Jane's Mental Health Source Page

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

Emotional Abuse: Dealing with Manipulation and Guilt

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Ever since I reported on the high suicide rate of Asian American students, I’ve been thinking of writing something for them that addresses cultural conditioning.

Here is what I have observed from my own experience and coming from a first-generation asian immigrant family:

  • Many asian parents are amazing at using manipulation, guilt, and self-pity to get their kids to do whatever they want, or at least make them most miserable if the kids disobey. They aren’t necessarily being malicious on purpose, they just learned it from their parents.
  • I need to live the life I want to live, NOW, or I’ll die living the expectations of my parents, and do a crappy job at it anyway because I’d be miserable.
  • Most families – asian or other – are pretty dysfunctional. I know I’m not the only daughter who has ever fallen victim to a mentally unstable mother. Knowing that I’m not the person this has ever happened to makes me feel less alone and more optimistic about overcoming these mental and emotional obstacles I’ve built over the years.
  • I get depressed because I turn anger inwards, on myself, instead of expressing anger and setting boundaries.
  • The harder I resist and try to change who my parents are, the harder I fail, because I can’t change my parents to get them to love me the way I want them to love me.
  • I have learned to count my blessings and appreciate friends and my spouse for loving me the way that I want to be loved.

Up until a few years ago, I would get into fights with my mother whenever she starts to “talk trash.” What I mean by “talking trash” is making condescending statements or saying things to elicit guilt in other people or being very negative or wallowing in self-pity. She knows how to push my buttons, and I let her push my buttons.

One afternoon we were speaking on the telephone, and my mother started talking trash. She made comments like she shouldn’t have brought us to the US, and how we don’t behave like caring children because we never visited, and how her friends’ children treated their mothers so well compared with how we treated her, and if she died we probably wouldn’t care one iota.

Sound familiar?

Normally, my brain would pick up the signal to pick a fight and try to prove to her that she was wrong and that she should look at her own behaviors and that we were good kids.

For some reason I got sick of resisting that day, and something else came out of my mouth. I started agreeing with her.

I agreed that she shouldn’t have brought us to America. I agreed that we were crappy kids. I agreed that she was all alone and being ignored. I agreed that we might as well have come out from a rock. I agreed with whatever she was complaining about, and I offered no solution or reconciliation or amends whatsoever.

And she grew quiet and we ended the conversation rather well because we had no argument.

The toughest part about this technique is working with my ego to swallow the insults and offer no resistance and agreeing with something I didn’t agree with. But with practice, my ego got over it and my mother’s manipulation loosened its grip on my sanity.

The strange thing is that our relationship has actually improved since I stopped resisting, even when I have offered her no behavioral changes on my part.

I’m not going to lie and say that my emotionally and mental well-being has completely recovered from the different things I had endured with my mother when I was a little girl. To this day I still work on my mental conditioning and internal messages on a daily basis – so we’re talking about 30+ years and counting. But each day, I get a little better and I unlearn a little bit of the cruel messages I had learned to believe about who I am.

And it can get better for you too.

Related… (and a 2011 update) – This post is, in many ways, part of a long journey of me writing a book that I’ve wanted to write for 9 years but wasn’t ready to write it or knew who I was writing it for. The Youngest Light.

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You may also want to read:

Note to the Hyper-Self-Critical Child Who Has Grown Up

Independence: Dear Daughters of Tiger Mothers

A View from Negativity

Why I Wrote ‘The Youngest Light’

“Jane Chin, for Joy”

Why You Still Cry When Your Parents Hurt You

Written by Jane Chin

April 6th, 2008 at 12:33 pm