The Best Motivational Insult Comes from an Enemy
I have always been a big fan of the anti-villain. Their depth of character and rich back stories add spice to our favorite books and films. Empathy is the key, I suppose. I feel sorry for them, or relate to their struggles easier than the shallow superhero.
In real life, these emotions are amplified. I have a villain in my life, as I am sure you do too. In my case, my sister-in-law. In the past she has made my blood boil. Everything about her screams the opposite of who I am.
I struggle to write this honestly because you never know who will read it in my family. As I promised before, this year I will write from the heart, even if it steps on people’s toes.
I am not alone in my struggles with in-law relationships. It must be genetic. My grandmother couldn’t stand her sister-in-law, she was far too “judgmental.” My mother’s sister-in-law practically ruined her wedding. And now, here I am, fulfilling the traditional family drama.
Overall, my in-laws have been distant and formal yet polite and generous. However, a few small red flags about my husband’s family produced themselves while we were dating. I overlooked them as cultural differences and tried my best to understand.
One major incident has caused me to have a hard time trusting any future family interactions as genuine. This particular confrontation came out of the blue in my mind. On Christmas morning, my sister-in-law sent a massive text in English both to my husband and myself.
To this point, our minimal conversations were awkward, yet well-mannered. So the contents of this message were a verbal slap in the face.
Essentially, we were accused of being spoiled, immature brats for not thanking her mother at once for a set of brand-new Christmas pots and pans that she had sent through the mail.
“They are not your personal ATMS,” she wrote along with, “Grow the fuck up and show a little gratitude.”
The insult cut deep on sensitive vein for me. MONEY. I worked my ass off full-time while in college full-time. I pay back anything borrowed and pride myself in my extreme budgeting skills.
In my 3rd year of college, I saved every penny to study abroad to understand my in-law’s culture and learn the language. It was a fiscally irresponsible decision and some weeks abroad I literally ate lettuce, tuna, and Saltines, so I could pay rent. In college my weight dropped drastically and quickly. My parents were concerned, but I was too proud to ask for money.
After I graduated and started the first brutal year of teaching, I felt an incredible sense of pride bringing home an honest paycheck to pay our rent. My husband and I were getting by in the black (barely). Still, I was proud and independent. I felt uncomfortable when my husband’s parents sent money. In fact, any gift felt complicated.
My sense of awkwardness accepting money or gifts from my in-laws does not paint me ungrateful. The fact that they worried about their son’s lifestyle with our income stung a little.
I grew up with the notion that good things come from hard work. Couples are supposed to start small and build up together. I understand that they wanted the best for their son and daughter.
Did I envy my sister-in-law’s lawyer salary at the time? Hell yeah. I don’t know the extent of work it took for her to get to her position. However, she didn’t take into consideration my background when she hurled her Christmas insults.
It blew up from there, when I replied (WHYYYYYYYY did I have to reply). Long story short, after many rebuttals and jabs, her most potent words when I retaliated were:
“You are projecting your own insecurities”
I really took time to digest this one and chew on it. For some reason, it didn’t offend me. It clicked and I realized, her point was true.
All my insecurities came to the surface of my mind and I made a list of the top three:
-My financial status in the family
-My less than perfect health and appearance
All these things are on the forefront of my mind when in the presence of my in-laws. I don’t feel good enough. But why? Taking my in-laws out of the equation, I am incredibly proud of who I am turning out to be.
All of these insecurities came to the surface at the start of my interracial marriage and the challenges that come as a side order. We knew it would not be easy. Don’t get me wrong! Struggles aside, our marriage is worth it.
After self-reflection and a lot of pride swallowing, for the past year I have focused all my attentions on facing my insecurities.
My sister-in-law’s insult turned into my greatest motivation.
I am now in better shape, healthy (maybe not a skinny stick but definitely stronger). I have reached a higher level in Korean, and we are starting to stabilize financially. Tackling my three insecurities is a never ending battle, but rewarding with slow self-growth.
Without my villain, I would still be stagnant. No self-improvement or self-awareness. I have forgiven, but never will I forget. Instead, I am thankful for the motivation. A little boost on my self-improvement journey.
If you are amidst a heated argument with your villain, as painful as it may be, try to pick apart their most insulting jab to find your own weakness. My greatest sense of healing has come from attacking the failings I find in myself. After all, we cannot control what our villains think or do.
We can only use their words as motivation and fuel for our own self-improvement.
Shout out to the following Medium authors and articles for inspiring me and giving me the writing balls to publish this piece
1. Shae Jackson- “Forgive, but Whatever You Do, Don’t Forget”
2. Jae Hermann- “It’s okay to feel pissed, you’re allowed”
3. Sophie Hannah- “Holding a Grudge Can Be Good for You”