Are You Living Authentically?

balloons

It is important for everyone to live a life authentic to themselves, to be governed, not by what is fed to them through the media, or by parents and teachers, but the truths that lie deep within their own hearts.

For those of you who are sensitive or introverted, those who feel like misfits, your very nature a rebellion again the grain of society, it is doubly important – not only for your own sake, but humanity.

It is very common for those who do not fit in to try to change themselves in order to be accepted. We all want to feel loved. Even evolution favored those who were part of the “in-group”, which is why rejection and ostracism, even in this day-and-age, when we are less reliant on each other to survive, still cuts deep. But being accepted by not being true to yourself only hurts you, and is a false acceptance at that.

I am quite sure every “weird” person that exists today – whether their “weirdness” stemmed from a lack of sociability, a heightened sensitivity, an awkwardness, an inability to relate to mainstream society – pretended, at some point in their lives, to “fit in”. Introverts wore masks of extroversion. Sensitive people drank to dampen their nerves at stressful functions. Any unorthodox traits or opinions were kept carefully sealed behind a smiling, agreeable facade. You pretended, you faked it, and you lied, to those around you, but most of all, to yourself. Perhaps you are still doing it – and if that is the case, I urge you to have a deep conversation with yourself to assess whether the person you are portraying is who you really are, and whether the life you are living is the path you really want to be on.

For authenticity, at its core, is the key to happiness: it is the unlocking of who you are, deep down. And what’s more, like most things in life, only you possess the key. It is not difficult to be authentic, once you stop trying to be anything than what you already are; it simply comes naturally as breathing, the unfettered outward expression of your soul, of your innermost being. Children are born playful, and authentic – the shackles only begin to twine around their limbs as they grow older, until, like many adults walking about today, they are weighted with links upon links of falsehoods.

As to how you can tell whether you are being authentic, there are a few markers that serve as warning signs of inauthenticity. Fatigue, not of the mind or the body, but that of the soul, the kind that sinks deep into your bones, is one. That tiredness comes from playing a part, acting a role removed from your true character. If waking up in the morning is a chore, and the imminent day ahead of you a burden, then it is time to re-evaluate your life, and see what you need to do act and live from a place of truth again.

Another sign is if you would, perhaps prompted after several glasses of wine, admit that you do not particularly like the people who exist in your life. When we are inauthentic ourselves, we also spend time around people who are also not compatible with us. Negative energy lures in more negative energy. If there is anyone whose company you feel uncomfortable in, who you do not like spending time with, it is time to be merciless, and cut them out of your life – they are not contributing to your goal of authenticity.

But the easiest way to judge whether anything you are doing or any way you are acting is inauthentic is to simply ask yourself the question: Do I like doing this? Authenticity, above all, makes you happy, so if anything feels unpleasant or plain “wrong” to do, such as waking up early to go to job that, frankly, bores you to bits, or listening to that friend of yours twitter on about nonsense you have no interest in, and never will, then that thing is inauthentic. It is about trusting your gut, and your intuition: children very easily know when something is unpleasant (school, for instance, is inauthentic place to be for many young humans) but as you grow older, excuses accrete, covering up the intuitive “wrongness” of something – something is a “duty” or “right” or “for the best”. But remember, these are only excuses, blinding you from the single truth that matters: That you owe nothing to nobody on this planet except to live a life true to yourself.

And when you do, the world will open for you. Following authenticity and doing what feels good to you is often rewarded by the universe, whether it be opportunities that come your way, people who change your outlook on life, or an increase in creativity. These nudges are not entirely painless – some are more like sharp digs in the ribs – but they are necessary to align you with your new path. Old beliefs, patterns and beliefs need to be shed to make way for the new.

Make no mistake: being authentic does not mean everything magically becomes easy in your life. You’ll still have your fair share of hard work, heartache, and struggle – if nothing else, I can guarantee you that. Just because something is painful or hard does not mean it is inauthentic; you have to look at the bigger picture, and see the larger reason behind the pain that make the difficulties worth fighting through. When you do things that you enjoy and are in alignment with your inner purpose, at the end of the day, even if you are exhausted and have shed a gallon of tears in the interim between morning and night, you will still fall asleep with contentment instead of the dissatisfied emptiness that comes from inauthentic living.

