Growing up, Owen*’s parents often impressed upon him their wish for him to become a doctor, like many Asian parents.
In a bid to steer him in the ‘right direction’, his parents were especially strict about his academic results.
Despite consistently doing well in school, he wasn’t allowed to pursue his interest of becoming a fitness coach, with his parents deeming it a “crazy person’s interest”.
Even reading literature books during his free time was a no-no.
Having to deal with the pressure from his parents, his school work and building his career, Owen eventually developed anxiety.
To cope with his mental health struggles, he sought help from a school psychiatrist.
“The medication helped to quell the crippling thoughts and allowed me to function — but I realised that school was crippling me,” he said.
In 2019, Owen dropped out of university and never realised his parents’ dream of him becoming a doctor.
When they tried to convince him to resume his studies, it was the last straw for him — he packed his belongings and left his family home the very next day.
“Even after moving out, I had to struggle with paranoia because they wouldn’t let go of me. They still believed that I owed them my life,” he recounted. “They even threatened my partner with a lawsuit, saying that she had kidnapped me, but I chose to leave.”
His parents tried all means and ways to contact him, via phone calls, texts and emails but he ignored them.
Owen, 28, is not alone.
Like many, he is the victim of ‘toxic parenting’ — a pattern of behaviours exhibited by parents that can cause many negative implications for the child down the road.
Dr Cyrus Ho, a consultant psychiatrist at the National University Hospital explained that while toxic parenting is not a medical term, there are some characteristics of toxic parenting which include:
- Controlling behaviour;
- Self-centredness of the parent;
- Manipulative behaviours, and
- Passive-aggressiveness from the parent.
The term has of late, gained traction among the younger generation who are more willing to voice out some of the issues they may face with their parents.
In recent years, several local Reddit threads have emerged, discussing what one should do when dealing with toxic parents, with some even suggesting moving out of their parents’ home as a solution.
Although Owen eventually managed to move away from his parents, things haven’t been so straightforward for Kelly*, 16.
Plagued by a difficult childhood and a dismissive mum who would often “invalidate” her feelings, she tried to take her life at the tender age of 14.
When her mother found out, she reacted by “spamming” Kelly with calls and text messages for two days, but quickly went back to ignoring her.
She likens her mother’s behaviour to a cycle — going from showing overwhelming concern to almost not caring at all.
“I think my mum uses me as her support more than I do,” she said.
Image Source: iStock
After her suicide attempt, Kelly realised that she needed help and decided to approach a youth centre, and eventually speak with a counsellor. She also confides in her eldest sister.
“Sometimes I love my mum, but sometimes I hate her, but my sister and I try not to bother ourselves with issues [within the family] that we cannot solve anymore,” she said.
For Owen, being away from home for two and a half years has vastly improved his mental health.
Now, Owen says that he is in a much better place mentally and does not plan to reconcile with his parents.
“The freedom to choose what I want for myself, this is what I need. All that gaslighting and manipulating, the undermining… it wasn’t healthy for me,” he said.
He says he does not intend to reach out to his parents anytime soon.
“I’m just looking forward to building my own life.”
What can the child do?
Image Source: AsiaOne
When dealing with toxic parents, Dr Ho says that the child should try his or her best to be heard by their parents.
If open communication does not work, the next option is to “self-moderate” — to accept things as they are and move on with life, regardless of what the parent does.
Some other tips Dr Ho recommended are:
- Empowering yourself and taking charge of your life
- Establishing boundaries with your parents
- Develop self-empathy and self-love
- Establishing a good network of support, either through friends or other loved ones
What parents can do
For parents, Dr Ho emphasises the importance of open communication between parent and child. As parents and children tend to have different perspectives, it’s important to be able to openly discuss options and come to a consensus.
“The younger generation doesn’t believe in power discrepancy, and they’re quite vocal about it. I think parents need to be at a friend level to talk things through. But of course, the parent still has the responsibility to guide the child.”
“The parenting journey can be very stressful; parents have to be aware of the effects of their children on them, in terms of how they feel and react, so they need to learn how to cope to prevent displacing their emotions on the child.”
*Not their real names
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
This article was first published on AsiaOne and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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