Jane's Mental Health Source Page

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

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.

Mental Strength and Emotional Resilience

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I used to be one of those people who was extremely guarded to the point of appearing standoffish and antisocial.

I had many excuses — some are good reasons — for this:

  • I am an introvert: Dealing with people is hard for me to begin with.
  • I did not have an emotionally secure environment growing up: Of course I became closely-guarded.
  • I am too gullible and trusting: No wonder I have to protect myself.

I put my intellect and analytic ability to good use: I looked for ways people are trying to rip me off, take advantage of me, or deceive me.

If I didn’t protect myself, who would?

Here’s the problem:

What your head knows is very different from how your heart feels. Just because you have all the intellectual tools does not mean these magically transform into emotional reserves.

In other words:

Becoming Mentally Strong Does Not Guarantee Emotional Resilience.

I read enough “self-help literature” to know “What People Think of Me is None of My Business” and how I shouldn’t care too much about what other people think, and that hoarding other people’s approval is the quickest path to personal hell. I acted like the good conscientious student of life and I went to class and did my self-help homework.

I can tell you from decades of personal experience, through all this “self-help”, I did not feel emotionally resilient. I had all the intellectual tools at my disposal, and I consider myself pretty smart and mentally astute. But this did not magically translate into emotional strength.

Until one day I realized this:

Mental strength comes from cultivating brain-based tools. When I think of mental strength, I think about knowing how to deploy the right intellectual tools at the right time, in the right dose, for the right person.

I view the development of brain-based tools as a “bank account”. You have to regularly add knowledge into your bank account to grow what you know, and you have to periodically “balance the checkbook” and ensure you haven’t let any unchecked assumptions let your overall knowledge balance “drift” and deviate.

Emotional strength comes from surviving pain.

I view the development of heart-based tools as a “muscle”. You have to be willing to exert it, to stress it, to put microscopic tears in it. And you know what? Just like a muscle, sometimes you injure it, push it too hard, and that muscle rips and tears, and you are out of commission. You feel a world of pain and sometimes even breathing hurts (just like physical muscle! I also know this from personal experience, through rock climbing or childbirth! …I digress). You then have to let yourself recover and HEAL, before you head back out and work those muscles again.

In other words, you have to believe in your capacity to SURVIVE the hurt and LIVE THROUGH the insults/injuries with your Self INTACT. And — this is important — You Have To Be Willing To Put Yourself Out There Again, and Risk Possibly Getting Hurt Again.

This is why I view emotional resilience as more muscle than smarts, all heart and some brain.

I didn’t get emotionally strong by withholding myself from hurt, by shutting other people out, by packaging myself in false bravado. At least, I tried this way and learned this way did not work. Have you seen people who have lost the use of a muscle? That un-used muscle didn’t get stronger from being protected: that muscle atrophies. SAME AS YOUR HEART. Hiding your heart causes your emotional resilience to atrophy –not to grow stronger.

I grew emotionally strong by opening myself up to others, letting people in, and admitting my vulnerabilities.

Of course, I used brain-based tools I have gained to be very deliberate about selecting people to get close to, but this is more of a due-diligence when creating friendships or partnerships than “guarding against all possible harm.”

If I get hurt, then I use my brain to look at what happened (did I ignore a red flag or a signal?), acknowledge the pain in my heart, permit myself to wallow and feel bad — cut out a toxic or one-sided or dishonest connection — then I choose to get back out there, with my heart, receptive. It is a choice to put myself out there, because reflexively I want to withdraw.

If you want to see the most accurate examples of “No Pain, No Gain”, you should see people who have survived the worst kinds of emotional traumas and pain.

They may not all be super-smart people, but they are so emotionally strong, they exude a depth of center and acceptance that is impossible for me to describe. These people have survived hurt, they have lived through insults/injuries/traumas AND THEY HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN WHO THEY ARE (their “Self”). They choose to keep trusting and keep opening up and keep connecting.

I am still an introvert.

I am an introvert who have put in more than a thousand hours of social skills practice, to the point where socialization has become easy — even enjoyable for me. There are people who told me, “No, I can’t believe you’re an introvert!” and I tell them I am indeed (“I am, I’m still not really into people”) only I had a lot of practice.

I still remember some childhood wounds.

I honor those wounds by practicing conscious parenting to my own child, to ensure he feels secure and have a safer environment to build his own emotional resilience. I am often rewarded by being a witness to how he processes hurts and fear and pain, because I then remember once upon a time when I was a little girl, how I was just like that.

I am still gullible and trusting.

I choose to believe people and trust people until they show me that they are not the kind of influence I want in my life.

In the end, I think I have learned to trust my self and the inner resources I have to draw upon through life.

Jane Chin’s piece was also published in Inc. online.