Jane's Mental Health Source Page

One of the Web's Oldest Personal Mental Health Sites [Est. 1998]

Should Children Fear Their Parents

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Children learn to fear their parents. Fear is the fastest way to compliance.

If you want the fastest, the most immediate, the most mind-searing method to compliance with the least amount of mental and emotional effort, fear gets you there.

Children are weak. Fear works immediately to make them do – or stop – something. You don’t need to bother with explaining or reasoning or teaching. Fear will teach boundaries where words cannot.

Children are small. Fear comes naturally when they see towering adults who can inflict pain — real, anticipated, and/or imagined. Fear will shut down questions where patience cannot.

Fear of rejection, fear of physical punishment, fear of abandonment, fear of emotional torture. There are so many types of fear to choose from… parents opting fear to seal their relationships with children can — and do combine these means of fear to achieve their goals.

When you use fear as your weapon of choice, you inflict no visible wounds, so your actions cannot be seen or judged by others. You do not have to beat your children, you can emotionally torture children. Threaten abandonment or throw away their most prized possessions… break it in front of them and make them pick it up with their bare hands and make them throw the pieces in the trash. See if next time they dare to dissent or rebel.

As the children grow older, they learn to inflict fear upon themselves. Parents don’t even have to keep inflicting fear at this point, fear is on cruise control.

broken ice by girinath gopinath

broken ice by girinath gopinath

Children who have internalized this fear may show severe anxiety or stress or self-harming behaviors. Children who have externalized this fear “act out”, rebel, bully, and otherwise pour their fear outward.

They learn to hide their failures to protect themselves from more fear.

They learn to cheat and lie to keep up the facade in their life of fear.

They learn to cut or medicate themselves, big pain to counter bigger pain.

Some of them return this fear to their parents. Others pick smaller, weaker targets. After all, they have learned this from their parents, bullies whom they can’t help but love and loathe.

Some of them so hate themselves, they feel as if they have no choice but to extinguish themselves from life.

There are some who escape this fear and they become aware of what has happened to them. Maybe they spend the rest of their lives healing and learning how to be healthy again.

There are some who have not known this kind of fear but came to love a person who survived this fear. Maybe they get to taste this fear as adults.

Maybe new children are brought into this world and maybe the cycle continues.

I won’t argue why children “should” or “shouldn’t” fear their parents. Living things fear what is physically bigger and appear more powerful than them. Fear comes with us as a survival mechanism, to keep us alive.

If you stuck through this imaginary horror show, you may see that I took a different approach to this question: possible outcomes when fear seals the fate between a parent and a child.

Parents decide whether these outcomes are worth the quickness of compliance or silence from rebellion that fear guarantees.

The alternative is so much more work.

Endless patience.

Constant self-doubt and questioning. “Could I have handled this a different way?”

And a parent’s intense “self-work” and in many cases, healing from past harms of fear, facing our personal demons, all in order to become a good steward of the physical and emotional well-being of small humans we have brought through life.

Being Called “Mental”

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Do you still feel sensitive about being called “crazy” or “mental”? Do you fear being found out for suffering from depression? How have you responded to this? Our society remains ignorant of depression, even when we have made strides to recognize that depression has a biochemical and biological basis.

I still feel sensitive about being “found out” for how I process and respond to the world. I still feel shame for having a brain that can’t let worldly insults roll off its back.

Even when I’m asked, “Is this you or your illness,” it’s no easier pill to swallow because it’s being Image by Jixue Yangasked, “Are you acting crazy, or is this you actually being crazy?” — Wow let me sit with these wonderful options and I’ll get back to you on that one.

Whenever I’m told I’m too emotional or being irrational, I get that defensive impulse, although with lots of practice (and age; I’m 43, so decades of practice), I can respond deliberately.

An analogy I thought of when contemplating this question, is when a mentally retarded person is asked by someone, “What are you, retarded?”

If I were a bystander and knew this to be true, I’d tell that someone, “Yes, s/he is retarded. What’s your point/problem?” The mentally retarded person may very well answer for himself or herself the same, “Yes, I am.”

I imagine that someone would cower in embarrassment. Or not. There are assholes in the world who will snort, “Well, that explains it” and puff away chest first.

Or when someone asks an emaciated person, “What are you, anorexic?” and the person answers, “Yes, I suffer from anorexia,” or maybe, “No, I have cancer, chemo’s made me lose a lot of weight.” How would that someone respond?

I think in the above situations, observers will rip into that someone for being rude or mean, because Society is compassionate toward physical illnesses.

Not so much for mental illnesses.

Society nods in understanding about “chemo brain” (cognitive impairment due to cancer treatment) and asks, “what can we do for you? what supports do you need? how can we be more sensitive in our language?”

Society accuses those of us with “depression brain” as being willfully lazy or spoiled or a wet blanket and demands (it does not ask), “Cheer up!” and “Suck it up!” and “Why don’t you look at the starving children in Africa, you’re so lucky already.”

