Surviving Indian Parents: 18 Ways to Stand Up to Insults, Criticism, and Emotional Abuse

This post is dedicated to all the Indian kids out there who are being raised by over-bearing and abusive parents. (I write this for you with love and understanding, compassion and hope for healing)

Yes, those of you who suffering in the care and control of their parents. (And even adults who survived a detrimental childhood)

No, you’re not being beaten (some of you are) or starved (some of you are) or locked up in solitary confinement (some of you are), but you are being emotionally beaten down every single day of your life.

You’re called names (including animals like “donkey” or “cow” and other animals found in Southeast Asia) and often the worst insults imaginable.

You’re told that you shouldn’t have been born or that it would be better if you were dead.

You’re told that you are the result of bad karma from a past life.

You’re told that it was your parents’ ill fate to have given birth to you. You are their life’s biggest mistake. You’re unworthy, incompetent, useless and dumb. There’s something wrong with your mind, weight, height, or even skin color!!

You’re not good, not good enough and something is inherently wrong with you as a person.

Yelled at, screamed at, compared to others, verbally assaulted, bullied, threatened to be sent back to India, threatened to be sent to live with relatives.

Told you’re not loved, not wanted, not worthy and that you do not make your parents proud.

You’re compared to your friends, compared to your family members and compared to random Indian kids who win spelling bees, receive Harvard acceptance letters or get nominated to a federal judgeship.

If you think I’m reading your mind and your life, I’m not. I had a very similar experience growing up in this kind of environment.

Although different today, the impact of my childhood has been scarring.

And it’s not just Indian people! Many Asian cultures have seen this type of abusive parenting. You may be in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Cambodia or Laos. You could be in Saudi, Egypt, Iran, Iraq or Turkey. Or hey, you might even live in the States or Britain, but still have experienced this kind of parenting style.

Whatever it is, I’m here to offer some thoughts to help you heal, survive and live with your parents for the few more years you have left under their care. Or even help you cope with them in your adult years.

I’m not only going to explain why our parents are so unconscious, but what we can do about it. How do we cope? Or tolerate the abuse? How do we move forward?

Why are Indian parents so nutty?  

Not all Indian parents are nutty.

I do know plenty of emotionally healthy, loving and supportive Indian parents, so let me not throw all of them under the bus.

One way to understand why some parents are so Mao Zedong-like in their child-rearing behaviors  is to understand what made them this way.

Only once you know some of the reasons for your parents’ insanity can you begin the process of understanding, coping with, healing from and surviving their dominion.

A place of scarcity. Your parents came from difficult conditions filled with struggle and often did not have enough growing up. They want more now because of their struggle, poverty or difficult circumstances growing up.

Insanity of their own parents. More than likely they are products of their own parents, who were oppressive, coercive, and ruled with an iron fist. They herded their children like cows and instilled fear in them like a deadly cobra.

Insecurity and fear. They are unsure of themselves, so they worry about you. They are afraid of the world and thus, worry about you. They hate conflict, change and instability. They do everything they can to limit the number of changes they have to face. They don’t like anyone rocking the boat, and you seem to have a penchant for doing just that.

Competition mindset. Because of this culture of scarcity, they are in a constant state of competition. They compete with others in their community, others who speak the same language, and even with their children. You’re in a competition with all the other Indian kids they know – they’re regularly comparing and measuring you up against someone else.

Protecting the family name. Indian parents care a bit too much about something. It’s a disease, really, a disease with no cure. They care how they are seen by the people they know: their reputation. They are sure as hell not going to let you ruin that.

Protecting traditions, and you’d better get married to a boy from the community! You’re not going to screw up hundreds of years of tradition. Your great-great-grandfather was a maharaja of the Mughal empire, a priest for the wealthiest merchants or advocates in the highest British courts. Each generation married spouses within their own caste, and you have no right to mess with these traditions.

Your parents are the gatekeepers and prison guards of tradition – you will be protected and safeguarded until, and only until, you’re wedded off to a suitable boy with great character (or more likely, a nerdy doctor with generations of family wealth living in America).

