Wellbeing Wednesdays: Tough love, by Melissa Phu

In this fortnight of The Auricle’s Wellbeing Wednesdays series, Melissa Phu describes her upbringing, and her journey of discovery in understanding her own family’s past. We hope you enjoy reading.

Growing up as the eldest daughter of an Asian family, some would say I had it rough. My parents had always told me to do well in school and pushed me to achieve. As a kid, much of my self worth was measured based on my mum’s approval. In highschool, she would never allow any sleepovers. In university, she would call me a ‘hooker’ when I went clubbing with my friends. I used to get so angry and would rant in my diary or to my friends. I would become numb to her words, as a means to protect myself. As a teen, her rules only made me crave the unknown even more, and as a result, I rebelled against her.

Only now that I’m older, do I realise why she did all those things. She set those rules as a means to protect me (although in some ways unhealthily). Later on, I realised that my mother had grown up in a dysfunctional family. She grew up in an environment with domestic abuse, of which she had to call the police on her father many times. She was thankful that the police had actually arrived, as nothing like this would have occurred back in her hometown in Vietnam. I could understand why she was so cynical about men and the world as a whole. Understanding where she came from could help me empathise with why she was the way she was. It helped me acknowledge and critically think about the damaging values she instilled in my siblings and I, the ones that made me feel shame rather than pride. It’s also helped me to acknowledge the cultural differences between how my family was, compared to my peers who grew up in more openly loving, freeing and more accepting environments that aligned with progressive Western values, such as accepting LGBTIQ+ identities and the freedom to pursue any career.

In hindsight, all the arguments, and as some may call it, ‘intergenerational trauma’ projected onto me, has made me who I am today; determined, receptive and very in tune with my emotions. Understanding my tumultuous relationship with my mum has explained why I used to seek chaos in relationships or would push away anyone who would actually show me vulnerable affection. Understanding her past and dissecting what healthy love is meant to look like, has allowed me to forgive and educate her in ways that are kind and productive. In a sense, the relationship has provided me with many life lessons, ones in which have helped me change very difficult habits or coping mechanisms to allow for a more peaceful life. I’ve also acknowledged the more Asian forms of love that she has given me, like cooking yummy meals, cutting up fruit for me while I study or driving me to uni. Although to this day, our relationship is a little rocky, it is better than what it was, and that is okay with me. Baby steps.

To those of you who may also have strained relationships with parental figures, hang in there. They may reject your identity, beliefs or values, but may still show ways to care for you. Take those moments to forgive. Keep on having those conversations. It’s okay to set boundaries and distance yourself. It’s okay to cry.

If this message resonates with you and you need someone to talk to, my dms are always open.