Loving the Toxic Filipino Mom and the Art of Self-Parenting
Is it possible to find compassion towards the toxic Filipino mom who raised you? How can self-parenting free you from the bondage of your childhood?
In the Philippines, my mother was known to have the physical attributes of a mestizang-intsik, a combination of being white-ish with Chinese resemblance. She was fairer in skin tone compared to her peers but slightly darker than her other sisters.
She claimed the story of the least preferred daughter, not unloved, but just not the favorite as she would recall nonchalantly.
Among us four sisters, I too, was deemed to be the darkest. I never really knew this until later in adulthood. It was no secret that my mother preferred the mestiza look over my “oriental” look as she would call it. Many times, as a child, I recall someone flattering me with my looks, to which my mother would agree, only to add, “wait till you see my other daughter.”
Before you think, I’ve been raised by an awfully, toxic Filipino mom, I must tell you that this same mom had been my cushion of comfort in my growing up years.
When I had my first heartbreak, I cried on my mother’s lap & the simple act of stroking my hair provided me the solace I needed to mend my broken heart.
Later as an adult when one of my babies had to be ruled out for Leukemia, my mother’s voice of comfort and her promise to walk on her knees begging God for mercy felt like an army of prayer warriors behind me.
It’s true, Filipino moms can be so healing and yet be scornfully toxic at times.
I have glimpses of this growing up and well through adulthood but I’m fortunate to remember my mother in her lighter side.
The remnants of the past do follow me once in a while but seeing her as human over being my own mother always allow me to escape these toxic pasts.
Many Filipino women clients I see in my practice share stories of incredible pain, trauma, even abuse, in the hands of their own mother.
In our work together, we allow this pain, this loss for the idealized mom to be grieved. We hold space together for sorrow, even anger towards an evolved story of faith & hope. Indeed, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood through the art of self-parenting.
Toxic Filipino Mom: Side Effects
Before we get to the art of self-parenting, it’s vital to acknowledge how the toxic filipino mom has touched your life in many ways. Notice, I use the word touch over trigger. I urge you to do same. It’ll be difficult to get untriggered from being triggered. But touch whether harshly or even violently has the capacity to be untouched or an opportunity to be touched gently.
Spoken words and how you tell your story matters. It starts with minding your words.
In this post, we are strictly talking about the toxic Filipino mom. We are all imperfect mothers or have been mothered by one. The difference with the toxic Filipino mom is that she has created an unsafe place for her child to be her own person.
She may use shame, even the act of generosity to camouflage her own insecurities.
She may use her children as an extension to her emotional dysregulation causing the I’m walking on eggshell phenomenon.
Later on her older children may loosely describe her as bi-polar because of the swing of emotions she demonstrates ( note: there is no confirmation of this diagnosis, a swing of emotions is just a feature of bi-polar disorder and needs to meet other criteria to qualify as one).
Growing up with this toxicity inhibits the child into psychological milestones of feeling adequate & worthy. It make sense that many Filipino women who grew up in this environment feel unsafe and unworthy of love.
When you’ve always been seen as small, you show up small in your relationships.
If your caught in a relationship of domestic violence or a partner who only appreciates you for what you can do for them, the shadow of the toxic Filipino mom may be at bay.
When you spit out the same scornful words to your own children, you know she’s nearby.
When you over-give to others so that you can feel good inside, lashing out on the first scent of ungratefulness ( per your definition) , the toxic Filipino mom may be just a few steps behind you.
When you think of the world as a place for grand opportunities, except for you, the words of the toxic Filipino mom still rules you.
And when you use guilt & shame to beg for love that you know you deserve, you know that her eyes are on you.
Toxic Filipino Mom: Her Human Side
It’s hard to admit as a Filipina Psychotherapist that many Filipino women clients who come to see me to resolve their depression, trauma and feeling “small ” have been greatly touched (negatively) by their toxic Filipino mother.
I often get irritated by her (the toxic mom) in my therapy sessions for how she had shown up as a mother in disguise but acted more like an emotional vampire, sucking the life out of her precious children.
But I knew better than to wallow in these thoughts.
I knew that the toxic Filipino mother was not born with this toxicity. As I witness the horrors of the Filipino women that come see me; I also notice how horrible of a past their toxic Filipino mothers had been through.
They’ve been through shameful pasts and repressed emotions that caused them to be vampire sucking any ounce of attention for the fear of being unloved...once again.
When I uncover my own familial history, I am amazed with the trauma and unspoken turbulence that plagued my family. I came to understand that cries for help repressed for years become the scornful language that toxic Filipino mothers fluently speak her pain.
Many Filipino women anchor on the old adage, but she did the best she could, to find reason and an attempt to understand this complex relationship. It’s rooted perhaps on the act of forgiveness which is a wholly admirable act. Most of us are Catholics/Christian and such act is in alignment with the sanctity of our religious beliefs.
