Growing up in a Korean church and as a minister’s daughter (a double-whammy), one of my duties was to uphold the face of my parents and refrain from anything that might taint their reputation. My parents being in the limelight within our community gave absolutely no room for me or my sisters to act out and cause any troubles. If we did, it always came back to, “You’re a minister’s daughter,” and inherently that meant, “What if the church members heard about this?”
Since I was a child, one of the ways I limited myself was in the realm of friendships. I couldn’t hang out with the “troublemakers” for obvious reasons, but I also couldn’t get too close to my peers at church because we never knew what drama would break out among the adults. And if you know churches, or any religious institution, mankind created and maintained them, and we have our very human flaws even in the context of divinity. An added layer that comes with Korean churches are the power struggles that stem from immigrant transplantation. Some of our parents left high-status positions in their home countries for for a better life in the US. Often times these issues manifested negatively in the church organization. I grew up seeing these power struggles, gossip, and people turning their backs on each other, even on my parents. And in turn, I think this is what affected me in how I viewed and built friendships.
Due to my self-limiting beliefs about friendships, I thought that, like what I saw in church, it was nearly impossible to have relationships with people in which I could put my guard down completely. I couldn’t really tell my friends about my feelings on what was happening at home or at church because I was afraid they would tell their parents and then a giant, exaggerated exposé about Pastor Kim’s family would come out. I held onto a lot of baggage, for my family and for members of the congregation (because of course, I knew what was going on even though my parents tried to protect me from it). I believed that no matter what, I couldn’t wholeheartedly trust anyone because that information would be used against me. I didn’t feel safe.
My family and I moved from Texas to Vancouver, British Columbia when I was two. This was when my dad’s career was at an all-time high. Then, we moved back to Texas when I was ten in 2000. My dad was in his humble beginnings of opening a new church. Like any organization, it took time to build up the community and a tremendous amount of family effort to run it. This developmental stage, especially for churches, is exceptionally fragile because the minister is establishing his name and reputation. So this meant, everyone (in the family) needed to be on his/her best behavior. As a middle-schooler at the time, I started to feel the immense pressure to be the perfect daughter: model behavior, high grades, liked by everyone, and serving everyone before myself. Again, I didn’t feel safe, and I was starting my life over again in a new city with new friends.
I didn’t realize the need to be perfect and the distrust I had in people that I internalized held me back from learning to communicate properly with my friends. I also couldn’t open up easily because my views on friendship was so warped. The huge façade I fortified over the years of telling myself that people will only like me when I’m in perfected form and that I can’t trust them, kept my friends from seeing the real me. Sure, glimpses of the real Sorah who is sensitive, generous, and kind, probably came out every so often. But, I was fear-ridden and conditioned to keep an arm’s length of distance because I expected people to hurt me, so I know the real me didn’t appear consistently.
In my journey leading up to my biggest life change of leaving my corporate job, I learned what true, loving friendships looked like. Friendships run the gamut of being fun and happy to deep and introspective. They affect how you feel and how you think. Unlike how I felt before of needing to keep my guard up, my friendships today are what make up my village of safety and my space to grow — something I never felt before. They are the place where I can show myself and expose whatever it is in me, whether it’s anger, sadness, depression, or simply excited because life is going great. And the most beautiful friendships are ones that are so clearly built on the foundation of commitment that we will be by each other’s side, no matter how one changes or doesn’t, with absolutely no judgment.
Surrounding myself around loving people who were simply dedicated to holding space was the experience that led me to learning about true friendships. In January, my good friend, Stéphanie (also a fantastic Certified Professional Coach with a slew of other fab energetic healing gifts), formed a mastermind group of ambitious women with positive, radiant energy. I didn’t know what I was walking into. Hell, I didn’t even know what a mastermind was. But, I was in a funk and figured this was worth a shot. I would be able to leverage peer-to-peer mentoring and collective energy to help me solve my problems. So, the six of us met every two weeks, and we spoke up about our wins, struggles, and goals. We talked about our triggers and fears, we asked for help, and we opened our hearts to each other without judgment, even though most of us never met before.
