belong_ing pt. three : overcoming fear of being misunderstood

When I was a freshman in high school, there was a kid that bullied me by the bus loading zone after school. One day, I was sick of him telling me that Asian dudes have small penises. After a short altercation and in an emotional flurry, I fast-walked to the school counselor, swiping at tears along the way.

I slowly walked into the counselor’s office, pretty distraught. She sat down and asked me “What’s wrong?” and I half-sobbed to her something like, “He’s—-telling—-me—-saying—-asians—-dicks…”

There was clearly a lot going on here. For starters, this is probably the second time I had ever gone to a teacher about a racial bullying incident, I was convinced that she wasn’t going to get why this was upsetting me so much, I was a blubbering mess, and on top of that, my bus was going to leave in six minutes – I didn’t want to be that kid that missed the bus home, and then have to explain all of it to my mom. I left in a rush after a short, unsatisfying, half-explanation that left the counselor confused and probably helpless.

In the end, there was a stern talking-to with the kid that had said these things. He didn’t apologize to me, I was only told that it had been “taken care of” a day or two later. After it all, though, all I wanted was to be validated and to not feel constantly alienated or alone.

One of my biggest fears is being misunderstood.

Being misunderstood has caused me pain, shame, fear, and isolation.

One thing is for sure, this bowl of ramen will always understand me.

In my writing this morning, I contemplated this fear of mine. Why am I so scared of people not understanding me? Why does that matter? What’s wrong with being misunderstood? Questions that could be posed against many of our fears… These questions led me to conclusions that I’ve made above, and these answers are rooted in a lot of insecurities that I have. I’m ashamed to not be able to speak Korean here, where everyone assumes that I do. Like I am, but also am not, Korean. Communication is needed when building trust, and lack of both have really burnt me in the past. Lastly, Being very alone is something that has always scared the shit out of me.

Anam-Dong, my neighborhood in Korea, the night I arrived.

Moving to Seoul, South Korea, where I don’t know the language at all, is probably the biggest, riskiest decision I’ve made in my life.

But all of this comes with time, much like healing, learning, and growing. I’m here to learn Korean, absorb the culture, potentially find my birth family, and overall learn and grow my spiritual and emotional identity. Embracing the ambiguity, discomfort, and fear in this process will be part of why it is so monumental for me. There isn’t a magic answer to overcoming the fear of being misunderstood. But for me, it’s been through deconstruction and self-awareness, embracing some of the uncomfortable parts of growth, and trust in myself that I have integrity to why I am doing this that give me peace. Here is an affirmation that is helping me reframe my lack of language and communication:


I am learning to communicate, with others and myself. Gaps in understanding do not make me ineffective, and there is no shame in lack of connection – there are just obstacle I haven’t found a way around yet.

Learning = New Connections = New Brainwaves = Growth.

In growth, I find peace.

After reading this post, I hope you consider these questions:

  • What do you feel when you are misunderstood?
  • How do you go about achieving mutual understanding with someone?
  • What are obstacles you have that prevent you from understanding others? Yourself?

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