Jane's Mental Health Source Page

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

Independence

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Dear Daughters of Tiger Mothers:

As much as you struggle in this emotional war of guilt, know that your mothers who wage wars were once where you are, their free will bound so tightly at such a young age that their expressions of love had long been rotting until the shape of their love has grown misshapen the way bound feet become the living grave of broken bones.

And men of this culture once found these stumps of control beautiful, calling them “three-inch golden lotuses”.

Don’t be envious of how your brothers receive ‘better’ or ‘preferential’ treatment from your mothers and fathers. Your brothers endure endless lashes of obligation to excel and perform, only they bury their feelings and show the world their unbroken facades, because they must and they are expected to.

Our ancestors had to surrender their free will to survive and this survival mechanism has become a coat of prickles that we wear. And we wonder why we can never seem to get close enough to our mothers and daughters for love’s embrace.

Don’t underestimate the strength of these chains of control, for what we feel comes through generations of manipulation dressed in love’s clothing. You will not always triumph in your quest for freedom, and you may even wonder if Independence was just a commercial holiday for people who can afford to be free.

Take it from me, I have wondered the same before. I have found that becoming free is incredibly hard because first I have to free myself.

That was when I realized that I have been complicit all along with these ghosts of manipulators. Their ghostly voices echo around my life even when I’ve never met them. They speak through my mother’s mouth and I hear what they say about my mother, about me, about “who” we should be and “how” we should appear to the outside world.

I hear them telling me that I haven’t performed to specification, haven’t outshone enough competitors, haven’t achieved to expectation. Now that I’m a mother I can hear them goad me about my failures and faults and fallible judgments with my child.

I hear their propaganda about my role in my parents’ lives and my role in my child’s life, particularly the parts about “This is all your fault, I don’t care what it is, or when it’s going to happen, or if it’s going to happen, but whatever it is, if it happens it’s your fault and if it doesn’t happen it’s still your fault.”

Then I listen closely and I discover that these ghostly voices sound just like me. I don’t know when this happened, but it probably happened long ago even when I was a very little girl: I had learned the language of the manipulators and I have become my own enemy, prisoner, and abuser.

I don’t know how long it takes for this to get better for you. Sometimes you may feel hopeless and sometimes you may catch a glimpse of freedom. Grab onto those glimpses of freedom and never let go of them and collect them the way you used to collect praises from your parents. Because these glimpses of freedom are the true precious stones of your soul, they become the mosaic tiles of the vision of you, free from ghostly echoes of generations past.

Love,
Jane Chin

Jul 1, 2011

  • Mike Avila

    Jane,

    Your story will help a lot of people understand what they went through and start to overcome. You are an inspiration!

    Mike

  • Mike Avila

    Btw, Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is coming out as a film very soon!

  • N

    Thank you.

  • Meagan

    beautiful way of expressing it

  • Dau of Chinese Traditional mom

    Dear Dr. Chin,

    This is going to be a long post…

    I’ve been addicted to reading all your articles for the past several days, because finally I’ve found a resource that REALLY spoke to me; that finally relates to me. I’ve read a lot of yours by now, but wow.. This one. This one.

    I’m 25 now and daughter of a first generation single Chinese mom (dad was abusive alcoholic, in and out of our lives, went to prison and not sure where he is now). We have lived together for 25 years (all my life) and for the most part, it has been just her and I (my siblings and her never got along well. Out of the 4 of us here in Canada, I was the only one who didn’t rebel against her control and tyranny). She beat all the other kids except for me. I was the golden child. Am the only one who has a university degree. She has lived for 20 years in Canada, but is still very foreign (doesn’t speak English, doesn’t know how to drive, doesn’t have any friends, is basically very isolated from society and doesn’t want to try). She’s been working, working, working, a workaholic for as long as I’ve been alive. She works very hard in a kitchen of a Vietnamese restaurant.

    She’s been very VERY dependent on me since I was a kid. Since I got my license I’ve been driving her to and from work 5 days a week, out shopping to support her hoarding habits, and catering to her every demand. My life doesn’t matter. She never wanted me to get married and have kids, only to live with her for the rest of my life. I hid boyfriends from her. I hid friends from her. I hid my life from her.

    I’ve begun a very drastic growth movement in my life which started about a year ago. And now is where I’m starting to feel and acknowledge the control. After leaving a controlling and abusive relationship, I’m currently in a committed relationship with an amazing man who absolutely cares about me. I’ve introduced him to my mom, and she has accepted and is happy for me. But by the same token, she will say things like I’ve abandoned her for him now and that I’ve changed so much since I started dating him and that she ‘knows me now’. She used to say things like if I ever got married and left her that she would commit suicide and that there is nothing to live for. Without me, she doesn’t want to live. How horrible of a burden is that, on top of so many other traumatic things that have happened in our family growing up.