That kind of peace is worth more than all the riches and prestige in the world. It has been my opinion for many years that much of the world’s suffering has been the result of people living inauthentically. Tragedies like wars and oppression and inequality, or even the daily 9-5 highly unproductive grind, are all the result of human beings working from the mind, which is easily programmed (for instance, to chase money and power instead of contentment, and be greedy and selfish instead of loving), rather than the heart, which always knows the truth.

By living authentically, you are, in essence, not only helping yourself, but contributing to the greater good of society. You are unique; there will only ever be one of you, throughout time and history and space (disregarding parallel universes, of course); and therefore, as a unique expression of our universe, you should be you, not something manufactured and molded by what exists around you. Who knows how many inventions, discoveries, great works of art, how much Good, has been stifled by people living inauthentically.

At its heart, living an authentic life is simple: Listen to your heart, to what it is telling you that it wants to do, what would make it happy, and find life a joy rather than a burden – and then go do it. One caveat though: If your heart is telling that what would make you the most happy is to be rich, and beautiful, with a thousand ready pleasures at your fingertips, think again. Living authentically does make you happy, yes; but it is only authentic if it has a greater purpose, and if it benefits the lives of others, too. Only when you are aiding mankind, making connections with and helping people, and happy doing so, will you be living an authentic life, and be truly happy.

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The Types Of Men An INFP Woman Might Marry

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Yes, yes, I know, O, maiden, thou does not need a man to complete thy life – and it seems a little ironic, to say the least, to write this after recently taking a vow of celibacy – but just because I have decided not to get into any relationships doesn’t mean I can’t speculate on the various types of people who might be suitable romantic candidates, which I shall detail in this post, and whom, I might add, are, as of yet, entirely the products of my imagination. Which accounts for the vow of celibacy, I suppose.

For those of you idealistic, sensitive men out there, and my heart does go out to you for your continued survival in a conformist society that tries to mold men into masculine archetypes – please feel free to change the gender of the following types of individuals to that of Female, or Male, depending on your preferences.

The Sensitive Artist

Marrying the Sensitive Artist, with his deep, soulful eyes and melancholy outlook on life, is sure to be rewarding – especially if he lives in a dingy attic that overlooks other rooftops in a romantic city, like, say, Paris.

The two of you can spend twilight evenings walking down the boulevards, past quaint cafes with green awnings and golden lights flickering behind the windows, other strolling couples, the odd bicycle rider passing by in a tinkle of bells, having deep, philosophical conversations.

Back at his “studio”, the prints cluttering the walls and the floor resembling multi-coloured puked-up guts can offer plenty of fodder for further philosophical thought – as an INFP, you are sure to discover the meaning of life in a splotch of red and green paint, or uncover a fantastical scene in something that looks like a dog’s breakfast after it has been partly digested. Your rapture at his artistic talent will satisfy him greatly.

In return, he will listen to your deepest desires and dreams, understand the despair you feel towards life and the world, and refer to you as his “Muse”, which you will brush off with an embarrassed air, smiling shyly, but secretly feel very pleased about. However, be prepared to pay for meals and other necessities while with him, and, when the man racks up hundreds of dollars in debt buying new easels and paint tubes, remain uncomplaining as you scrawl your signature onto the bill handed to you by the delivery man at the door.

Who knows: Through your experience with the Sensitive Artist, perhaps you will learn something new: that your INFP nonchalance towards money was wrong, and that no matter how “deep” a partner is, sometimes the depths of his pockets is a little more important.

The Good, Caring, Responsible Man

What INFPs need most of all from other people, and which they very rarely receive, is kindness; and this man is bound to provide this scarce resource in abundance.

He will care for you, just as if you were his own flesh and blood, treating you as the fragile, little creature you are: Helping you with real-world tasks, like filing for a savings account at the bank or getting your car registered; comforting you in the middle of the night when you start crying remembering something horrible you said to someone last year; and he will never berate you for being “too sensitive”, or “too quiet.”

No matter what happens to you in the outside world you can have the comfort of always returning to someone who will tell you that he loves you, and cooks you nice, warm meals to show you that he cares. Unfortunately, though he will be smart enough to work as a system’s manager at his accounting firm, chances are he will not possess a drop of imagination, and bore you to bits. In which case, you will have to decide which is more important: having your own equivalent of a talking pillow to soothe you after being battered by the vagaries of life, or someone you can intellectually connect with.

