By Lily Tsui
My mother was/is awful:
“Why can’t you be like other girls, and care more about how you look? No man will ever want you,” she lamented, when I showed no interest in make-up.
“I will kill myself if you don’t do what I say,” she threatened, waving a kitchen knife around, in an argument about curfew.
"You need to talk to your father about not sleeping with other women. If you can’t stop him then he is going to get AIDS and then he will give it to me and then you will be an orphan," she said, when I was twelve.
“I will pay for surgery to get your nose and eyelids fixed,” she offered, even though I didn’t care about my mismatched eyes and my perfectly functional nose.
“You must go on the pill because I don’t trust you not to get ‘carried away’ and have sex,” she demanded, when I started dating, even though I had no intention of having sex at the time.
“Have you lost any weight?” she asked, each time she called on the phone in lieu of “hello.”
“Why don’t you quit school and take better care of your husband and your home?” she asked, after a lifetime of demanding academic achievement.
“What did you do?” she asked accusingly, when I told her my marriage was ending.
“There is something wrong with your personality. You’re too much like your father.” she declared, to explain why my marriage ended.
“I had you because I thought it would make your father want to be at home more,” she said, as though that wasn’t selfish and incredibly hurtful.
“Doesn’t your husband/boyfriend/fiance mind if you travel without him?” she asked, and continues to ask.
During a severe bout of major depression after the end of my marriage, I decided I needed space from her toxicity, as she had reacted exactly as I predicted: she blamed me. First she asked if I was cheating. Then she asked if I had failed to “take care” of him and the household sufficiently. Then she asked if it was because he resented my education, my independence. Then she cried and made it all about her. This all happened within half an hour.
After a few days of this self-centred diatribe, I told her not to contact me until she heard otherwise. Instead of respecting my boundaries, she emailed and called relentlessly. When I didn’t reply or pick up the phone, she progressed to ask other members of my family that I was close to, some of whom lived overseas, to plead on her behalf. One by one they contacted me. One by one they heard my side of the story, and understood why I needed that space for my own well-being. Most of them apologized for getting involved. More than a year later, when I allowed her (cautiously), back in my life, she accused me of being cruel:
“How could you not speak to me for a year? How could you do that to your own mother?” she said, sobbing. In a Thai restaurant.
She never understood that her behaviour was/is problematic. She never accepted that her words, regardless of intent, were hurtful. From the time I was a teenager, right up to the present, she was and can still be abusive.
Only through intensive psychotherapy did I realize how much of her toxicity I internalized. I blamed myself for things I had no control over. I felt guilty about everything, and whenever I managed to get the guilt got under control I would feel guilty that I didn’t feel guilty enough. I had to learn how to love myself without constantly using guilt and self-deception. I had to learn how to stop talking to myself abusively, inside my own head. I had to teach myself something everyone should know about themselves right from the beginning: that we are worthy of being treated with love and respect.
It didn’t help that the people I confided in rarely believed me. When I was younger, people would say, “all teenagers fight with their parents.” When I got older, people would say, “she just doesn’t know how to say ‘I love you.’” When she asked about my weight, people would say “she’s just concerned about your health.” Sometimes they would attribute her abuse to misunderstandings due to language (she is ESL, but so am I, and although it is not my primary language anymore I am still fluent in Cantonese). “It’s a generation/culture-gap,” people told me. “A mother would never hurt her child intentionally,” some said, especially those who were mothers themselves.
That was all bullshit. That’s people’s internalized ageism, fatphobia, racism, and idealized ideas about parenthood masquerading as explanations for my mother’s verbally-abusive behaviour. It’s straight up denial. Sexism and her perception that I should only exist for others (whether as a prop in her relationship with my father, or as a domestic worker for my partners) guided her words. I often wished she had hit me instead, because I figured it was harder for people to explain away a bruise or a cut. I want all those people who ever excused her behaviour to know that, even though they may have never spoken with her directly, that their words and excuses enabled her abuse, and that by not believing me they gave her more power to hurt me. They may have had the best of intentions, but my mother believes she has nothing but the best of intentions too.
Many people won’t believe you, when you tell them your mother’s words burn like fire and tear you to pieces and leave you scarred on the inside. But there are people out there who will believe you. I know, because I believe you. It’s not your fault. I know, because it wasn’t my fault either.
I BELIEVE YOU. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
The secret of attraction is to love yourself. Attractive people judge neither themselves nor others. They are open to gestures of love. They think about love, and express their love in every action.
You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
EXCLUSIVE: St. Louis Police Officer Blows the Whistle on Rampant Corruption Within the Department
“I wouldn’t have came down here (to Ferguson) and stood on those front lines, I would have taken my uniform off and have resigned. I didn’t have to come down here, but I would not have come down here and oppressed these people.”
now you fucking know