Bollywood movies. The insanity of cinema makes your parents act irrationally, illogically and overly-sentimental. Our parents have gotten so hooked on fictional movies and Bollywood masala that they play out the feelings and sentiments of those movies in real life.

(You never know – it could be the reverse. The silver screen might just be copying the real-life emotional dramas of a typical Indian family).

“We own you” mindset. Indian parents don’t think of themselves as your caretaker. They were brought up to believe that they own you. Your success is their success. Your achievement is their achievement. Your failure is theirs. Your income is theirs. So is your house.

Guilt. Indian parents operate on large sums of guilt, a gift from their own parents. They constantly feel like they’re not enough, not doing enough and haven’t given enough to their children. They feel guilty towards their extended families, guilty towards their parents, guilty with themselves.

“We want you to do better than us.” Many parents want their children to do better than they did. They made a decent life for themselves in a new country (or even in the old country) with struggle and hard work while supporting you and your siblings. The minimum they want is your success. Your success would have made all the struggles worth it, in their minds.

Our old age depends on your success. They are constantly living their lives close to death. They’re wondering who’s going to be there for them when they are old and sick. It consumes their minds – they need you to be stable and successful so they can live with you and inconvenience you to take them to medical appointments.

Pride. Pride is mixed in with ego. Like I said, your success is their success. You are literally their pride, joy and life. Your parents love to brag and show you off – nothing more than bragging and showing off a product they created. Your success makes them feel on top of the world. Your failures make them feel like failures. You are very VERY personal to them.

They way they see it, you are them!

How to deal with abusive tiger parents?

So, now that you know some of the reasons they are who they are, what can be done about it?

Tiger parents, who happen to be strict disciplinarians and emotionally abusive, are difficult to stop.

All the power is with them. If you’re under 18, they are providing your food and shelter. They practice verbal abuse, emotional abuse and emotional blackmail.

For everything you say or do, they have a cruel and hostile response.

They are determined to control your life and ensure you conform to their every expectation.

Here are 18 tips to help you deal with your abusive parents.

Not all this advice will apply to every situation, but you’ll have to use the tips that you believe can best help you cope.

1. Expressing yourself. Although this is a very difficult thing to do, you can express how you feel to your parents.

Take out your own anger and frustration when you talk to them. Try to have an objective discussion in a conversational tone where you express to them how their actions are hurting you.

Try to write down how you’re feeling and give it to them in a letter.

Get another adult, neighbor or elder family member involved and express to them how you’re being treated at home. Do this at your own risk, since outing your parents publicly and giving light to their abuse will make them go berserk. Prepare for irrational and furious responses most of the time.

Caveat – no need to express yourself regarding topics that infuriate or make them angry. Don’t talk to your parents to provoke a fight with them – some topics are better left untouched.

Avoid harsh words, accusations and abuse by choosing to stay quiet on unimportant and trivial matters. Avoid arguments you know you can’t win or conversations that will end in a blow up.

2. Know you’re not alone. Many others, including myself, have survived our parents’ child-rearing. When you make it out of childhood and young adulthood alive, you can reflect more clearly on the experience of having lived with your parents.

You’ll realize that they didn’t know any better and didn’t understand what they were doing.

You are not the first or last person to experience these kinds of difficulties at home.

Many people have experienced this type of abuse, figured out a way to make peace with it and used this difficult part of their lives to accomplish good things. The pain can be used for good later in your life. It can give you coping skills and strength for other difficult situations.

It’s a lesson in adversity.

You are walking a path that many have walked before you – you’re not alone.  We’ve survived it, and you can too.

3. Find someone who understands. There’s nothing wrong with you.

You’re not inadequate, dumb or incompetent.

You’re the child of abusive parents, that’s it. Parents who don’t know any better.

To help remind you that you’re not defective or deficient in any way, share your experiences with someone who understands. A good friend to talk things over, a sibling who can empathize, or a family member you trust are all good people to confide in.

If you have the means, and especially if you’re an adult, consider counseling. In the U.S., this is not very taboo, but it does seem to be in other parts of the world.

Get hold of a counselor to support you or a professional to help you be emotionally resilient, find healthy ways to deal with your parent’s behavior, and try to reduce the detrimental impact of your parents on your emotional and mental life.

