I learnt to switch off whenever I was caned, because the pain was only temporary, and little by little, I started to resent my mother.
“This is not good enough, why can’t you be like so-and-so?” was the common tune that was sang in my childhood – growing up in a narcissistic family, as the scapegoat. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) which affects around 1 per cent of the whole population, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is an almost incurable condition and most NPD sufferers are undiagnosed due to their inflated egos.
Narcissists are usually men according to the same study, but for cases like mine, it was my mother. Like any other child, I wanted to please my mother and make the matriarch proud of me, so I desperately tried my best to win over her affections by doing my best in the subjects that I was good at in school, being on my best behavior and playing the piano well.
My flair for languages and music meant that I was ahead of the crowd in these areas, but I was completely hopeless at subjects involving mathematics so I often flunked them. In a society like Singapore’s that prioritizes mathematics and science, my gifts were seen as impractical.
“What’s the use if your English is that good, but you can’t even pass your maths?” mother shrieked as she caned me. “What can you work as, who would even want to hire you next time? You probably could only become a cleaner in the future!
“Why can’t you learn from your brother and put more effort into your studies?”
Sobbing from the pain, I would cry and promise that I will do better next time but most of the time, I would fall short. Gradually, I learnt to switch off whenever I was caned, because the pain was only temporary, and little by little, I started to resent my mother.
The worst period for me was during my primary school days when results were released. I often tried to avoid telling my mother the bad results by lying to her, claiming there was a delay, being the naïve child that I was.
My brother who is a year older, would often pull my report book out of my school bag with a satisfactory grin on his face as he compared my results which were often highlighted in red against his straight As, as he mocked my grades to my face.
What goes around comes around and in our teenage years, my grades changed for the better and his for the worse. He would fly into a jealous fit at times when my parents praised me and compared his results against mine, hitting me after mother’s back was turned.
He was caught shoving me twice at a school meeting one day after I had defied his orders and continued waiting for him to be dismissed. Mother was informed and she told the teacher that it was probably all my fault and proceeded to tell him of a humiliating story I had as a kid, which she reasoned was why my brother did not want to acknowledge me in public afterwards.
Eventually after a few similar incidents, I learnt that there was nothing I could do that would ever make mother love me as much as she does her other children. I have grown to accept that fate and started rebelling against her, answering back and questioning her authority.
I did not want to be like my father, who was reduced into complete submission after years of verbal abuse and criticisms. Whenever I look at him in the eyes, my heart breaks a little, for it reflected a broken soul whose self-confidence and self-worth had been reduced to tatters, with every verbal jab from his wife after each and everything he did.
On the surface, we seemed like the perfect family – well-behaved children, seemingly happy parents and with mother being the social butterfly of the neighborhood. I quickly learnt that these friends of hers were an extension of her surveillance, who would report our misdeeds. Hence, I grew up constantly looking over my shoulder.
Coupled with my cynical nature, my mistrust towards people affected my social life greatly – I struggled trying to make friends and unsurprisingly, my love life is non-existent as well. Ms Agnes Chan, 61, a Hong Konger whose 10 upbringing rules’ video went viral earlier this year within the Chinese community, explained that trust is the very core of how humans function.
“Never lie to your child… if a child does not trust others, he will always be lonely for his whole life,” advises Ms Chan in mandarin.
After migrating last year to Australia for my studies, I slowly started learning to be human, starting with seemingly simple things like hugging and being in touch with my emotions instead of suppressing them.
My childhood scars are slowly healing and the monsters still haunts me at times, but I feel like a caged bird that has been set free and given a second chance at life. My roommate remarked that I am “a survivor,” and I guess in a way I am.
One thing is for sure – I would not have been who I am or as strong as the person that I was today, if not for my childhood. Maybe this is God’s way of polishing an uncut diamond, but I am thankful regardless.
Words by A Scapegoat.