I was born under the one-child policy in China, in the early 90s. My mom became the executive director of a kindergarten before having me at 32. Then she gave up opportunities to advance her career to spend more time with me.
I grew up in the kindergarten she worked for, and I was known as “Ms.Chen’s daughter”. When she went to PTA meeting at my school, she was known as “Yiqing’s mom.”
I was a gifted child — published some writing at a very young age, got a few awards in writing and piano. She couldn’t be more proud of me. She devoted her time and energy to me, micro-managing everything I was doing or going to do.
I left home almost 12 years ago. She has been calling me every day — sending voice messages to see if I got up in the morning, calling to chat at night. Every night. At the same time.
If I didn’t get back to her within 30 minutes or an hour, she would just keep calling me until I picked up my phone.
I was exhausted. But I felt guilty about ignoring or missing her calls. I couldn’t change her. So I made myself more flexible and more patient.
I didn’t know it was codependency. I talked to two therapists — one said she was controlling, the other one said she loved me very very much.
Last month I made a short film. The story’s climaxes where one character says to the other: “No wonder you hate Mom. You’re just becoming her.”
When that line came onto the screen of my Final Draft, I was astonished. Wasn’t I becoming my mom?
I stayed up late and did my research. I felt the rock in my heart was lifted and thrown out. I felt so light, so relieved. I waited 29 years.
Finally, the answer came to me.
Research signs of codependent parents
I found this article, which lists 8 signs of codependent parents.
You’re holding onto control, which shows up as over-involvement, inappropriate care-taking, and incorrect shouldering of responsibility.
You sacrifice other relationships.
You manipulate your child’s emotions, with passive-aggressive behavior, projection, and generating guilt.
You engage in dogmatic behavior.
You claim victimhood.
You have a hard time enforcing boundaries.
Your self-esteem is tied to your child.
Your first reaction is immediate denial.
It’s aimed for parents to check for themselves, but since my mom doesn’t know English, I translated and checked it for her.
She met the first 7 out of 8. As of #8? She didn’t deny — she admitted it.
I checked another source. She met 5 out of 6. My research confirmed my suspicion.
Face and accept the truth
Now that it’s diagnosed, let’s face the truth and how codependency affected me.
I was controlling — oftentimes out of fear — I just wanted everything to go my way.
I stayed in a victim mentality and in a toxic relationship in my early 20s.
I was people-pleasing. I found it very hard to say no.
I had low self-esteem and needed external validation.
Those were hard pills to swallow, but once I swallowed them, I knew the worst part was over.
What comes next will only be better — even if I have to take baby steps, one at a time.
The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
– Ida B. Wells-Barnett
“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole — like the world, or the person you loved.”
― Stewart O’Nan, The Odds: A Love Story
Change starts when you can look at the truth in the eye.
Practice self-love and affirmation
Codependency is emotional abuse, but you can choose not to become the victim.
Forgiving is the first step towards self-love.
I forgive my mom — she had good intentions but the wrong approach.
I forgive myself — it took me this long to figure it out, but now I’m no longer in the darkness.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. — Lewis B. Smedes
Communicate with your loved one.
I’m very thankful that my mom realized her mistakes and gained more clarity and awareness, after an honest, heart-to-heart conversation.
It was not an easy conversation, but that gave me one more reason to do it. I knew if I could have this conversation, nothing would get in the way.
And, through this conversation, I came to realize that my mom always wanted the best for me — although, her actions were based on what she assumed would be best for me. And those assumptions were wrong.
“The point is this: difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.”
― Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Using self-affirmation to rebuild self-esteem.
Self-affirmation has been shown to have powerful effects — research suggests that it can minimize the anxiety, stress, and defensiveness associated with threats to our sense of self while keeping us open to the idea that there is room for improvement.
Self-affirmation encourages you to think positively about yourself and your life. And what we think are “wounds” are often just deeply entrenched thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, healing starts with changing your thoughts.
Make peace with your past by acknowledging how it has shaped your present.
I start my affirmation with: “My past made me strong. My past made me who I am.” Reconciling with my past always comes first.
Then I’ll add affirmations on other aspects of my life.
This is how my creative writing has helped me stop becoming my mom and heal codependency in our relationship. And I could look at my past with gratitude, knowing that I am exactly where I need to be.