Intellectual stimulation is simple to obtain on your own, in the form of books and, well, more books, so perhaps it would be nice just to settle for someone who cares. Then again, books are fine company on their own, and, unlike this particular breed of the male species, never become too smothering.

The Executive

The Executive is assertive, confident, and bold – in other words, the ENTJ Myer-Briggs Personality type, who values rules, systems, actions and logic, and is the antithesis of the INFP personality type.

Isabel, creator of the Myer-Briggs Personality Type Test, however, has proclaimed the Executive to be the most compatible with the Dreamers. Though I have yet to completely puzzle out her reasoning – the two personalities could not be any more different – nevertheless, it does not require too great a leap of the imagination to envision the Executive being charmed by the INFP’s air of mysterious shyness, and the INFP attracted to the Executive’s boldness and social ease. After all, we often admire what we lack in ourselves, and opposites, as they say, do attract.

In this relationship, regardless of what gender you are, who the dominant partner is clearly defined. You will always have someone to tug you down from the clouds back to earth  with his rational thought processes, thereby helping you to take action rather than daydream your life away; but be prepared, as he is a predominantly logical thinking, to sometimes have your feelings trampled over, and to pick up your battered heart from the floor at the end of a long day.  On the other hand, expect good conversations, as both of you, being intuitive, will probably enjoying imagining the future together, and developing long-term plans.  You will also not have to worry about having your bank account drained, as this type of man is often quite successful in the career, usually opting to work in lucrative fields such as business.

Ultimately, he will be appear powerful and dynamic – captivating, even – but this relationship is liable to go down in flames unless either he grows a little more sensitive to your feelings, or you grow a little tougher in order to withstand his constructive criticism. Still, it can be the basis for a good partnership, and you may even find yourself peeping a little more out of your shell due to his influence, growing a tougher exoskeleton – but, if I were you, I’d stick with the books for less heartache in the long run.

The Quiet Writer

For those INFPs out there who are fond of writing themselves and are looking into it as a career, the Quiet Writer has the ability to offer the perfect partnership – it will be practically like dating yourself! A shared love of literature will be the glue that binds the two of you together, and dates will probably consist of visits to the bookshop or the library, tottering back to the car with tiny towers of novels balanced in your respective arms.

The rest of your time together will probably be spent sitting together or in separate rooms writing or reading, with the occasional visit to the other’s room or lifting of eyes from the page, to comment on what one has read, or written, and ask for additional input regarding it. Birthday presents will be books, and more books, and for the two of you, the idea of a good evening is to sit, side-by-side, at the kitchen table, upon which lies an open dictionary, and giggle over the strange words that exist in the English Language – erinaceous, for instance, which means to resemble a hedgehog. The next morning, you will say to the Quiet Writer, as he awakens with scruffy bed-hair beside you, “My darling, you look most erinaceous,” and the two of you will burst into laughter again. By all accounts it sounds like the perfect relationship, but there is always the chance, the two of you being equally retiring and antisocial, for the relationship to dwindle away into something that more resembles two roommates, sharing a living space, than  anything romantic or loving. But, you know, at least you’ll have plenty of books.

I hope this selection of potential mates has given you some food for thought. Do not forget that dating is not confined to Myer-Briggs Personality Types, and that any personality type can fall in love with any personality type, as each of us are too complex and nuanced to be encapsulated by four mere letters.

I, however, in the process of writing it,  certainly came to some conclusions of my own – namely, that, well, as long as I have books, there is very little else I need; but, we all desire companionship, sooner or later, so it’s best to keep an open mind regarding such things, even if having a partner, though it might be an evolutionary imperative, is not exactly a psychological necessity. This should not rule out the possibility of one enjoying having someone warm to curl up against at night, when your heart is too cold, and the world is too big.

But, then again, you could just get a cat for that – much less maintenance.

Why I Chose To Be Celibate

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Relationships with a significant other, no matter how wonderful they may seem at the beginning, are not worth the trouble. In accordance with this personal conclusion, I have chosen to not seek “love” in this life, and remain celibate. In this post, I detail some of the reasons behind this choice. Even if you do not agree with this viewpoint, perhaps you can still take something away from some of these harsh truths of love.

