I am not my best when I am around my parents. To be clear, I am not the best ever, but it’s even worse when they’re around. I find myself acting like a child again, and I have walls a mile high erected around me. “They know which buttons to press because they installed them” is so true, and I hate that I react to it almost every time. I wanted to be like David Attenborough and be the detached social scientist, but something in my lizard brain overrides as soon as one of my parents talks to me. It’s almost atavistic, and I feel as if I’m out of control. My mouth is saying things before I can censor myself, and it’s as if my filters are on the fritz.
Side note: I know the meme, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” is mostly lighthearted, but I really hate the message it sends. That’s what abusers say or imply, and there isn’t anything funny in that. In addition, that’s a strong component of codependent relationships, which is another big no for me.
Anyway, I remember with my last therapist during a yearly visit from my parents, I was saying how I feel like a complete failure as a daughter because I was nothing my mother (and father, but I wasn’t really talking to him at that point) wanted me to be. I wasn’t married (nor wanted to be), didn’t have children (nor wanted them), did not have a steady 9-to-5 job (nor wanted one), was not a Christian (and so did not want to return), and a litany of other things. She pointed out that they were not the parents I wanted/needed them to be, either, and it was as if the clouds had parted, allowing the sun to shine into the fog. I had been so focused on how I was failing them, I never thought about what I needed from the relationship.
That’s part of growing up in a dysfunctional family–I was never allowed to consider my wants and needs as valid. I was made to feel ashamed for wanting anything other than what my parents wanted (which was mostly my father as dictated by my mother). There’s an anecdote that my father still loves to tell about how when I was a kid, he would tell me to put on a coat, and I would refuse. He insists I said it was because he didn’t ask nicely (which, yes, that’s true, but not the whole point) whereas I know it’s because I wasn’t fucking cold at the time. How do I know this? Because I am never cold. I also had Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) when I was younger, and one of the symptoms is not being cold.
He tells it now to show how recalcitrant I was as a child, I think, but it reads very differently to me. It reminds me how unreasonable he was and how autocratic. He’s a raging narcissist, and he sees everything through the lens of how himself. My biggest issue with what he said to me, at least in the memory of it, is that he wanted me to put on a coat because he is cold. He couldn’t fathom that if he was cold, someone else might not be, especially a child of his.
I made my peace many moons ago that my parents don’t know the real me, can’t know the real me, and wouldn’t want to know the real me. I keep things close to my vest because I don’t want to expose the real me to ridicule, disbelief, or scorn. It’s difficult because Taiwanese culture in families is more porous than American culture. Much of what I took to be normal in my family is not in America, and there are parts of it that I think would even be extreme in Taiwan. However, everyone is much more in everyone else’s business there (again, within the family), so it’s hard to tease out what is specific to my family and what is culture.
What I do know is that I felt like a complete failure growing up and that feeling returns around my parents. I am the polar opposite of them in almost every conceivable way, and it’s hard to say if it’s more because that’s just who I am or if it’s reactionary. I think it’s a mix of both, but I can’t say with certainty.