Poor Parenting Methods

Reader’s Question

I am an Asian female student, poor background, uneducated parents. I know my parents love me and want nothing but the best for me…but I can’t help resenting them for the way they raised me…mostly isolated (fear of bad influences from other people). I’d always been a good student, straight A’s throughout school…but I was never perfect enough for them. I learned to accept nothing but perfection of myself. As all teenagers, I had an extremely rough time during my adolescent years when I tried to rebel against my parents’ strict rules. My rebellion came in the form of lame attempts to become normal like going to the movies alone at night and coming home late. And the attempts to run away from home, only to be dragged back and beaten for the shame of it. No money, no friends, nowhere to go, and so I stayed. I remember so well the beatings, the denigrating comments about how stupid I was, how ugly, how no man would ever marry me. I remember the emotional abuse so well, more then the physical abuse. My brother endured worse treatment because he was “dumb” at school and short. Yes, my father beat him for being short. I never saw him cry, no matter how bad the beating, but I could tell by the slump on his shoulders, the way he walked, he was dying inside. His life became nothing. He’s now in jail. But I keep in mind that this was all because they wanted us to be the best in everything.

Eventually I left home after getting a fellowship for school. As an adult, I know that I should get over these feelings or worthlessness and disappointments in myself. I am in control now. But I find it very difficult to connect with other people, never really having had close friends or relationships, still isolated from everyone. I just don’t know how to move on with my life when that child inside of me is still hurting so bad. Am I screwed up forever?

Psychologist’s Reply

You are not screwed up forever. In fact, it sounds like you’ve made a great recovery from such a background. You are experiencing difficulty with uneven social development however. With your background of criticism, verbal abuse, shame, and poor parenting you now find yourself educated, talented, and on your own. Adults who meet you now would expect that you had a normal, healthy childhood. In truth, while your parents may have wanted the best for you — their parenting techniques were poor in most areas and defective in others. They didn’t provide you with a good adult model — probably because their adult lives didn’t work out very well. You now find yourself with uneven confidence — confidence as a student but not as an adult or social person. To fix this, I’d recommend counseling to improve your social confidence. I’d also read my article on Emotional Memory on this website as it describes how our past can intrusively enter and trouble our present. Research the Internet and practice your social skills and relating to others. You are moving into a level of social functioning that your parents haven’t provided training for — they’ve never been there. You’ll need to learn these skills on your own, but there’s lots of help.

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I’ve worked with hundreds of very successful people who had impoverished or abusive childhoods. They use their background as part of conversation at times, but in a humorous manner. A plastics engineer recently told me that his mother thinks he makes plastic grocery bags — and he doesn’t bother to correct her.

You need to establish your identity as an adult — not as a daughter from a difficult background. It’s time to determine how you are going to live. One thing you’ll find as an adult: your personal confidence and identity as an adult is the most important thing — not your childhood. In 36 years of clinical psychology no one has ever asked me about my childhood when I interviewed for a consulting position. Who you are now is important — not who you’ve been. You’ve got an exciting journey ahead of you. Identify areas where work is needed, find resources and help, fix them and improve skills, and keep going. And look at it as an adventure, not a chore. As you move further away from the ways of your childhood, you may be able to look back with some kindness and recognize that your parents were limited individuals who used poor parenting techniques yet wanted the best for you.

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