vulnerable with a person who accepts and embraces you for who you are is the greatest gift. 

We’re seeing a lot of people reevaluate their relationship with others and themselves. What should we keep in mind when reevaluating how we love?

Reevaluating relationships is critical as people are dynamic, ever changing beings. How people relate to one another may shift as one evolves. The biggest consideration when evaluating how we love in relationships is how comfortable we are with setting boundaries. There are different forms of boundaries such as physical, emotional, time, sexual, intellectual, and material. A physical boundary includes personal space, physical needs, and comfort. Emotional boundary is knowing how much to share and the bandwidth you have in exchanging emotional energy with another person. Time boundary is the ability to assert a limit on time, and ensuring that you prioritize yourself as opposed to overextending with friends and family. A sexual boundary includes consent, and safety to communicate preferences and dislikes. Intellectual boundaries include understanding that people have differences of opinions, values, and ideas. We do not have to agree, but we can create space for dialogue and discussion. Finally, material boundaries are how you allow others to borrow or use your belongings. Are your possessions treated with respect? Do people ask for permission and do they return your belongings at the agreed upon time?

Boundaries encourage clear communication and intention, both of which help to maintain healthy relationships. Individuals who assert boundaries are able to gauge their sense of safety, reciprocity, and connectedness. Within a loving relationship, boundaries is the foundation of which trust and intimacy grows. 

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