4. Boost your personal development, character and behavior.

While you can’t change your parents, their attitude or behavior, you have a priceless opportunity to work on yourself.

I know I know – they are the problem and are the source of the greatest pain in your life.

But Viktor Frankl reminds us that, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

In the depths of your frustration and helplessness, all you can do is try to find ways to make self improvements and become a better person yourself.

While your parents are angry and abusive, you can learn how to release the anger in your life and treat others better.

While they view you with scorn, you can to find compassion within yourself.

While they are disrespectful and crude, you can be loving and forgiving.

You can intentionally and purposefully start changing your behavior, attitude and reaction to your parents’ wild ways.

Surround yourself with positive people, books and messages. Even blogs and inspiring Ted talks online. While your parents may be poisoning your ears with insults and throwing darts at your soul, choose to combat their impact by proactively spending time around positive people and messages.

Inspirational messages by inspirational and resilient people can help you stay in good spirits.

Use the internet and books to mold yourself into a new person. Work on your personal growth and character in the face of the storm.

5. Live in the present moment. Yes, they hurt you yesterday and the day before that and many many other days. But look at the moment that you have now and try to live for that moment. When you’re not feeling their wrath or their putdowns, they are not hurting you in that moment. Embrace that moment.

Try to not let the past hurts and pain have a snowball effect on you, creating something you have to deal with every day.

Take it day by day and moment by moment. Don’t let the past repeat in your mind after it’s gone.

6. Change your internal game. You can’t control your parents, what they say or what they do, but you can control what you’re feeling and thinking on the inside. You’ll have to take everything they say and do and reframe their words, intentions and actions.

What they are saying is not what they really mean.

They want to say they love you and support you, but don’t know how to voice that. They would if they were programmed differently.

You have to fill in a lot of the blanks for yourself. You have to feel those things that your parents are not showing, fill in the blanks for the words they don’t say and the actions they don’t take.

For every damaging comment and insult they hurl, you can try to give yourself a different meaning of it or change the context for yourself. Try to be understanding and empathetic of their behavior, as challenging as it may be. They are challenging you to be your highest and most spiritual self.

It’s not entirely their fault – they are the product of their parents, culture and Indian mindset.

7. Journaling. Finding ways to express your feelings is a helpful way to deal with the rejection, pain and hurt that your parents are causing you.

While you may not have access to a professional therapist while you’re still living under their roof, find ways to write out your frustration, anger and pain.

You can use a journal to try to listen and write down what they’ve said, why it’s not true and what your feelings are about the nature of the critical remarks. Counter their remarks with your version of the truth. Counter their abusive words with positive ones.

8. Know your time is limited. You only have so much time left with your parents. Know that you won’t spend an entire lifetime with them, but only a few short years before you get out of their domain.

This is similar to surviving torture or any unpleasant situation. Find ways to cope and wait it out. The parents who rule your life now will not do so forever.

9. Practice self-love. I have an entire eBook on this, but acknowledge that your feelings will be hurt, your confidence affected and your self-esteem ruined by living with your parents. How do you love yourself while you are surrounded by negativity?

Here are 21 tips from my eBook on self-love.

Spend the time that you have working on accepting, loving and being compassionate with yourself. If you aren’t feeling the love and emotional support at home, you’ll have to find ways to cultivate your love for yourself from within.

10. Take the high road. Be willing to forgive, understand and love your parents, knowing that they really have no idea what they’re doing. As I’ve explained above, you know why they’re acting the way they are.

Really, they just want the best for you. It may be for all the wrong reasons, but they want you to live up to your potential. Having parents that are missing from your life or don’t care about you could be worse.

They yell, scream and criticize as a strange and unusual way of showing you love. They believe that you’ll thank them one day for the discipline and encouragement they’ve given you, not realizing how much damage they are causing you.

Chose to act from a place of wisdom and let go of their trespasses on your life.

11. Forgiveness. Knowing some of the reasons that your parents are they way they are, you have to start with forgiveness. As difficult as it might be, you have to forgive for one major reason. Your parents are already hurting you by attacking you and making you feel bad. You are only adding insult to injury by allowing them to hurt you even more when you confront them with anger.

