I am 25 years old and I have been independent from my parents for four years.
I left home right after graduating college – I packed away my childhood memorabilia, cleared out my room, and left my mom by herself in the place that I no longer call home.
Coming from a Korean community, one would say that I’ve committed grave treason and violated the fundamental constructs of filial piety programmed in our cores – especially as an only child with the sole responsibility to honor, respect, and take care of my parents.
My parents divorced and my father left. I abandoned my mom, who needed me the most, during the darkest time in our lives.
I have no honor, but shame and guilt.
But if given the chance to undo my decision, I would vehemently refuse the offer.
Our mother-daughter relationship, fractured by innumerable offenses over the years, intensified by our deteriorating mental stability, and my mother hearing “I hate you” a million times and I being disowned a million times – enough was enough.
We were thoroughly exhausted and even glancing at each other triggered uproar. I dreaded coming home. I was struggling with the worst depression I’ve had and my mother’s verbal abuse and dismissal of my mental illness further catalyzed my destruction.
So I left home. I cut off contact from my parents.
Here I am now and already four years have passed since I last slept in my old bed.
In the four years I’ve been independent from my mother and my father, I met wonderful and understanding people, I found myself in a strong community of supportive folks, and I found a therapist and psychiatrist.
This is the strongest I have ever been and the departure from my parents allowed this progression.
My decision to leave was the best I’ve ever made.
The fact is, my parents were toxic.
It wasn’t until I saw the recent trending articles on toxic parenting that I arrived at this conclusion. For all these years, I thought that my parents were “normal” and I was ashamed about not being able to handle them.
According to Susan Forward, Ph.D., the signs of toxic parenting are:
1. They called you insulting and demeaning names. Called you worthless.
2. They used physical pain to discipline you.
3. They got drunk or used drugs.
4. They were severely depressed or unavailable because of emotional difficulties or mental or physical illness.
5. They did things to you that have to be a secret, such as sexual assault.
6. You were/are frightened of your parents most of the time
7. You were afraid to express anger at your parents
My parents combined, meet 6 out of 7 of the criteria above. My mother and father were emotionally and physically abusive.
My father was intense in many ways; while he was loving, he was equally threatening and this dual reality he projected unto our little nuclear family set the narrative for the rest of my life.
When I was a kid, the boogeyman was in fact, very real. The boogeyman had a name, he wore my father’s clothes, and he spoke in my father’s voice.
I used to fear the weekends, particularly the middle of the night, when I bolted awake at the click of the locks, listened to the jiggling doorknob, and held my breath as I listened to my father drunkenly stumble around the apartment.
He wasn’t always violent or verbally abusive. Sometimes he just wordlessly walked in and passed out on the couch.
Other times he was the embodiment of real danger, more towards my mother than I, which at the time felt worse because I was helpless to stop it. Lying awake, my heart a beating drum in my ears, my hearing more acute than a hunted prey’s – their bedroom was on the other side of the U-shaped apartment and I could never predict if an argument about his drunkenness would trigger violence. So I listened, terrified, and frozen.
To this day, the very same sensation thunders through my being even during trivial situations. Thank
god scientists for anxiety meds.
My mother, after enduring years of torment from my father, changed as well. She became bitter and distrusting and took out her frustrations on me. She wasn’t physically abusive, but got into a pattern of reminding me that I’m unlovable, that I’m worthless, that I’m a terrible person, and that I am a burden.
By now you get a clear picture of the thought processes I have on a regular basis as a result.
According to Dr. Forward, the following are symptoms of a chaotic childhood and toxic parenting:
1. You find yourself in destructive/abusive relationships one after another.
2. You believe that when you get to close to someone, they will hurt/abandon you.
3. You expect the worst from people and life.
4. You have a hard time knowing who you are, what you feel, and what you want.
5. You are afraid that if people knew the real you, they wouldn’t like you.
6. You feel anxious or like a fraud when you are successful.
7. You get angry or sad for no apparent reason.
8. You are a perfectionist.
9. You have a hard time relaxing or having a good time.
10. You find yourself “behaving like your parents” despite your best intentions.
I meet 9 out of 10 of the criteria above.
I’m dedicating the rest of my life to undo each one and to become a healthy and wholesome being. Moving away from my parents was what made that realization possible and initiated my journey to recovery.
My departure helped mend my relationship with them as well. I call them once a month and see them a couple of times a year. While they have not acknowledged what they have done in the past, I appreciate their efforts to improve what we have now.
My dad has become a mellow, understanding, and patient person. The dad I needed for so long. While my relationship with my mom is still rocky, I can call her and talk to her about anything. The mom she used to be.
Back then, they didn’t have the resources to address their inner turmoil that manifested outward and damaged our little nuclear family, but they do now.
And so do I.
In separation, we are closer.
With my departure, we were brought closer together.