But such act of forgiveness was the very pill given to the toxic Filipino mother to let go of her toxic pasts, from her own toxic childhood.
The very pill you have been consuming.
You can double dose on Tylenol all you want but it cannot heal a brokened spirit (brokened to imply it’s truly not broken at all).
Self-Parenting for Filipino Women
Self-parenting is a chance to introduce a more positive childhood experience in the neural pathways of your brain. In self-parenting, you are giving yourself a second chance for a happier childhood or at least a more tolerable one.
Neuroplasticity is the science that explains how malleable are brains are. It changes, mutates and transform based on the experience it has been subject to over and over again.
If your mother screamed at you because she just got laid off from employment, chances are, this experience may not be your favorite but it may NOT result to imprints in your brain for your otherwise loving mother.
Repeat this over and over again and a child would have to find a way to survive the tyranny of her toxic mother. Usually, the act of “getting out of the way,” or hiding in the closet may work for some time. The problem arise when you become an adult and you keep getting out of the way when its the other person whose in your way. Or, you keep hiding in your shell when bigger opportunities you’ve been hoping for come your way.
There are no more closets to hide in but your brain continues to want to seek protection from the toxicity of your past.
Self-parenting will set you free.
Self-Parenting Through Story Therapy
Depending on how the toxicity of your past has affected you, its possible to start and end with these techniques. It is also quite possible that you may need support from a therapist, look for one who has expertise on self-parenting (or one informed by attachment theory interventions) or you can contact me here.
#1 The Tree of Life Exercise
This is an exercise that was developed by Ncazelo Ncube, a Zimbabwean/South African psychologist. I have used it in my own practice as I know better as a psychotherapist that our words limit us from the true stories of our lives. Incorporating movement, art, any creative expressive method in healing speaks to the unconscious mind.
The part of the mind that is waiting to be spoken to.
I have tailored this exercise for Filipino women who has the imprints of the Toxic Filipino mom.
*You may use and share them. Please leave original manuscript in tact with no alterations and kindly give credit to the original author.
STEP 1: Draw a tree with roots, a ground, trunk, branches, leaves, fruits and seeds. Beside this tree draw a smaller tree with only its trunk, branches and roots. We will call this Tree #2.
STEP 2: In the roots of Tree #2, write down words to describe your mother. Add to it hurtful words you heard her say about you or others.
STEP 3: In the trunk of Tree #2, based on how you described your mother, what does it say about what your mother values in life? What was her hope? Her aspirations in life? What would she hope to have become (if she didn’t)?
STEP 4: In the branches of Tree #2, if you’re mother had become what she hoped or aspired for, how would you imagine her to be as a mother, a daughter, a woman in her career, a friend or any other relationship that’s important to her?
STEP 5: Now, draw your attention to your tree. Focus your attention on the roots of your tree. Write here where you came from or how you identify yourself (can be: language, country, culture etc). You can also write down things or activities that grounds you, like, your favorite song, your favorite place, even your favorite person.
STEP 6: Focus on the ground, write here things that you like to do if you had no pressure to do certain things. These are regular things that you chose to do rather than things you should do.
STEP 7: Go to the trunk of your tree and look back on the things you’ve written down on your ground, why do you choose to do these things? Why do you care about these things? Add special skills, talents that you have or what a friend would say you are good at. These skills can also be in the form of values, skills of kindness or honesty.
As you look at words you have on your trunk, you might want to trace the histories of your skills. Where did these skills come from? Did anyone taught me this value? If appropriate, you can add names to your roots of people who have been your teachers in life.
STEP 8: Focus on your branches, write down hopes, vision and dreams you have for yourself. This can include advocacies and hopes you have for your community or a community you support. Add short and long-term visions.
As you look at your branches, you may ask yourself, what skills & talents you have to make this possible. You may add these words on your trunk if you like.
STEP 9: The leaves of your tree are people who are significant to you in a positive way. These are people who have influenced you directly, they may even include pets or invisible friends. You may also include your heroes or names of people who are no longer alive.
As look at the name of the people on your leaves, are there any special memories or something very significant with this person? You can write it down next to their leaf. You may also cut out pictures/images that recalls you of this significant person next to their leaf. It’s your tree!
STEP 10: The fruits of your tree represents gifts passed on to you. If you look back to the names on your leaves, what contributions or gifts did these people passed on to you?
STEP 11: Flowers and seeds on your tree are legacies and gifts you wish to leave on to others. It’s possible that you’ve never received these gifts but nevertheless they are ones that you wish on somebody else.
CONNECTING YOUR STORY
These are a few guide questions to help you connect your story by using this exercise.
- Notice your tree. Are the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves connected in any way? If so, how? Tell or write down your story or observations.