Forgive. Not for their sake, but for your own.

The quicker you forgive, the quicker you’ll be releasing any resentment and pent up anger you’ve built up. Forgiveness is the key to your peace.

12. Take on the challenge. If your parents are overly critical about a certain area of your life like school or grades or your health, challenge yourself to improve in that area of your life.

Show them that you can do better – turn it up a notch just so they’ll leave you alone. And hey, when you’re the CEO of Microsoft, you just might thank them for the discipline and abuse!

13. Ignore and retreat. Let the harmful words your parents are spewing out go in through one ear and out the other.

Realize that the negativity and criticism are your parents’ issue, not yours. Try to not take anything they say personally. If you do take it personally, refute each putdown and critical comment with a positive one. Come up with reasons and logic that are contrary to what they’re telling you.

Try to reduce the amount of face time you have with your parents. If you have projects and homework, work on them in a locked room. Spend time at friends’ houses and volunteer to do things that will take you anywhere out of the house.

Look out for what you say and do that sets your parents off. Are you provoking them in some way? Is there one part of your life that makes them angrier than others? Do you say things that infuriate them? Be aware of what the big blow ups in your life are about and try to take precautions to avoid certain topics or behaviors with your parents. .

14. Cultivate spiritual practices. They can say things to you, harm you emotionally or try to hurt you in other ways (in hopes of motivating you to do what they want). What they can’t do is disturb your inner calm.

Seek out spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices to be in tune with yourself. Go deep within and release the pain that you’re confronting. Transform the tears and pain into love and healing.

The words may reach your ears, but refuse to let them destroy your spirit.

You can try to embrace the pain and suffering caused by your parents. Feel it, hold it, and let the negativity bathe over you. By being present with the pain and mindful of the caustic words they use, you’ll be able to let go of the sting of their behavior.

15. Learn the lessons. What could this possibly be teaching you in life?

Is there any merit to what your parents are saying to you? Definitely not!

Is there any underlying value to living with caustic and bitter people? Maybe?

Are you learning how to deal with difficult, rude and belligerent individuals? Absolutely!

Ask yourself if your parents are your greatest lesson and try to determine what lessons you can learn from their words and behavior. What can you learn from their unconsciousness?

Will you treat others differently? Will you be a much different kind of parent?

16. Be thankful. While you may absolutely despise them for their cruelty, there are things in the past and present that you should be extremely grateful for.

Your parents have made sacrifices, worked hard and put food on the table for you.

They may have done touching, considerate and even kind things for you.

They may have taken care of you in illness, treated you to a special birthday, celebrated you in some way, spoken well of you to friends and family.

When you chose to focus on the smallest amount of gratitude towards your parents, you will lift the weight of all the negativity and hurt that your parents are causing you. A little gratitude just might help you seem them in a more positive light.

17. Try kindness. Your parents may appear to be irrational, insensitive and callous people.

Challenge them and fight them, and they will continue to make your life even more hellish.

Trying to appease them, love them and be kind to them might, just might, get them to stop, or at least take it easier on you.

18. Use your imagination. This last tip could be Walt Disney-like, but it could help and just might save the day.

How is your imagination? If you’re creative or have a lively imagination, use it to your advantage. Imagine you’re not living at home and experiencing the daily berating and spouts of anger.

Use your imagination as an escape. Imagine you’re a pirate traveling the world, Huckleberry Finn on an adventure, or riding Aladdin’s magic carpets.

Allow yourself to escape the mental and emotional torture by visualizing being in an entirely different place. A voracious reading habit can also help you take your mind to a more peaceful and happy place.

Family dynamics are a difficult thing. When we interact and are with those closest to us, we experience many emotional wounds and pain.

To cope, try some of the strategies above. Remember at the end of the day that regardless of who does what to you, you ultimately have the power to decide how you’re going to react.

You can set aside the pain, anger and self-loathing to choose forgiveness and love.

Your parents may have trouble expressing their love for you, but you have the ability to practice empathy and understanding and reciprocate with kindness.

You can choose the high road, embrace the lessons from this relationship and prepare for better days ahead, because it will get better.

I want you to know that healing is possible and you can overcome the scars left by your parents.
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