Articulating why exactly I have chosen, at my age, to be celibate for the rest of my life, is difficult. After all, not only am I still young (even though I feel old, on the inside), I have never been in a relationship. This, however, does not mean there are no insights I can share regarding the bonds people make with each other, and why I think that sometimes, sometimes doing without can bring you more happiness in the long run.

The first thing you must understand is that everyone, once you get very close to them, are a little broken and insecure, just like you. At the end of the day, even the richest woman or the poorest man is afraid, because the world is a big place and life is complicated. I particularly touch upon this because some people – not only women – get into relationships in order for someone to “save” and “protect” them from the vagaries of life. Only thing is, there is nothing under the sun which can ever keep you safe forever (except perhaps money, but even that can’t shield you from everything), least of all another person; and nothing coming from another person will comfort you if those same things do not exist within yourself. Death awaits each of us, security is a myth, no-one really knows what they are doing – we might as well get used to it, rather than chase fantasies of a savior dropping into our lives.

People are also, well, selfish. Don’t get me wrong: they can be kind, and caring; but they are also angry, judgmental, selfish, lazy; we are all a combination of the good and the bad, and none of us are perfect. This means that the perfect partner that exists in your head (and I know it does; as humans, we cannot help but secretly yearn for perfection) will never be found out there, in the world. As you spend more time with a particular person, gradually their imperfections begin to rise to the surface, and you realise that even Princes and Princesses get grumpy, paranoid; that people can be both simultaneously lovable and irritating. What’s more, you are the same: you can be grumpy, and annoying, and mean. And when two people get together, for long periods of time, friction arises, passion dies, and you are left with two displeased people, unhappy in each other’s company, at best tolerating each other. It is simply human nature.

Whatever you desire in life cannot be found outside of yourself, whether it is love, or appreciation, or something to assuage loneliness. When all is said and done, only you can love yourself, appreciate yourself; and the ultimate cure to loneliness is not to partner up with other people, or have children, or surround yourself with friends, but to reconcile yourself to the innate loneliness of human existence. We live and die, alone, trapped in our own minds, and things like relationships only provide an illusion contrary to this reality.

Others also get into relationships for the elusive “emotional intimacy”, which is, in fact, an imaginary closeness you feel towards another person. No-one under the sun can truly understand you, inside and out, except yourself. You, if you do get into a relationship, can never truly understand another person; we are all mysteries to one another. Relationships are just two people, living together, having fun together, and participating in an illusion of intimacy to assuage existential loneliness. For me, this means that being on my own, and understanding myself, is more fulfilling than tying my life to someone who could never scratch the surface of who I am.

Apart from the perceived emotional benefits of getting into relationships, there are two others: Sex, and Children. Personally, the former is not an issue for me; I hardly get any “urges”, though if you are male, I can understand how being in a relationship could afford you the opportunity to relieve those particular urges. As for children, for a long time, my sole reason for one day wanting to get married was to have kids. I find babies sweet, and lovely. But we must not forget that all babies eventually grow up into their own people, with a consciousness and life entirely separate from yours – that they will be, in many ways, just as incomprehensible to you as your husband, or wife, or friend. Blood ties mean nothing: We are all individuals, separate from our family members. It would be wiser to view children not as extensions of ourselves, but little humans we are choosing to bring up – and though there may be joy in that, I find the prospect to be too tiresome and time-consuming to be worthwhile.

Those are just a few of the reasons behind my choice to remain celibate. I do not believe relationships can offer happiness; true happiness comes from within yourself, enjoying the experience of being human, and doing work that you love. My books will be my children, and I shall, each day, wake up to have a relationship with nature, and the beauty of the universe. Of course, this decision is not final: who knows, maybe one day I will meet someone who changes my mind, even despite knowing these dark realities. But that is unlikely.

In the meantime, I am perfectly happy on my own little island, gazing at the stars and thinking my own thoughts. You do not need anyone to complete you, or make you happy; all that lies within the bounds of your own control. I think it is good to remind yourself of that, every once in a while.

Things People Say To INFPS – and The Answers INFPs Would Like To Give (But We Usually End Up Saying Something Polite Instead)

INFP girl

Person: Oh, hey! What are you reading?

