Thursday, January 14, 2010

Toxic Parents

In this DNA article, Geetanjali Jhala covers a very important but rarely discussed facet of desi social life - that of adult children trying to cope with parents with whom they simply don't get along. Indeed, sometimes the coexistence is so stressful that it feels like a punishment  that has no end in sight. The protagonist in Jhala's article is a divorced woman in Mumbai who is unable to make a new relationship work out despite having every desire to do so. The real reason turns out to her difficult relationship with her father with whom she has moved in after her divorce.

Many people who seek help for dysfunctional behaviour find it hard to acknowledge that their parents may be the cause, and that the only remedy may be to move out or even cut themselves off completely."It's in the course of therapy that they realise the depth of their resentment towards their parents," says psychologist Varkha Chulani. "This is buried beneath layers of guilt, because we are culturally conditioned to believe that our parents are right; the moment a child questions his parents, he is looked upon as disrespectful, and is told to 'shut up'."

While dysfunctional parent-child relationships are universal, they hurt desis so much more because our of our cultural conditioning. We are expected to accept (indeed venerate) our parents just the way they are, look the other way even when they are clearly in the wrong and are actually hurting us through their misguided actions.To do otherwise would saddle us with more guilt than we have capacity to bear.

As long as the children are single, this arrangement works out even if very badly for the individual - at least no one else is getting hurt in the process. Once, there is a spouse and some kids in the mix, the toxicity affects the whole new family and often the situation spins completely out of control.

Even where the new family lives independently, the parents are never too far away (emotionally at least even if they are at some physical distance) and in as such, the parent-child relationship issues continues to thrive. While everyone struggles and hurts in this situation, rarely if ever is root cause discussed let alone remedied.

Thanks to the social stigma associated with it, desis are also not the most open-minded about mental health issues - they would much rather sweep such things under the carpet and pretend all is well instead of tackling the problem head on. It is good to see an article like this is a mainstream publication - hopefully many more will follow and heighten the much needed awareness around the issue.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You got it right " cultural conditioning ". The older generation also had similar feelings but could never articulate.

In a televised debate a gentleman ( in fact a Sanyasi) said :-

" Living as a single independent woman does not go against our hindu dharma. But in India it is not safe.Fraught with lots of problems unlike a man. "

If you smile , brace yourself for a 'Barkis is willing' response.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/health/20mind.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=toxic%20parents&st=cse

Mumbai Paused said...

The generation gap in a rapidly changing country like India is probably making the problem even more acute.