In the beginning, I was nervous and insecure, wondering what they thought of me and if I was contributing enough. Most of them were coaches and had already been on a journey of excavating themselves to reveal their own truths. But that didn’t matter because they already knew that everyone had their own journey, and it was not about who was at what point. The purpose of this group was to to be open in our minds, possibilities, and love, and encourage each other to continue to do so. And over time, I started to feel my layers slip away.
We met every other Tuesday night. I had never been so vulnerable in front of anyone so consistently, not even my own family or the therapist I worked with years ago. Up until this point, I also didn’t know what it felt like to be absolutely open and present for someone else and to keep my own ego at bay. My mind (ego) used wander off thinking about what to say next after someone spoke or if I sounded stupid when I was speaking. It felt different, but it was a good different because I could really hear and feel what others were telling me. That’s when I learned I was an empath.
As my focus shifted onto myself and transitioning away from corporate, it naturally became difficult for me to keep up with all of my friends. I was transforming inside, and I couldn’t afford to lose my focus. I crowded out my friendships with the ones that brought me to higher vibrations, and completely shed away those that brought my energy down or disturbed the peace I was striving for. I organically spent more time with those who I aspired to be — joyful, grateful, and purposeful. And those people were my mastermind group members. We had an exchange of positive energy that couldn’t be produced with force or ingenuity.
This quote became a reality:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
— JIM ROHN
I slowly began to embody the characteristics that my friends had — acute awareness, fearless openness, and unconditional acceptance. And I started to understand what it meant to be in a deep, meaningful friendship. It meant to be present beyond the surface level of gossiping and complaining about work and all the other things going “wrong” in our lives. When we got together, the subject matters we discussed were on a new level. Topics didn’t have a negative tone, and if it did, it was about wanting to shift in perspective so it wasn’t a negatively charged. No one had manipulative undertones to feel better or above the other. These friendships were about active listening and just being present. If help was requested, it was given, but there was no force-feeding of advice. I even triggered some and some triggered me, but we honestly discussed them rather than suppressing the feelings and letting it fester. We had a mutual understanding that the confrontation was a release for the triggered person to heal and was in no way a personal attack. It was completely non-judgmental.
Today, I think it is completely natural for friendships to shed or temporarily lose connection over time. Sometimes we each need time for ourselves so that we can take care of business. When we come back to those that had a momentary pause, I’m sure that they feel like a break never even took place. That just means that each of us needed to step away to grow individually and come back together to enrich each other’s lives mutually. It’s just a part of life’s cycles.
The tough part for many of us is to release the friendships that no longer serve us, which is also a part of the growing process. As you grow, your needs change just like how the food children eat need to change as they grow. Moving on from certain friends can be an organic part of the process and a way to create space for something new. It could be a new friend, new hobby, or even a new job. Sometimes some friends may have contributed in making us feel that we should hold ourselves back and hide our true selves in a closet, in which case the responsibility still falls on each of us. We each have the liberty to take responsibility and create the lives we are meant to have.
Since I’ve come back into the real world, I certainly feel that I missed a lot of people who I used to keep in touch with periodically. It’s a blessing to return and feel the love and genuine interest from others about me, and I think this is the perfect representation of the ebb and flow of friendships. In my comeback, I look forward to being a better friend to others. The year I spent shedding not only friendships, but my emotional tensions and blocks, and focusing time with my mastermind sisters has taught me what true friendship looks like. Just as equally important, it also helped to heal me from my childhood perception of the need to be perfect around people and distrust others. These amazing friends, who will always have a special place in my heart, openly accepted and held space for me, gave me permission to put my guard down, and also trusted me to hold a safe space for them. And for this lesson on friendships, I will be forever grateful.
The only next step here is to pay forward what I learned about friendships and show up as a better friend to those who I haven’t been available to as much before. I’m not saying that it’s easy because obviously I’m still human and sometimes my ego can be really convincing, but I have this awareness now. Ignoring it would just be irresponsible, and that’s not a place I want to go back.
If this post speaks to you, here are some questions I thought through in the process:
Originally published at www.sorahkim.com