When I turned 18 years old and immediately moved out of my family home, I thought that I finally earned my long-awaited freedom and the chapter of a new beginning. I simply assumed that I had left the wounds behind me but they reappeared into my adulthood and emanated through the course of my relationships.
The mothering experience I had growing up as a second-generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian was complex, dark and painful so the trauma festered in the shadows out of sight and as a result, I developed dysfunctional coping mechanisms.
This pain is called the “mother’s wound.” It is rooted in the relationship we have with our mothers that we pass onto following generations in patriarchal cultures. In my milieu, Chinese-Vietnamese culture-specific norms and Western dominantly-white society contributed to the way I processed the pain.
Both my mother and I still carry our pain.
But I am different from my mother.
This pain is called the “mother’s wound.” It is rooted in the relationship we have with our mothers that we pass onto following generations in patriarchal cultures.
I still hear the echo of her cold voice inside my own during conversations and quarrels I have with my partner and it hits a tender part in my heart that I forget is still slowly healing.
When I lose my temper with my partner during fights and become overly rigid, it runs from a deep reserve of anger that I once never knew existed inside of me. If my inner-child feels threatened or hurt, the anger bursts out now and then.
My fearful and sensitive inner-child carries the mother wound.
Often, my mother lost her temper if I spoke back at any time. To discipline me, she would bring up the tales of her agony and affliction. She left her family behind to come to Australia for a better life. She was the main provider for our family and worked in a labour-intensive job seven days a week to ensure we had a better life. She was the single expatriate in a first-world country amongst her siblings so she was also the anchor for another household – her family in Vietnam.
There was a lot of burden and weight on her shoulders, these were her wounds.
She would angrily shout out that she did not deserve a disobedient child like me after going through more than a decade of suffering. To her, I dishonoured the family. As a parent, she was entitled to show resentment, frustration or other forms of negative feelings but I was forced to suffocate in silence. I could not question or argue with any of my parents. Their words were the law.
Raised in traditional culture, I felt a sense of affinity and loyalty towards my family. It is “filial piety” and it meant we were expected to place the interests of our family and relatives before our own. I agree that it holds important moral value but it continues to be easily lost in translation where superiority is misused in age-old cultural traditions and household hierarchy.
The forces of authoritarian filial piety reigned in my household and I was overwhelmed by the ample pressures that came along with it. I had to pliantly suppress my wishes to fulfil my parents’ wishes because of their seniority. I was averse to this because there were conservative values and sexist attitudes enmeshed in it. My parents held absolute authority over us but it was a double bind for me. It was made clear that I wasn’t equal to my brothers.
As a third culture child, the culture I was a part of was unlike my parents’ – the intergenerational acculturation gap caused strife within our family. I struggled in two divergent worlds, each with onerous systems. One was oppressive and sexist backed by parental precedence. The other, although western and egalitarian, wasn’t always a friendly welcoming place for Asians. I had no sense of belonging.
One was oppressive and sexist backed by parental precedence. The other, although western and egalitarian, wasn’t always a friendly welcoming place for Asians.
I gathered up all my courage to address deep issues with my mother on innumerable occasions.
I wanted to confide in her about my greatest sorrows, insecurities and grief but she was always the victim and she would tell me I didn’t know what real-world problems were because I was a child. Her seniority had some kind of power to decide whose feelings were valid. It was messy, ugly and tore me apart inside.
In a perfect world, people would be rational and composed to have constructive discussions about their issues over a cup of tea. The reality is, most people are too emotionally attached to keep their ears open to the harsh truths without reacting in some way. Eventually, I decided I no longer wanted to tolerate or be on speaking terms with my mother.
Piecing together the fragments of her difficult family history, I know that my engendering justified rage is purely the release of countless generations of suffocated screams from my female ancestors.
But it stands equal to my sincere appreciation and reverence towards my mother for doing the best she could with the beliefs she inherited and the circumstances she was given.
I hold a special place in my heart for all the women in my family who have survived and conquered in their own ways in spite of all this. I am certain of one thing and that is – we all have strength, prowess and tenacity.
The wariness of my pain grows every day. It happens when I’m envious of the close bonds my friends have with their mothers. I only know of my strained relationship with my mother and emotionally abandoned inner-child.
It sounds counteractive that I am bringing my pain above the surface but it’s releasing my hidden heartache and trauma I have tucked away for so long.
It sounds counteractive that I am bringing my pain above the surface but it’s releasing my hidden heartache and trauma I have tucked away for so long. I use these feelings as ammunition to create better relationships around me. The catharsis is my pathway to healing and reclaiming power again.
I honour the negative emotions and use its force to piece myself together as a consciously aware adult and to nurse the undernourished child in me. I make it a goal to respond better whenever I am emotionally triggered rather than react from that place of pain. I am quietly repairing parts of myself even if it upsets the balance of others.
This is how I am breaking out of the mother wound cycle, I am finally truly free.
Katrina Trinh is a freelance writer.