    I’m in the process of finding her an apartment close by her work so that she can walk to and from work and walk to grocery shops and easily grab a cab or take the public LRT. I think I’ve found the perfect place which I will go view with her and my sister tomorrow. This decision has been a struggle for the past 3 months or so. Both for her and for me. It is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made in my life and I still question it every hour if I’m doing something wrong. My guilt will take over me and put a stop to this process, if I let it. I need to do this for me even if she kicks and screams that I’m the worse daughter in the universe for abandoning her and she god will never forgive me for doing this and that when I have children they will do the same to me. I’m reclaiming my life, or I guess, claiming.

    The hardest part about all this is, she is not a bad person and I do love her so much. She has the biggest heart and the best intentions. I know none of this is her fault. It’s the whole generation thing. The whole tiger mom thing (she’s actually a tiger in the zodiac too). I know what I’m doing is the best for my own personal growth, and it will be the right thing for her too. Perhaps then she will appreciate me, which is not the intention of this though, as I am done with trying to get her approval, as I’ve never been good enough and never will be unless I continue to sell my soul and life to her. I need to live my life. I need to grow. This is the only way.

    Please tell me your thoughts on this, any words of wisdom would be so helpful right now. Your articles are what I look at when my mind tries guilt me.

    I appreciate your blog and I look forward to reading your memoir soon.

    – Daughter of Chinese Traditional Mom

    • Dear DoCTM:

      First, you have been a good daughter, and you still are a good daughter.
      I think you need to hear that, and believe this to be true.
      I know you may not always believe it, because you don’t hear this from the person who needs most to tell this to you (mom).

      You have been groomed and grown to take the place of your father as your mother’s partner.

      ***Think about this, and think carefully about what this means, the kind of relationship you have with mom. ****

      When you understand this, you will understand why your mom has said all the things she has said to you:
      “You are abandoning me.”
      “You are the only reason why I am still alive, why I am willing to live.”
      “You are hurting me by living for yourself.”

      When she says these words, she is actually talking to ghosts of the past. Not to you.

      She is talking to the husband who never was.
      She is probably talking to one or both of her parents.
      She is talking to the disappointment and fear she feels in herself.
      She is talking to all the shame that has been festering inside her for decades.

      These words are not supposed to be spoken to a child — to any child — by any parent.

      It makes complete sense that you were groomed for a role you aren’t meant to play:
      You were obedient. You were compliant. You were controllable. You were predictable.

      On the other hand, your siblings were rebellious. They said “no” by rebelling, when she tried to force them to fill in the void that your father had left. She could not control them, even by physical violence or emotional abuse, so she turned to you, because you did what she wanted.

      You even “played out” the drama that your mother had experienced, by being in a relationship with an abusive and violent man. It’s as if you tried to exorcise the demons out of your mother, by entering a similar dynamic yourself, hoping to rescue both of you.

      Then you realized, “I am not my mother,” and you may in part also realize, “My mother did not deserve what happened either.”

      Only your mother still sees you as her husband, or rather, the life partner she deserved but never got. That is not your fault, or your choosing. You have an obligation to live your life and grow yourself into the kind of person who can form healthy and loving relationships with your own life partner and your child(ren).

      The way to move forward is to keep implementing the plans for staying “close enough” to help mom but “far enough” to reclaim your life. You are doing the right thing, finding housing for her and making some type of arrangement to keep yourself “part of mom’s life but whole to your own life.” You owe that to YOURSELF. You have been repaying “debt” to mom through years, and for someone else (your dad). I think you’ve paid enough, plus interest, for someone else’s actions.

      When mom threatens or tries to guilt you, remember she is talking to the ghosts who did this to her. You did not do this to her. You are only doing what you can to move forward while taking care of her how you can.

      You don’t need to argue or fight; she is arguing or fighting with your dad’s ghost. You are not your dad. You can’t speak for that ghost. You can only say things like, “I’m sorry you are having such a hard time,” and “I know changes can take time to adjust.” When she says things like “one day your children will do the same things to you,” (not sure why parents say this so much, probably because they think it is like revenge) you can just reflect her anger without arguing: “You sound upset and angry.” Accept that you can never be right, and you don’t have to be, to keep moving forward.

      Then you keep on fulfilling what you are supposed to do as an adult: you build your life upon healthy relationships.

      • Dau of Chinese Traditional mom

        Hi again Jane,

        It’s been 2 months now, and we’ve followed through with the huge change in living situation. My mom is being independent in her very own little apartment, and my amazing partner and I have found a place to move in together. To my surprise, she is fine. I’m so proud of her, and I love her so much. Looking back, I was the one holding me back by being a codependent… I needed to become aware of this dynamic.

