Friday, January 10, 2020
Over the years, a good number of my Malaysian and South East Asian clients have discussed several common childhood experiences that have shaped their adult mental health twenty, thirty and even forty years on.
I'm sharing here, in case it's happened to you.
Said once when in a temper because a kid's dawdling is human. But when used as a threat, and when mock-abandonment is used as a punishment, you get several things happening.
First, the child feels insecure. They know they can't rely on their family to keep them safe. So, they become anxious. As adults, they suffer from anxiety and are easily stressed.
Second, some decide that as they can't rely on their family, they can't rely on anyone. That fear knocks on and causes issues in their adult relationships with spouses, bosses, and friends.
Third, this kind of punishment can lead to the kid deciding the world is a hostile place and that action is better than suffering. As a teen, this can be in the form of rebellion (anger, joining gangs etc). As an adult, you're looking at a nasty cycle of emotional and possibly physical violence.
"I am your mother/father and I am never wrong"
This attitude sends an important message: kids learn that being an adult means you never have to take ownership of bad behaviour or apologize.
In a nutshell, adults who act like gods, teach their kid to be devils. Little kids from homes like these get into trouble with their playmates at school because they copy their mums and dads.
If they're lucky, teachers and other adults model proper behaviour and teach them how to get along.
If they're unlucky, they're lonely as kids and they run into trouble as adults because they won't deal effectively with their own bad behaviour in their own relationships, including those with their partners, their own kids, friends and with employees/staff.
Hello to fights, divorce, loneliness and huge staff turnover. Never mind the lack of personal growth.
"You'd look better if you're thinner/more muscular"
Telling a child they need to be slim or to look ripped is telling your kids they're unlovable. Apart from having rock bottom self-esteem, this lays the ground for teenage mental health issues that includes eating disorders, body image issues and unhealthy lifestyles including drug and alcohol abuse.
Kids who grow up feeling that they're unlovable, suffer. They don't understand that it's the parenting that's lousy; they think they're somehow 'wrong'.
These poor kids may become bulimic, depressed, anxious or self-harm. They may try and compensate and become over-achievers. Or they just give up and burn out. Or they join a gang that offers them the love they crave.
As adults, they may continue to be anorexic, bulimic, depressed, anxious and there's a big chance they fall for abusive partners who leverage that inner feeling of worthlessness in order to gain control.
There are more things that happen in families that cause pain for generations, but these are three common things that come up over and over again that we seldom discuss.
I'm a British-registered counsellor and psychotherapist, published author and newspaper columnist living in Malaysia. I run an online practice helping my multicultural clientele in 20+ countries curate their mental health. I'm sensible and super private. LGBTQ affirming. Email Ellen.email@example.com for an appointment. The first twenty minutes are free.