I remember slamming the door in my mom’s face when I was younger whenever she came in without asking. It wasn’t because I didn’t love her or didn’t want to see her, but it was because she always had an agenda. There was always something to criticize, another reason why I couldn’t match up to the type of daughter she wanted me to be. My room was too messy. My skin was too dry. I spend too much money. I use my computer too much. It was overwhelming.
Screaming matches between my mom and I occurred so often to the point where it would be odd if the house was silent. However, after every fight, we’d always make up like nothing happened.
But I’ve always wondered, do relationships actually work that way? Where do the scars go? Do the hurts secretly accumulate somewhere, or do they actually go away?
There were days when I felt like our relationship was hanging by a thread. That maybe one day, we’d fight and she’d decide it was too much. That she’d only love me not because she wanted to, but because she had to.
I recall a specific instance where she and I were sitting on the couch together as I shared with her my dreams and she responded with a lack of enthusiasm.
“Please,” my mom said, speaking in our native Cantonese. “One thing at a time. You have many dreams, but there are so many more essential things that you should take care of first.”
Her words hurt me, despite coming from a good place.
“You care about the wrong things in life. It doesn’t matter how successful or beautiful you are, or want to be. You need to work on your character. No one will want to marry a girl with 公主病.”
The direct translation of “公主病” in Chinese (pronounced gong zhu bing) is “princess syndrome” or “princess disease.” It’s a term used in East Asia, mostly Hong Kong, to describe females who are narcissistic, materialistic, and spoiled. For males, it’s called “prince syndrome” or “little emperor disease.”
A product of excessive care and doting from parents at a young age, princess (or prince syndrome) can be unassuming at first. But, according to Jennifer Hartstein from Psychology Today, it just gets worse over time.
“A girl who suffers from PS lives life as a fairy-tale: focusing only on the pretty things, putting herself as the centre of the universe, and obsessing about her looks. Due to being doted on parents from a young age, it develops a series of problems such as lack of independence, lack of responsibility, acting bratty and spoiled, constant deferral of blame onto others, etc.”
While this personality can seem “fun and whimsical” for a girl when she is younger, it can also set the tone for how she develops into a young woman, influencing her self-esteem, her dependence on others, how she takes care of herself and how empowered she feels in her life.
The worst part of this so-called “disease” is that those who have it lack self-awareness. They have no idea they are like this and they continue to stay like this for possibly the rest of their lives.
My mom says she scolds me because she wants me to be better; someone who is self-sufficient, flexible, and loved. Not a person who is often dependent, unpractical and unadaptable — qualities that can potentially ruin jobs, friendships, and romantic relationships.
The way parents raise their children have profound effects on what kind of child the person becomes. For me, the attention, doting, and care that I’ve received in abundance throughout my life has ironically led me to become the person I’m being told not to be 22 years later.
After my graduation in May, I moved back into my parents’ house from Los Angeles for a few months before moving out again. After four years of highs, lows, and extreme personal growth experienced on my own, I knew in my heart that things wouldn’t be the same as before. I had changed.
However, not long after, I felt trapped again in my childhood room. It felt like whenever I came back, I would revert back to my old self again, even after all this time.
I looked on my nightstand and found a card that I wrote for my mom on her birthday a couple of years ago. My immediate thought was that she must have went into my room again when I was gone and searched through my things. The card was my evidence.
When I went to ask her about it, visibly irritated, she looked embarrassed.
“Sometimes, when your dad was snoring too loud and you were gone,” she said. “I would sleep in your bed and read the cards you used to write to me because I missed you so much. I guess I forgot to take that one back.”
“Oh,” I said. It was my turn to be embarrassed.
I ran back into my room and slammed the door behind me. I didn’t tell her, but I cried the entire night.
That was when I realized that no matter where I go or how many memories I create to replace the ones that hurt, the scars will always be there.
But, just because they exist, doesn’t mean they can’t heal. It just takes time.
I am thankful for a family who teaches me everyday to compromise, to forgive, to practice authenticity — a family who has gone through so much hell just to make sure that I am raised well.
Love isn’t always shown through obvious ways like verbal affirmation and physical touch, but through the hidden gestures that don’t always feel like love.
Thank you to my mom who reminds me that, despite everything, a kind, independent, and unselfish woman exists within me.