        I have never felt so alive and so… Like my time is actually my own, and I’m not spread so thin. I’m learning about creating space and boundaries in my life. Limits. What the heck did these terms even mean before?

        I want to thank you for your reply. I read it numerous times over several days while going through the transition. No one has ever put it that way before. Your words just stuck.. And I believe it. So thank you.

        – Not A Co-Dependent

  • Choices

    Hi Jane,

    I just stumbled upon your website because out of desperation I googled ‘counsellor dealing with overbearing asian parents’ in the hopes there are counsellors in my area who dealt with such a thing! I must say it makes me feel a little empowered knowing that I am not alone in this situation of feeling completely out of control when dealing with my mother and grandmother (of course the men in the family keep their mouths shut). I am really hoping that you would be able to shed some light or a little bit of wisdom on my situation. I feel any help from you would help.

    I am 26, first generation Australian and have been with my partner, who is of Indian descent but also first-gen Aussie, for 3 years now. I told her about our relationship less than a year into dating because I thought they would love him: he is really personable, hard-working and is really family oriented etc. However, my first mistake was expecting her to understand what the notion of ‘dating’ was. She immediately started questioning my motives and asking about marriage and children, followed by some ‘quick advice’ that I should just break up, avoid that race and move on. I was very shocked and so initially all I could do was be upset and couldn’t understand why she would just shut it down without even meeting him. I just put it down to, that she was shocked because this was my first partner (as far as she knew) and she was reacting to it, but would accept it once she met him more.

    Then after a few months of me trying to convince her and explain more about who he was, she agreed to meet him. The meeting went kind of like a nerve-wracking job interview. A few days of sitting on it, she came back with her assessment: no good, Indian people are trouble, I will just end up speaking like them and smelling like them. Keep in mind that my mother intentionally brought me to Australia, one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, where the multi-cultural society is celebrated and embraced. I keep to my guns and despite the emotional trauma, I stand up to her and have to repeatedly tell her that I understand her fears (perhaps that I will lose my ‘Chinese-ness’ and adopt strange traditions and get immersed into a new culture that she doesn’t understand) but they are irrational and we can learn to live together in peace. Also, it is a very backwards way of thinking to generalise an entire race of people based on whatever she heard or imagined in her head. I never expected her to love him, but at least accept the decision that I have made and be happy that I am happy. However, this doesn’t fly, and she can never tell me exactly what is wrong with him besides that ‘He is not suitable’ and that I should ‘just consider the family when I’m making my decisions.’

    Fast-forward to now, she has placed an ultimatum on my lap: it’s him or the family. She has told me that we should “just take a break and then it’ll be easier to let go… It is the right thing to do for the family…” And when I counter and say, “but what about what is right for me?” she will then start with the melodrama and threaten me with her death, and that I’ll be happier when she’s dead, and accuse me of not caring about the family at all, and just generally horrible things to have to hear from your own parent.

    I have tried to explain many times that I will not be a different person if I am with this man, and they won’t lose me as a child. I have tried to explain to them that I have grown up in a really different environment and generation to her, and that this is my reality, the only one that I know. I understand that she wants the best for me, but I know deep down she is against the Indian race and that fear is deep-rooted, regardless of who the person is and what they mean to me. There is nothing that I can say that will make her stop. And now it has come down to this HUGE DECISION, which is more like a LACK OF CHOICES. I understand that for my family, marriage means two families come together, not just the individuals, and I guess this is why his background is so important to her. However, I didn’t expect it to be the grounds of her never accepting him.

    I am really stuck and facing potentially either breaking up with my man, which is unthinkable and heartbreaking, or breaking my relationship with my family forever, which is so traumatic to think about. I have thought about this over and over, considering all the possible scenarios and possible outcomes. When we talk about it, I always tell her that I am Chinese and that will never change, but my version of being Chinese is a little different to hers, and I look to my family and tradition to inform my choices, but I also use my own brain and I am not in a habit of accepting things just because they ‘should be’. I am terrified of losing my family forever, but also terrified of losing my own identity and my ability to choose for myself (in all aspects of life, not just relationships), and most of all losing this person that I love so much. I look around at my non-asian friends who are moving on with their lives with partners of their own choosing, of different races, cultures and sexuality, and who are happily planning their futures together. I don’t feel like I ask for much but just enough space to be me, and that is apparently disappointing my family.

    Thank you for the patience for reading my post, and any input you might have. My wish is to look back in a few years at this moment and, despite the emotional pain it’s costing me right now, I still have everyone around me that I love because I persisted.