More threads by Yisi


Hi, my name is Yisi and I'm of Chinese descent. I'm stating my ethnicity openly because it plays a role in the relationship I have with my parents, at least according to them. As with all "problematic children", something probably went wrong during my childhood although if I try to pinpoint the exact reason I'm left with flimsy facts all with which can be reasonably explained.

My parents beat me but that's kind of normal for Chinese parents and to be fair they stopped pretty soon (8 years or so), even sooner with my little sister and my little brother. My parents made me feel guilty about my expense because I ate and needed clothes and I went to school. Again, they were struggling financially, even more than now, and my grandma did basically the same thing with my mom. Not really open to having their ideas questioned, but that's something every family experience to some extent. You just learn to keep your ideas for yourself. They had high standard and liked making comparisons with other kids, as with all Asian parents. The only bad thing was that I met those expectation. The usual ones that is. I like writing so I won some writing contests. I like learning languages so I learnt English, Spanish, French, I learnt Chinese writing (my parents speak Chinese and I was able of speaking Chinese but the language I was most fluent in was Italian) and I'm currently working on my German. I did very good at school, all throughout my academic career and as of now, I'm a second-year biomedical engineering student. I'd say that I'm still a good student, not the excellent one anymore but I started working part-time last year before the pandemic.

That's what I mean with "usual ones". But yes it's true that I can't cook and I have next to zero eye for fashion and when I was 18 I was still without a job, studying for university entrance exam but jobless nonetheless. I moved back home with the lockdown. I'm still at home. Again without a job...

But that's not the problem and my parents are making remarks on the fact anymore. I'm seeing a psychologist and it's kind of helping. I'm trying to lower my own expectations, accepting some not-so-perfect grades, not obsessing over getting a job and all. My parents have been working on themselves too even when it's very difficult for them which is why I appreciate their effort all the more. They'd like a more normal relationship with me where I can talk freely, even though it has not ended very well when my opinion differed from theirs. I talk more, but I'm always very careful with the choice of subject, lexicon, intonation. I still mess up sometimes when say something that triggers them.

They say that now they're feeling nervous because I always recoil from them. I agree on that fact, especially since it's not only on a communicational level but a physical one too. I tried to stay in the same room as them. I'm still trying but I can't study, or read, or write, or exercise as long as I'm conscious of their presence. I end up waiting for them to leave or I leave myself if they're taking too long. I jump when my mom touches me. Whenever they call me my facial features droop down even when I was laughing and joking the moment before. I can recognize those too. But my parents told me it's making them feel as if their effort amounted to nothing. Because they really tried, not making a big deal of my defects. I can't understand that either, I just know that I feel terribly uncomfortable when I'm around my parents. I told them that it was probably my childhood and they told that I was bringing up the past as excuse and I should look just at the effort they put in during the last year. They're right. Somewhat right at least. They're excerting themselves and are not really seeing results. It's irrational, I know, it's more like a phobia than a human interaction but I just can't bring myself to share the same space as them. What should I do?


David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Things have obviously developed into a mutually tense, hypersensitive, and hypervigilant relationship between you and your parents. Whatever the reasons for that, the most important question is what do you do about it now? It seems that you and your parents are all making efforts but you trigger one another and then shut down and retreat. Have I described that more or less accurately?

You can only surmise what it feels like for your parents but for now focus on you. When you get triggered by them and then, recoil, withdraw, shut down, what is it you fear may happen if you don't? What if instead of doing that you were to tell them directly that whatever they did to trigger you makes you feel... whatever it is that you feel?

Is it fear? Is it anger that you don't want to express? Is it hopelessness? Can you give these feelings a name?

Somebody has to make the first move to changing this pattern of interacting. Do you think that could be you?

Years ago, I had developed a similarly tense relationship with one of my sons (he was probably about 15 at the time). It got to the point where any time we spoke was a rushed thing, where I tried to say whatever I needed to say as quickly as possible before "something happened", usually my son getting frustrated and angry with me. But I wasn't acting naturally around him ever. It must have been obvious to him that I was uncomfortable having conversations or discussions with him (and no doubt he noticed that it was not that way with my other two sons). That fact alone undoubtedly made him feel more uncomfortable and distanced from me. It was a "vicious circle" that we couldn't seem to find our way out of or through.