INFP: Oh, goodness, please disappear; I am busy reading, as you can evidently tell, and what I am reading is none of your business, even though you only mean to be friendly. The next time someone interrupts my reading, I shall pluck out their heart and feed it to the fishes, and skin them to make bookmarks.

Person: Well, somebody got on the wrong side of the bed today, didn’t they?

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Person: You’re weird.

INFP: If I pointed out the weirdness of other people, there would such an immensity of weirdness to point out that I would have to transmogrify into an extrovert just to accommodate for the strain of the task. Which would be highly unpleasant, to say the least.

Person: That was weird. What you just said. You’re weird.

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Person: It is only a documentary, why on Earth are you crying?

INFP: Because I, unlike you, have a heart.

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Person: You know, he doesn’t like you. He does not know you; the two of you have never even spoken; in fact, the only reason he knows you exist is because you tend to walk in the opposite direction or ignore him whenever you are in his presence, which is, frankly, counter-intuitive, as it conveys an air of haughty dislike rather than interest.

INFP: I know. And I do not care. The Heart has spoken.

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Person: How did you even come up with that? It’s ridiculous!

INFP: I naturally find associations between things. Possessing an imagination helps. A bird makes me think of cages which makes me think of prisoners which makes me think of war which makes me think of blood which makes me think of Death – and therefore I get depressed, just by spying a pigeon whilst walking down the street. A man wearing a hat is sometimes shielding himself from more than just the sun; every time I see a flower, I hope that it will speak, just like the flowers in the Alice in Wonderland books; and I think it is a beautiful thing, rather than outrageous or stupid.

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Person: That is illogical.

INFP: What do humans really know of the world, the universe, and even ourselves? To me, it seems like we are discovering, using our little toys, only things which fit into a model our measly brains are capable of understanding. Or, to put it metaphorically, a caterpillar, crawling over a softball, might deduce shape and texture, but never utility. I think humans are the same. So what we term “logical” only makes sense from a human perspective, and sometimes not even that, whereas what is termed “illogical” may well be the caterpillar getting a vague inkling of a large object hurtling through the air for the purpose of amusement, the way eating leaves amuses it.

Person: I did not understand a word of that, which only proves my point.

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Person: Where did you last leave it? I swear, you had it in your hand only a second ago!

INFP: It has vanished. Unbeknownst to myself, when I turned my back to sing a song and ponder the life of a squirrel in its tree hollow, a portal opened up above my cupboard, out of which sprung a team of tiny green aliens that picked up my pencil case, held it high above their tiny green hands in a line, and disappeared back through the portal with it. Even now, perhaps they are using the pens as signposts on their tiny planet, and prodding confusedly at the erasers.

Person: …I think you just misplaced it.

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Friend: I cannot imagine you getting married; the man would either have to possess a level of craziness equal to yours, or greater (unlikely), or be able to tolerate your madness. Frankly I am of the opinion that, clever and beautiful as you may be, you will remain both celibate and single until the day you die. You’re just a little, well, odd.

INFP: Not to worry – I have my books, and my brain is populated with an assortment of interesting characters, who I can talk to for hours on end, so I will never be bored or lonely.

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Person: Why are you so sensitive?

INFP: Because I, unlike you, have a heart.

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Person: You spend too much time by yourself.

INFP: It is excellent company, you should try it some time. And that statement is incorrect, for I have characters existing between the pages of books and the lobes of my ears to keep me company that are often far more interesting than the people one meets in everyday life – though I do stumble upon some interesting ones, now and then.

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Person: Why are you always attracted to assertive, logical and confident individuals? They are obviously not the kind of people that would be most suitable for you to enter into a relationship with.

INFP: Probably because people are attracted to what they lack in themselves, and though I am getting more confident day-by-day, conflict is still scary, and being assertive is tiring, and I tend to be more emotional than logical, so I guess I am attracted to them as someone standing in the rain might be drawn to an umbrella.

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Person: You are too quiet. You need to be more outspoken.

INFP: I am an introvert, which means I gain energy from being alone rather than being in the company of others. I have a fascinating, internal landscape – perhaps if you tried to get to know me instead of criticizing that which I cannot change, I would give you a glimpse or two of it. Treat me as an individual, not a silent shop dummy, and I will respond as an individual.

