My Parents Emotionally Stunted Me

Emotions were never high on my parent's priority list.

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Note from Dr. Psych Mom. This is a piece by an Asian woman who discusses how she feels her culture shaped her parents’ treatment of her and led to her feeling emotionally stunted. This is an honest and open piece by a reader who has obviously done a lot of introspection about her upbringing and its effect on her ability to relate to others.

There’s a stereotype that Asian parents are not very affectionate with their children and from personal experience, I would have to agree.


I come from a family where emotion wasn’t and still isn’t high on the priority list. Good grades, good manners, getting into the right school, landing the "right" career, etc are.

From what I can remember of my early years, I was given affection and shown great amounts of love and attention. Just not from my parents.

My grandmother who I called "Mama" and the aunts all loved me. In the hierarchy of people who loved me, I would say: 1) Grandmother 2) Aunts 3) My Nannies, and my mother floats around in that list.


My mother was more of a friend who spent time with me, bought me lots of pretty things, told me what to wear, and fed and dressed me. My Dad was absent (gone for about 9 months of the year) up until my teen years because he worked abroad.

My parents did their best in their roles: Dad being the provider and Mom holding the house down.

We never had that hug-your-parents type of relationship. We never talked about being sad or angry or happy.

We as children were expected to be grateful for the material things that we had that the other children didn’t. This also applied to my parents. They didn’t express emotion. No hugs, kisses or tears.

RELATED: The 39 Best Ways To Make Kids Feel Loved, According To 39 Parenting Experts


Not being able to show and receive emotion from my parents caused me and my siblings a lot of damage.

I, for one, can’t communicate with my parents.

If something is going wrong in my life, I can’t come to my Mom and talk to her about it. The answer would be "It is what it is" or "Why didn’t you think." I always end up feeling like I’m to blame.

With my dad, you just don’t go there. My siblings and I don’t have a close relationship either. There’s too much sadness and frustration bottled up. And that’s what I’m good at. I bottle things up. Then I explode.

I can’t find a good medium between overly clingy and emotionally detached. I am always one or the other.


For example, in my past relationship, which lasted 4 years, I kept a lot of my feelings to myself. I rarely spoke up when things bothered me. Then I tried to express my feelings when I could no longer hold it all in and he was looking at me like "Where is all of this coming from?" 

I rarely complained but when I was mad, it was the end of the world. I would make his life hard until the issues that bothered me were resolved. And there was that too. I couldn’t just let things go unresolved. Because I had seen so many feelings swept under the rug while I was growing up, as an adult it drove me nuts to just let things go.

There were more issues with the relationship but the end result was me shutting my feelings off and walking away.

RELATED: 11 Signs You Were Raised By A Bad Mother Or Father (And It's Affecting You Now)


I was even worse with women.

I don’t have many long-lasting female relationships and I have a huge aversion to making new friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m friendly and outgoing but I don’t like to get close to most people. I can easily "unfriend" women. I didn’t and still don’t understand sarcasm, which seemed to be the language of teen girls.

I remember cutting ties with girlfriends who were too emotionally confrontational or passive-aggressive. I would stop talking, calling, or texting them.

RELATED: My Mom And Dad Never Said 'I Love You' And It Hugely Swayed My Own Parenting

After I became a mom, I took a huge look at my emotional well-being and made efforts to change where I know I had difficulties.


Expressing emotion is still a challenge because sometimes I just want to have no feelings about some things and my boyfriend makes me talk to him. Sometimes, emotions are too overwhelming.

Thankfully, I am not like my parents. I am very affectionate and loving to my son. He is told that he is loved at least five times a day. He gets hugs and kisses.

P.S. After I wrote this I realized that I avoided dating Asian men because of my childhood. I never wanted a cold, emotionally distant partner or co-parent.

RELATED: Parents: The Sweet Reason Your Kids Need To See You Act Lovey-Dovey With Your Spouse

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.