I suspect much of this has to do with more members of society having mental illnesses of some kind, and those of us with abnormal brains vastly outnumber “normal” brains, but some of us try to keep membership with normal brains by picking on abnormal brains to remove attention from ourselves.

There is no growing thicker skin with this one, or not as thick a skin as we’d want to protect ourselves from mindless jabs or malicious pricks of other people.

The best defense may be a good offense, which in our case means to be willing to own our mental illness and meet prejudicial comments with agreement and a reframing question.

So when someone says, “You’re mental”, the best response may be agreeing (that you suffer from mental illness) and reframing (that you are NOT your mental illness):

“I do suffer from a mental illness, thanks for noticing. {agreement}
May I help you with whatever questions you have? {reframing q.}”

Nice but mindless persons will realize their behavior, apologize, and be more aware next time.

Assholes will let you know they aren’t people you want to have in your life.

Written by Jane

Posted in Mental Health

No, You Do Not Excuse Mom’s Abuse

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This was my answer to a question on Quora, about a 17-year old girl whose mother has been physically, verbally, and emotionally abusing here since the age of 5. The question stated that the mother said either she never did these things, or she did these things because she was stressed. The 17-year old asked, “Should I just give her a pass?”

You should not give this parent a pass.

You should not excuse your mother’s abuse.

You should not “let it go” based on what your mother went through. Otherwise, you are saying that you are within your right to inflict abuse on your own child because of what YOU went through.

You should not condone being victimized because your parent is unable to process her own victimization; it is NOT OK for a mother to deal with being victimized by making her child a victim.

I feel sorry that your mother has been victimized by racism and bad luck, but my empathy ends when she becomes a perpetrator and victimizes her child (a dependent).

Melancholy by Ayhan Yildiz Your mother can deny all she wants: her psychology does not allow her to admit her abusing you, because to admit this means she has to say to herself, “I have chosen to deal with racism by abusing my own child, who is dependent on me and has little to no power over me. Hurting her is the only way I know how to deal with my own hurt.” This is not an easy reality to admit. But this is what has happened, and what continues to happen.

Unfortunately you have to live with this parent, and you are not yet able to support yourself. However, you may seriously consider making emancipating yourself a high priority. If you can avoid being around this parent too much, please do this.

Your #1 priority at this point is to keep yourself physically safe as well as emotionally safe from your mother’s abuse.

I don’t know how you can do this safely, because I don’t know how this parent behaves when confronted with resistance. I don’t know what she will do if you talk back, or even stop her hand when it strikes you. I don’t know what she can do if you run away from her punches… but your obligation to yourself is to do what you must to STAY SAFE AND SURVIVE. However that looks like. Including involving other trusted adult(s) or even the authority for help if necessary. You may seek out local domestic violence shelters if you are willing to do this, because you are in a domestic violence situation.

Remember that your depression and suicidal thoughts are very probably as a direct result of your treatment by the adult in your life who is SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF YOU and show you just how worthy your life is, and how much you have the potential to contribute. When this adult is instead injuring you physically, psychologically, and emotionally — this causes you to wrongly believe that your life has very little value. This belief is WRONG.

Your life has value and you have a lot to contribute to society. You may not think that you matter, but this is because you have not yet met the person whose life you WILL change, whose world WILL be made better BECAUSE OF YOU.

Remember, keep yourself safe and protect yourself, for the sake of the good you will get to do in your lifetime.

Asian Shame, Asian Guilt

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Guilt is a normal feeling in humans, and has an evolutionary purpose. If no one feels any guilt, then no one feels remorse for any wrong doing. Children when taught social rules of reciprocity, will learn to feel guilt, and this is a normal feeling.

What is abnormal is when guilt is used as a weapon and when shame is used to control a person to comply. Parents who want to exert total control over their children’s being does this through physical violence (physical abuse) and emotional manipulation (emotional abuse). We may be talking about Asian parents in general, but I suspect there are situations of abuse and control across many cultures. The Asian culture may have linked this to social norms that is not accepted in other cultures.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

In Chinese cultural tradition, the notion of filial piety permeates every aspect of a parent-child relationship, and is codified in an ancient text called the 24 Filial Exemplars (The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars / 二十四孝_忠孝雙全).

Please pause and consider this: filial piety has been codified as a set of expectations that every single child I knew growing up (at least, in Taiwan) has been exposed to, and have been brainwashed to aspire to.

Seriously, who can live up to those exemplars who take off their shirts to let mosquitoes drink their fill so the mosquitoes would spare the parents? What about the exemplar who laid down in the snow to melt out bamboo shoots because doctor said parent needs to drink soup made of bamboo shoots? (This was only upended by the story of the exemplar who went to an icy lake to melt out a couple of carps because evil stepmother had a craving for carp… )

What about the exemplar who was too poor to feed both his mother and his young son so he and his wife decided to bury his young son: nice choice between infanticide and matricide. But a happy ending: he finds a pile of gold as he was digging his child’s grave so Yay!Everyone’s!Saved! Some of these tales have even been modified and changed; for example, my most vivid memory of an exemplar story that is not found in these 24 was about a son who sliced off a piece of his own flesh (thigh?) to make meat broth for his ill mother.