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Person: You are a people-pleaser, a doormat, and lack personal boundaries.

INFP: Yes, it is hard for me not to cater to the needs of others, as I am adept at picking up the emotional states of those in my vicinity, which can be viewed as a gift than a burden. I am not a doormat. I stand up for myself when the occasion requires it. Only, a lot of the time, it is simply easier just to be the more lenient one. Conflict drains my energy. Just because I try to go with the flow, and create harmony, does not mean I am meek or submissive.

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Person: They’re just people! Go talk to them!

INFP: They’re just dinosaurs! Go slip your hands into their reeking, blood-stained maws!

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Person: You think too much.

INFP: You think too little.

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Person: On the one hand, I think you’re a great person, very humanitarian, kind, artistic, etc; but it’s like you have all these dreams to help the world, but are too shy and reserved to express or put them into action. Kindness is useless when coupled with weakness.

INFP: Thank you for that curious mixture of an insult and compliment, it was very interesting. Yes, I can be shy, and reserved – once, I was too afraid to give a homeless man a chocolate and whisper to him some caring words. But that does not mean I cannot help, in my own way, through my words – and I also plan on donating every cent of the proceeds from my books after my death to charities. The act of helping others does not always have to be loud and extravagant. I do things my way, you do things yours; and perhaps let us not judge one another, in the process, my friend.

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Person: You idealise those of the opposite sex too much, and come across as weak and needy.

INFP: That is true, but only because I have a habit of seeing the good in people rather than the bad. And yes, I do have a habit of getting infatuated easily – but the moment I speak to them, and their true self slips out, I can instantly gauge their character, and if I find it unacceptable, I have no qualms about detaching myself from them. I will always believe in love, and no matter how many times I am disappointed or get hurt, I will still love, because loving is who I am – and that, I think, is not always a bad thing.

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Person: You are going to die alone! You are a sad, lonely, loser, with only her dreams to keep her warm at night! No-one understands you! And I hate it when you stare at me with those stupidly deep eyes of yours, like you are literally peering into my soul, and the way you turn a hot dog into a metaphor for life!

INFP: I am not alone. Last time I checked, at least 4% of the population shared my personality type, and though we are scattered far and wide, and are not all the same, our hearts are joined by ethereal links of love, hope and kindness. We are the dreamers, the philosophers, the humanitarians, the psychologists, the writers; and we will contribute to the world, in our own way, and if that means taking the lonelier path, then so be it. I care more for those that I touch than those I offend.

Father: A Personal Essay

Father was not a bad man.

People, especially in relationships, are not bad; they are stupid, foolish, ignorant, cowardly, miserly, proud, angry, guilty, or sometimes even, well, just plain sad – but they are not bad.

No, he was not bad.

He loved you, once upon a time, when you were very young, before your own personality, as a human being separate from your parents and siblings and friends, fully formed; when you could not see into the core of his character and could only see Father, Father, a paternal figure, a strong column which held up the sky, a God, blessed, enclosed in a corona of heavenly light.

How much easier it is, to be blind to the rot in those closest to you, whom you are most familiar with – it is difficult to realise the presence of a problem if it is all you have ever known. Put a mouse in the desert, and it will only know hardship; put the same mouse in an oasis, fields of seeds and bushes clustered with fruit, and it will only know abundance. Humans are the same: We adapt.

First and foremost, he was a miser, hoarding money instead of love, bent on counting coins rather than kisses – a sure way to unhappiness, in the long run, you say to yourself, almost spitefully. Serves him right.

You remember those terrible memories, each surfacing at odd moments during the day, to be pushed down with a bite of your lip: Your mother, gripping his arm, her voice a disgusting plea, begging for money to feed her own children, his children; the day you riffled through his wallet to get twenty dollars to pay for a school excursion, only for him to come barging into your room the next morning, shoe in hand, to hit you and hurt you and scream at you until you cowered and wept; those Christmases when he showered gifts on his nieces to show off to relatives as you watched on, hands empty, your ears filled with their delighted shrieks, face carved into a smile as stiff as those on the faces of the expensive dolls peering out from behind gleaming plastic, dolls that should have been for you.