So I went to see a therapist, on my own, for some advice on how to change this pattern, and he suggested something that struck me as very wise. He asked my if I cpould stop worrying so much about how my son might react and instead talk to him and interact with him the way I wished the relationship could be. He made the point that I should not wait for him to react or worry about how he might react but rather that I should just try to interact in a way that felt more natural and easy and mutually respectful. I said I was afraid he would withdraw or get angry and my therapist said okay but what if that did happen? Isn't that what was already happening? I described a difficult conversation I had recently tried to have with my son in which he started to cry and ran out of the house and didn't return for quite a few hours, that I was afraid if that happening again. My therapist said but he did come back, didn't he?

The point he was making was that the way things were currently they probably weren't likely to get much worse. The advice was to model the type of relationship and the types of conversations and interactions I wanted to be able to have with my son even if he didn't respond in kind, even if I was the only one talking.

I won't pretend that this changed everything overnight. I didn't expect it would. But it did start the process of small changes building toward bigger changes. The more I was able to relax in these interactions, the more he was able to relax.

Do you think you could try something like that with your parents?

There's one other point I wanted to raise. You seem to have a sense that you are disappointing your parents in various ways. The question I would ask is what is it you would like to be doing for you rather than for them? Where would you like your life to be heading in erms of career, hobbies, etc., as well as in terms of personal development? Have you altered your goals to try to make them more consistent with what your parents want for you rather than what you want for you? If some I would suggest that that is doomed to fail. What most parents want for their children is for them to be happy and safe and secure. Don you believe that is the case with your parents?


First of all thank you for your quick response.
Truth be told I just had a nasty discussion last night. I'd like to think that these discussions are the necessary building blocks to create a healthier relationship and yet, I talk less and less in the wake of each one. But it does give me a fresh memory that can serve as an example.
Now I said discussion but what actually happened was that my mom poured her frustration on me.
I spoke in a something disrespectful manner at dinner. I was speaking Italian with my brother. My parents are not proficient enough in the language to follow a normal conversation, let alone a dynamic one. The gist was "the joke you just made is an old one, be at least creative when you're insulting people". We tease each other a lot. My parents did get one word: old. My mom said that we couldn't blame her for being old, and her memory was only going to get worse. I retorted that I didn't say anything of the sort and that she shouldn't always looking for an insult when she could understand just one word(it's not the first time that this happens, last time the word was "gossip"). That part was disrespectful, even I can recognize that. I don't know what gotten into me. It's rare but it's happening more often than what I thought I was capable of. It's scary because for once I was the one who raised her voice. My mom said that I was leaving her with no choice since I always speak Italian with my brother, leaving her in the dark. We, me and my brother, said that they are doing the same when they speak Chinese dialect, as they are used to do when they talk with each other. They know that my siblings can't understand a word whereas I kind of picked it up but I never learnt how to speak it. My dad said that they were old and that was just a habit of theirs while what I was doing was purposefully cutting them out of the conversation, that while my brother spoke a lacklustre Chinese, I could just switch over to another language at will and the only reason I was not doing that was because I didn't want to. He's right. The last time things got heated over my Chinese pronunciation so I had made a point of limiting my conversation at dinner and speaking Italian with my siblings unless the subject matter affected my parents directly. Things had gotten pretty tense. I finished eating, took my laptop and went outside. I was writing a story when my father approached me. It was nice actually, once my father recomposed himself he was able to articulate his concerns better. I apologized, he said that the problem was that I was always on the defensive and I was so clearly projecting uneasiness whenever I was with them and that made my mother, a person who just likes badmouthing people, hold her tongue in check, which is taxing for her. I told him, again, that I just can't help it, their presence is just disquieting for them. We went back home. I had lessons to review. I was about to start when it occurred to me that my brother and my sister made similar remarks about my parents so many times and they could get away with it. I actually asked my parents the reason in the past and the response was that they were learning to be more lenient towards my siblings. And it was just easier because they were just words uttered by children. I'm happy for my siblings because they will say disrespectful things and they will always say them even when they grow up and my parents will take them for granted. As it should be. It felt unfair not because I was not given the possibility when I was a child but I was still being denied as a young adult. I can't be disrespectful because they are not used to me being disrespectful but they've grown used to my siblings' disrespect. I have to watch my words and somehow the fact that I'm cautious is still a fault I have to correct. I tipped my water bottle over and I just decided to clean the whole floor because I needed to let some steam off and I was not going to conclude anything with my notes anyway. I started moving furniture around to clean the corners. Bad move because I woke up my parents . This is when my real "discussion" with my mother began. What was I trying to accomplish by going out of my mind? Was I just trying to get their attention? I said that I was just cleaning the floor. She said that it was midnight, no normal, sane person would do something like that. What was wrong with me? She had tried so hard, and kept so many things back because I was uneasy but it was not helping and the stress was killing her. She now demanded answers once for all. She had already made the same demand in the past I whenever I answered it always stoked her wrath. I saw it. My father saw it. Even tried to reason with her but gave up. I said "Can we do this another time?". Apparently no. She was not going to sleep anyway. Because of me. But I did manage to convince to let me put my laptop away, just in case, as it was the most valuable object in the room. So I listened to all her sorrows interspersed with "Is it not true?" to which I promptly nodded. She started to cry. Nothing new, but I managed not cry myself as that would've precipitate the situation. When I cry it's a "Don't you dare! I'm the one who's suffering because of you". Yesterday it kind of backfired because I was "just sitting there as if the thing did not affect me in the least". Well, that was what I was going for. My father saw where that was going and swiftly went back to sleeping. I was surprised because despite the fact that I did not cry and remembered breathing techniques and took whatever word she uttered was tantamount to the growl of an injured beast some of the things she said still got me, things I thought I had put behind me, erroneous association of ideas I had already grew out of. Apparently not.
Some examples:
- You can't even fathom how much I had went through while raising you ---> I spent my mother's money while growing up.
- You still live in my house, eat my food ---> I'm without a job. Again. I'm not helping with the rent.
- Cleaning the kitchen floor? You are not an industrious person. You clean the floor once a week and only if I remind you ---> I should clean the floor more often.
- I had bought bananas for you today. The ones you liked. And I had made your favourite dish but you didn't even have a taste because you run away ---> See how ungrateful you are?
- I mean I don't mind being insulted. I really don't. But see how the rest of the world will react. Let's see if you have friends then ---> People don't like me.
- I'm doing all of this just to see you happy. Instead you're always so serious. People like people who smile to them.
- Let me see you scholarship, just let me see it ---> I did not get a scholarship last year.