A quick read through these tales suggests two core mental programs:

Parents are deities. Parents should be worshiped, parents can do no wrong, and parents have the right to treat kids anyway they choose because parents are supreme. This means parents’ needs and wants take priority over the kids’ and kids’ affiliations (including their spouses and children).

Filial piety is connected to the forces of nature. If you are pious, the heavens will be moved by your piety and you will be saved. Ice will melt, the sky will part, murderers will suddenly see the light and spare you, and you’ll find gold. But if you’re not pious… the world may be your poltergeist.

Over time, these programs become automatic. Even when the parents are not there, the scripts run in the background, and the children grow up checking themselves with guilt and shame to ensure they don’t step out of the filial piety line.

These programs are so powerful, they subjugate entire nations of people: Infantilize the people and appoint yourself the people’s father. You reign supreme (North Korea).

The only true start to overcome this depth of brainwashing is to treat this like a contagion and put enough physical distance AND time (mental distance, emotional distance) from this contagion until you can build a level of immunity.

This means moving away from parents and extended families (since extended families especially abuse ones are the same contagious entity and may even offer opportunistic infections of additional mental programs).

Stay far and long enough away, such that you can recover some of your innate self-preservation, absorb healthy messages, connect with emotionally healthy relationships/friendships, and begin to discern “normal levels of guilt” from “programmed pathological guilt”. Get enough practice speaking up for yourself and standing your ground (in some cases, I suppose get strong enough to physically fight back although if this were the case I prefer complete severance of contact).

Now this part is going to sound extreme and horrifying, but if you’re from this culture, you’ll know what I mean:

This means you must be willing to choose YOUR LIFE over YOUR PARENT’S life.

In other words, if the parent pulls out the big guns and starts thrashing weeping screaming that s/he might as well kill herself/himself and die right now because this impious evil-incarnate that is you won’t do what s/he demands: you stand your ground and choose your own life.

Basically, you are showing/telling the parent that you are prepared to lose that parent to suicide, if you are forced to make this kind of choice.


It sounds that f*cked up.

Because it IS that f*cked up.

Additional reading:
Letters from Readers: Jane Chin, for Joy
Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature (9780814758458): Erin Ninh
My Page on Emotional Abuse at Chinspirations.com
with Elliott Chen for Jane – Eats Tiger Moms for Lunch

Hitting is the Basest Form of Parenting

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Spanking (physically punishing) a child is not illegal, at least here in the U.S. This type of physical punishment is not even always frowned upon, because of rationalizations like “this is for the kid’s own good” and “I was spanked when I was a kid and look how well I turned out.”

Physically punishing a child is the basest (lowest) form of parenting.

Hitting, kicking, pulling, pushing, whipping, and punching a living being who is physically smaller than you and whose sustainable existence is at your mercy, gets you immediate results for getting that living being’s attention and compliance. For sure. BUT ANYONE CAN DO THIS.

Hitting, kicking, pulling, pushing, whipping, and punching a living being who is physically smaller than you takes no smarts, no intelligence, and no thinking. It just takes a fist, a flick of your wrist, swing of your leg. It just takes making sure the living thing you are punishing is smaller than you, can’t or won’t fight back, and can’t or won’t escape (emancipate) himself or herself from your “care” and “guardianship”.

The only level of intelligence physically harming a smaller living being requires, is that you meter the level of force so you make your point without visibly injuring the kid.

Image by Matthew CherryHow about figuring out a way to get cooperation from a child at any age by using your intellect, including engineering the environment such that the child naturally “succeeds” more often than the child “fails” at doing what you want a child to do? THIS IS HARD. It takes tremendous mental and emotional/social intelligence on the part of the parent/adult. It takes tremendous conscientiousness to implement, and it takes ridiculous amounts of self-awareness and self-control/self-growth on parents’/adults’ part to continue developing these tools as children grow.

And small kids will grow into bigger kids, who will grow into teenagers, and soon into larger living beings who can hit you back, if they “dare”.

We take the long way instead of the short cut, because we believe that kids will end up actually LEARNING the cause-effect (consequences) of their choices and behaviors as a matter of course, without having to first get over any terror or trauma.

We take the long way instead of the short cut, because we are role modeling behaviors and approaches for gaining cooperation and agreement. We know kids will grow up to learn our behaviors and we’d like to show them sustainable and constructive ways of getting cooperation because the real world has laws against using physical force “because you can”. Our society does not allow physical assault between adults.

Sure, I can push my luck and take the short cut of using fear to force compliance and count on my kid developing a hardened form of “resilience”.

But then I don’t want him to grow up into an adult who assumes hitting kids is the optimal way of parenting, even if this is still considered “normal” in society.

I certainly don’t want the vicious cycle of base-form parenting revisiting our family tree, it’s taken me a generation (mine) to break this link.

***You can substitute emotional manipulation for physical violence; emotional violence is still violence.