But then you recall the teddy bears he used to buy you each visit to the shopping centre, the enviable collection you amassed, lined up along your bedroom wall in all colours of the rainbow (Oh, how your mother used to croon over his generosity: “Don’t you have such a wonderful father, my children?). When you were born, he spared no expense, lavishing on you movies and clothes, stickers, a sturdy, expensive pram, a cot, the best baby food, the best of everything; you were a tiny Princess, and he a besotted King. There are photographs of you smiling up at your father, and he smiling down at you, a girl no taller than the kitchen table, as you stand beside a pink birthday cake with the candles just blown out, cuddling an extravagant plush toy, and they say Happiness. They also say Money, yes, but Money to show Love.

You tried very hard to impress him, even as you grew older, and harder, tougher, a weather-beaten young lady whose eyes wept rain into her pillow each night. The memories come in a flood, breaking the banks of your mind: That time you came home, proud, with A’s on your report for every subject except Mathematics, and he barely even glanced at it; the stories you wrote, some of which you even translated into Chinese, patiently typing them out onto the computer and using Google translate and then printing them out, that lay, in piles, unread on his desk; that time, which still makes you cry very hard whenever you think of it, when your sister made him a card, spent hours on it, hours and hours and hours, getting the glitter and lettering just right, only to find it discarded in the communal rubbish bin minutes after giving it to him, amongst the orange peels and rotten cabbage.

Despite this, you remember what it was like when you were younger, only seven years old, and smart for your age, the delight your father would take in the books you could read, the Mathematical equations you could solve, your childish wit and sharpness. He loved you, because you were his daughter, and you were bright, brighter than your siblings. A clever offshoot of his, someone who would grow up to do well in school, and then in life – not foreseeing his own indifference, not then. And how happy you were, to have pleased him.

Ever since the marriage between your parents turned sour when you were ten years old, he has never touched you: Not a sign or word of affection, no fatherly talks and advice that leave a warm glow in a daughter’s heart, no embraces and strokes of hair that the books and movies portrayed and made you so sad to see and read you wanted to scream. You were left out in the cold. In the wind, and the snow, a little girl, in gumboots and a thin dress, dark hair plastered to her cheeks. You were not passive about it: you stamped your feet, railing against the cold because it was easier to get angry at it than your own father, slammed your fists against the door, half-sobbing and half-screaming to be let back in.

Then you remember how he treated you as a little girl. You loved the steadiness, the firmness of his arms, that you allowed no-one to hold you, not even your own mother, except him. He made you feel safe. He held you, and hugged you, through the long hours of the night, sitting up with his back against the wall, for you could not fall asleep without him cradling you, until his arms ached – yet he still held on. You wish he had never let go. He held you, in his arms, to look at window displays in shops, or whatever else caught your fancy that you were not tall enough to see by yourself; you sat on his shoulders, happy, laughing, smiling. He held you, then.

What changed? For years, you thought somehow you were bad, defective, wrong; that you had changed in some way to make him no longer like you, or even be impressed by you. You tried various tactics, over the years, ranging from over-achievement at school, to rebellion, staying in your room for hours on end and coming home with bad grades, yelling and screaming at the slightest provocation. Yelling to be heard, and seen, by him. Your mother thought you mad, her shy, obliging daughter replaced with a monster. You, sometimes, thought you were mad. Crazy, stupid girl – no wonder your father does not love you anymore.

But, gradually, you realised it had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with him. Relationships take a turn for the worse because people change, and love fades, and what is left behind is dark and unsightly, the magic spell on a polished ring slowly wearing off over the years, until one day you are left with only a tarnished piece of junk. Things happened: Businesses failed, he grew more isolated, spent more time on the Internet embroiled in an online world less disappointing than the real one, distanced from both reality and his family.

Sooner or later, something had to give. The cracks were already starting to show. Your mother screamed at you, a pressure cooker of internal, unspent grief. The police came to your house to investigate domestic disturbance, ticked off by some neighbours who had been alarmed by the screaming. Oh, you did not know you had Asperger’s back then, that you were abnormally sensitive – and the loud noises, the screaming, the flashing car lights, the strangers barreling into your bedroom while you were half undressed, was so overwhelming and scary you nearly jumped out the window, from the second story of your two-storey home. It was not that high of a drop, you remember thinking. Perhaps if you broke a leg or two, people would notice. People would care. He would care.

