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Healing the whole family – The New York Times

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Healing the whole family – The New York Times

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The night I submitted my college applications, I was lying in bed and staring out the window for hours. I prayed to the moon to die soon. On paper, I looked perfect (at least to the adults who told me): one perfect SAT score in one try, three perfect SAT II material tests, 10 perfect AP tests, national award winner , president of various clubs, passionate volunteer, and founder of a non-profit organization in the field of education. But I would have preferred to die rather than learn that “perfect” was still not enough to enter the colleges I had in mind.

I had no idea there were conditions called depression and anxiety, and the adults around me never knew it, because I looked like I was on the top of my life. When I burst into tears, my father would yell at me to stop crying because, “No one is dead, save your tears for my death.” And when I told my mom about my suicidal thoughts, her first response was, “How can you be so selfish?” I felt unworthy of their love until I was blameless.

I attended Yale as a first generation grant-supported student, worked at McKinsey in New York and London, and received two masters from Stanford. My fears of not being good enough for college now seem unfounded, but perhaps understandable given my upbringing.

Contrary to the stereotype of Asian Ivy League students, I did not have wealthy tiger or snowplow parents. My extended family in Taiwan barely received an education, so in high school I was already among the most educated in my family.

What I have had are parents who, like many others, have become parents with their own injuries – and don’t know how to deal with them.

According to team that developed the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score, an instrument to measure childhood trauma, high ACE scores often correlate with challenges later in life, “because of the toxic stress it creates. “.

[Take the ACE quiz.]

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente found that people with an ACE score of 4 or higher (about 12.5% ​​of the population) increase their likelihood of chronic illness by 390%, of depression by 460% and attempted suicide. by 1,220 percent.

My parents both score over 4; my mom has a score of 7. Raised by neglectful, physically and emotionally abusive parents, my parents had scars they dared not discover, even on themselves. No one had taught them to deal with these traumas and avoid repeating them through anxiety-filled parenthood.

I can’t remember a time when my house was carefree. I learned early on that a carefree moment was a wasted moment in idleness. Research shows that depression and anxiety can be passed from parent to parent when children observe their parents’ incessant worries and adopt similar thought patterns for themselves.

Most parents, including mine, are doing their best, but few have learned how to raise their children beyond their own experience, with their own parents.

My family had to learn the hard way that what we don’t heal, we repeat. When my grandmother, the woman who single-handedly raised my mother and her three sisters, passed away during my freshman year of college, my mother chose to “move on” with her life, focusing on educating myself. my brother. For years after, my brother struggled with his weight and his studies to the point of being almost kicked out of school.

In finding my mother to help my brother, she was exposed to the work of Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy. Ms. Satir saw each family as a system, so if you change a node, the whole system changes. My mother began to deal with her own grief and trauma.

Me too.

In college, I asked for advice and studied wellness. I began to meditate and keep a journal to disentangle my past from the present. During my last year of college, I finally told my family that I had seen a therapist. And that it had helped.

My family was surprised (to put it mildly) when they learned that my mental health problems were “serious enough” to cause me to seek help. It was difficult for my parents, who are part of a generation focused on survival rather than well-being, to hear the impact of their parenting on me. They reacted first with ridicule, then with fear, realizing that their own wounds were deep enough to hurt me as well.

It took a lot of time and effort for my parents to move away from the mindset they grew up with.

Years after the trip began, my mom now runs a nonprofit organization that teaches thousands of Mandarin speaking parents about mindful communication and mindfulness.

Recently, at a workshop my mom led, I overheard my dad say to a participating parent, “I didn’t believe in therapy until Grace told me it was like going to the dentist to get it. cavities, which makes a lot of sense to me now. Watching my family learn helped me see that I had growth to do as well. “

Advocating for parents to understand mental health, both theirs and that of their children, seems more relevant than ever.

Lately, I’ve heard from many parents worrying about the impact of this season of pandemic uncertainty on their child’s school year and college applications. These are important questions, of course.

Yet as I watch my brother apply for college this fall, I can’t help but imagine how many students are lying by their windows praying to the moon. And I wish that if parents realized how much their worries and old wounds weighed on their children, they would take a break and deal with their anxieties first.

Grace Chiang is the founder of Cherish, a social enterprise that aims to help parents build healthy relationships with their teens.

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