The last one was new.
It's the only one I confronted my father over afterwards. I asked him"please just tell me that you're not expecting a scholarship from me". My tuition fees are quite low so I can actually pay them with the money I saved up when I had a job. My "discussion" with my mother ended with me reassuring her that something like that would never happen again at the dinner table. Her immediate response was "But I didn't force you!!" so I reassured that she didn't force me. I was growing tired of nodding though she was definitely not. I pretended to fall asleep so she ended the thing. I waited for her to retire to her bedroom, took my face mask and went out for a stroll. That's when I cried.

Things I decided to do once I was done with crying.
- The floor should be cleaned at least twice a week.
- Only speak Chinese at dinner. Only when strictly necessary. Don't react to whatever your parents say.
- I sent a message to a close friend asking her to remind me that "My parents don't expect a scholarship from me" and "My parents don't expect me to find a job during a lockdown" if I ever despaired and doubted. She's a good friend she texted back that she would have done it anyway.

I don't really know what I can do about startling and wincing. "What did I do wrong this time?" Is a question I find myself asking often even if my parents have not lashed out at me in the last year and they are still struggling to extend that period. It's almost instinctual. Eye contact is also avoided when it's possible. I start looking at them in the eyes and find my gaze slowly drifting toward whatever piece of furniture it's behind them and then snap right back at the eyes.

As for hobbies and future prospects....I feel and I hope I made my peace with them. There was a period where I was obsessed with job hunting and pretty much gave up on my hobbies. Hearing my parents say that I wasn't doing anything because I didn't have a job might have had something to do with it. But it's not like they ever wanted to see me dejected because I didn't have a job and I felt that each instant not spent on having an interview was wasted. This summer I won't for a job. I will get done with my exam as soon as possible. I want to spend a month ( possibly two depending on my exams) in Germany as an au pair girl. Biomedical engineering is pretty strong in Germany and I just want to actually put the language I learnt into practice. I'd also like to enjoy an actual holiday, something longer than one day at the beach. I also learnt to play a new instrument. Once this lockdown is officially ended I will go down the streets playing it. Maybe it will help with the way I cope with a crowd of people and even if it doesn't I just really like the idea.

That was very long. Thank you. Just writing it down helped me.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Sometimes it's helpful in any type of relationship to look past the surface behavior for ways that might reveal what is going on under the surface, both for you and for the other person.

Gary Chapman wrote a book a while back called The Five Love Languages, which by now has been expanded to a series of 11 books covering different types of relationships. The original is a short read and at the time was written primarily for couples therapy but really it applies to any type of relationship including family and friends. That first book contains a quiz which people often find helpful.

Much of the content (including the quiz) has been re-posted and discussed on Dr. Chapman's website:

Have a look at the website first. If you find that it helps you with some insights, you might even be able to convince your parents to take the quiz with you. :)
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