One night, by chance, by awful, awful chance, you discovered what had made your mother hit you and scream at you, because she could not do the same to her husband. You walked, unthinking, into your father’s room, to find something, when it was, surprisingly, unlocked, and you saw what was on the screen, who he was talking to. Agony and disgust carved you open. He was angry – of course, he was angry, what else could he be? It is easier to scream, to throw things, than cry, and show you are broken, and ashamed. Even then, as you fled, all you thought was: He will never love me again, not after I have seen that, his shame and my disgust, like bricks and mortar, working together to build an impenetrable barrier between us both.

That was the final snip. The strings that tie loved ones together like a cat’s cradle, by the chest – your string, to him, was cut. You confided to your mother, of what you had seen, and what you now knew, and watched her break down before you. She wept. Your parents, once Gods, now seemed all too human, and you hated it. You wanted them to be strong, and infallible again. You wanted to feel safe, again. You wanted them to love each other again, and you wanted them to love you, and, most of all, you wanted to love yourself. As time passed, you go on to learn that only one of those three is in your control.

Mother, having spent her years as a housewife under your father’s roof, now sought to leave the house with her children, with no job, no skills, no experience, no money. All she wanted was to leave the toxic environment, like all of us. True to form, father, seeing the end in sight, suddenly changed heart, and grew obliging, his affability veiling the panic underneath. At first, you thought he did care about you, and mother, and your siblings, after all – but then you realised he was simply afraid of losing the money the government would grant to single parents to help look after their offspring.

Your mother left. There were threats, raining down on your backs like arrows, as you departed, but the relief was far greater than the sting. Yes, your mother had to take on menial jobs, and work hard after sitting on a couch for several years, but that still made her happier than living with your father. A few sporadic phone-calls, perfunctory meetings, trickled in the first few weeks. Very soon, they dwindled, until all contact was lost. You wanted to feel relieved. Instead, you felt sad, and disappointed.

Even today, a year after the incident, when life has settled down into a pattern, if a hard and uncomfortable one, you still are, deep down, hurting. Every time you see your mother come home, tired from work, her left knee aching, you remember Him. Each time you worry about the price of toilet paper, or eat eggs to get your protein intake because meat is too expensive, or gaze wistfully at that book on the store shelf, you remember Him. When your lovely, beautiful sister’s eyes grow hard and heavy-lidded at any mention of him, you remember Him. When characters who have unhappy relationships with their fathers crop up in your writing, you remember Him.

You hate him. You hate him. You do. He was supposed to be kind and strong; he was supposed to protect his lost, little girl; he was supposed to be there for you, love you, care for you – instead, he left, not only you, but his whole family out in the cold. But a crackling fire without the company of others, the warmth of other bodies, laughter and conversation, offers very little warmth.

He is sad. Deep down, he is sad, just like me. Something happened to him, something to make him change. Maybe he wanted, as a young man, to make something of himself, only for his businesses to fail, one by one. When the world comes crashing down, you must cling to something: Unfortunately for him, rather than reach for love, he reached for his purse. But there is no excuse great or convincing enough that even you, with your imagination, can explain, and more importantly, atone for what he did and how he treated those he was meant to love and care for. None.

The scars he carved into your flesh will stay with you, until the day you die. It will impact you, subconsciously, in ways you cannot yet imagine, though you pretend to be unaffected. You will be afraid to allow men to whip out their knives and carve their signature tattoo onto your skin, because scars are forever – even when they heal, they still remind. You have to constantly remind yourself that you are beautiful, even with your scarification. You have to remember to hope, and learn to love, and learn to let people in.

No, your father was not a bad man. But he was wrong. What he did was wrong; and what he made you think about yourself was wrong.

You can make things right – you have the power to do that. You can spend the next few years healing yourself. Scars never fade entirely, but they can hurt less, and less, and less.

And one day, there will be someone who finds you beautiful, scars and all, and you will lean your head on his shoulder, a boulder against a mountain, the sun coming out behind your eyes and lips – and even if you do not find this special someone, after the rain and the storms, a rainbow will appear, across the sky of your soul, and that is all the love and happiness you will ever need.