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  • Fonda Tokushige, LCSW

Origins of the TeugByeolHan Movement

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

TeugByeolHan (특별한) is a Korean word that translates to special, exceptional or extraordinary. Generally, we tend to reserve the spirit of this word for stars, musicians, artists, billionaires and the outliers. So, what about the rest of us?

A Glimpse Into My Journey to Becoming TeugByeolHan

Moreoften than not, we don't have control over the cards we're dealt in life. This includes what families we're born into, what genes we're born with, and what problems we're going to face on the daily. Sometimes we're dealt with a series of bad hands and left wounded or broken and wondering how we're supposed to recover and move forward. In these moments that can sometimes turn into seasons and even years, it's critical to recognize that we do have control over how we deal with those bad hands and we have to take ownership over our lives.

My early formative years - from my earliest memory in preschool to my young adult years - were, for the most part, intolerable. I took a reductionistic perspective of my life and blamed my parents for the emotional pain that I was in and for the degree that I had been parentified. I had convinced myself that I was wise beyond my years. This wisdom mislead me and fast-tracked me (and my unsuspecting husband) into the depths of adulthood.

Essentially, I escaped my family-of-origin to start my own family at the ripe age of 19. Only I didn't escape anything. All of those dynamics that contributed to an intolerable family environment reappeared with a vengeance in my new family where I wore two new ill-fitting hats as a wife and mother. It didn't take long for that deceitful wisdom to dissipate.

At a time when I was, perhaps, at the most vulnerable point in my life, I arrived at a clear impasse with the dysfunctional beliefs and dynamics I was operating under. In a rock bottom moment, I decided I needed to accept reality for what it was and opt to fight for a life worth living, and since I didn't know how to fight this good fight, I actively sought out help in many forms - self-help books, higher education, making lifestyle changes, mentoring and life coaching, therapy and counseling - all of which offered me the support and tools I needed to take progressive steps forward. It was this multi-pronged investment that I made into myself and the willingness to approach life differently that's empowered me to gain insight and perspective into living my best life, at least, on most days. More specifically, increased insight and a broadened perspective opened me up to genuinely being grateful, even for the bad hands I'd been dealt.

For years I regarded my parents as the worst hand life had dealt me. They were incompatible for each other and incompatible with me. I had reduced them to horrible people and, consequently, parents. As a second generation Korean-American born and raised in Southern California, I knew very little about my Korean heritage. I assumed my Korean parents were backwards because they seemed so out-of-touch with the families I grew up with, like the Tanners from Full House and the Lawsons from Small Wonder. I never considered the alternate reality that I could ever appreciate and even admire my parents for their life journeys, exemplary resilience and courage, and terrible imperfections. It wasn't until I started researching the impact of enculturation (not to be confused with acculturation) and intergenerational trauma that I started to question my reductionistic analysis of my parents. I am grateful for my mentors who encouraged me to add contextualization to my analysis.

My father was born a few years before and my mother was born 3-days after the outbreak of the Korean War. They grew up in extreme poverty and, in my mother's case, she was separated from her own family-of-origin until she turned 18 to survive these difficult times. I came to learn that both of my parents danced intimately with hunger, instability and fear, all of which they couldn't shake off and carried with them throughout their lives. For my father, this translated to a brutal harshness and sternness that drove away those he loved the most. For my mother, this translated to a life of workaholism and unstable relationships with those she loved the most.

I recently lost my mother to liver cancer. While sitting and sleeping by her deathbed, I clumbsily danced with the sadness that came with watching my mother die, and during some of those missteps, I had transformative revelations settle on my somber thoughts. What I came to fully accept was that my parents lived the best lives they knew how for themselves, each other and their children. I came to appreciate and even admire their incredible resilience and grit to live everyday and to build a life they could only dream about in their youths in spite of the disadvantages from the hardships and struggles they faced. My parents weren't able to give me harmonious family relationships, but they gave me the greatest gift they could - a life where I never had to dance so intimately with the real hardships and struggles they faced. It is because of their sacrifices that I have the emotional footing to live a life motivated not by fear but by my genuine drives and passions.

TeugByeolHal Redefined

TeugByeolHan Therapy and Life Coaching Services is rooted in the resilient life journeys of these two terribly imperfect people. Drawing from the lives that they lived and from my personal journey, I've come to the conclusion that the TeugByeolHan person is one who takes responsibility and ownership for his/her life's journey and dedicates himself/herself to living his/her best life despite the hands that are dealt.

I founded TeugByeolHan based on the recognition of and an appreciation for every person's unique life journey, and for some that journey is complicated by dynamics that stem beyond one's control. This practice is dedicated to supporting and guiding each person to building insight and awareness and developing the necessary life skills to empower you to be resilient, skillfully deal with those bad hands, and live your best life.

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