- Any links or connections you notice with your tree and the small tree beside you (your mother’s tree) ? Write down what you notice or tell a story.
- Can these two trees be connected and also be separated at the same time? how?
- On your seeds and flowers, you wrote down gifts and legacies you wish to leave on to others, what specific gift would you like to share to the smaller tree beside you (if any)?
- On the opposite to where the smaller tree is transplanted is a vast ground where you can plant anything you want. You may finish drawing, cutting pictures, journal on how you want to design this vastness. You may also visualize the next generation, your lineage if this speaks to you.
I am confident that this exercise can support you in uncovering your unique story, but if you want to consult with me of have any questions about Story Therapy, connect with me here.
Self-Parenting Through Hypnosis
I guess you can say I’m an impatient Psychotherapist because I’m impatient about providing my clients the fastest relief to their pain.
Now, it's important to understand that human relationship and establishing rapport is everything in therapy. But a skilled Psychotherapist should reasonably elicit their client’ s trust by the third session if not the first.
If this is not the case, it’s possible that there is a mis-match with an otherwise skilled therapist or sadly an incompetent one.
I say this not to be harsh but to assure you that you’re on the right path and more than likely it’s not “therapy” that’s the problem but something beyond your control.
It’s ok to move on to another therapist but be kind and inform your therapist of your move. I assure you most Psychotherapist will appreciate this.
In the case of the imprints of the toxic Filipino mom, I’ve always been fascinated how hypnotherapy releases years of bondage in just a few sessions.
If you want to learn about my kind of hypnotherapy, read the blog, Hypnotherapy for Filipino Women: Is it Effective?
Hypnosis allows you access to the deeper recesses of your mind. If you had a blocked pipe that needs unclogging, using a short end stick to grab the stuff underneath it will not be as effective and fast-relieving compared to grabbing a long end stick with the hook at its end. The use of hypnotherapy is the same as grabbing this long-end stick.
Self-hypnosis is also possible to learn and is a powerful way to self-parent yourself. In my practice, every person leaves with a personal recording I created based on the stories and language they’ve shared with me in sessions. With this approach, I don’t have a set pre-recorded hypnosis audio because I calibrate the language based on the stories clients share with me.
There are a couple suggestions you can start with to get started with this approach. Find youtube videos on self-hypnosis that you can easily follow, here are some.
If you’re interested in Hypnotherapy with me or have a question, send me a message here.
Self-Parenting by Grieving the Idealized Mother
Most Filipinos in the Philippines identify as Catholics. Filipinos have a deep affinity for the Virgin Mother of Jesus, who we like to refer to as Mama Mary. Mama Mary embodies the idealized image of a mother: self-sacrificial, of service, full of heart and eager to give her life to her son.
The opposite is true with the image of Mary Magdalene, she embodies an image of a sinner, the overall salbahe (naughty, bad blood) prototype. Read more on this on the blog: Filipino Mom: Keeper of Her Children’s Hearts.
The media and universal symbolism of motherhood glorifies mothering as a place of martyrdom with little wiggle room for mistakes. Therefore, mistakes of children are seen as one in the same, a critical place where past hurts are rekindled without conscious effort.
Hurts are registered in the mind to protect from future hurts.
Grieving the idealized mother is grieving your own wounds. Perhaps it’ll help you find compassion from a distant with the toxic Filipino mothering you had if loving her too close may not be possible yet.
To begin this process, you may write the answer to these prompts on your journal, draw or make illustrations, the sky’s the limit. Do what works for you.
1. Picture your Toxic Filipino Mother (write her name, draw a picture, cut out an image) and write words that describe her.
2. Next to this page, write her name again but title this page: Toxic Filipino Mothering (instead of Mother). What parenting techniques did this type of mothering used (punishment, yelling, spanking..etc). What was this type of mothering trying to accomplish (obedient kids, straight A student..)?
3. On another page, simply draw, cut out an image or the name of your mother standing on a barren ground or soil. Leave it blank.
4. On another page title it: My Ideal Mother. Write words that fits this category for you. How would your ideal mother discipline you, talk to you and even tend to you when you’re hurt?
5. Cut out the words or images on #4 for your Ideal Mother page. If you’d rather not cut them out, you can simply re-write on the page with your mother figure standing on a barren ground. Glue or tape these words on the ground where your mother is standing on.
6. Now, take a ponder on this page. Your mother separated from her own mothering descriptions as you did on #1 & #2. Instead you’ve placed your Ideal Mother descriptions underneath her, observing, witnessing with kinder eyes.
Some questions to ponder on:
- If these ideal mother descriptions were seeds, what possible variables caused these seeds not to sprout?
- If these seeds have no chance to live, what prospects can the ground become in the future. Use you imagination.
- Send gratitude to these seeds. Create a ritual in your mind of letting them go, for example-
- Feeding it to the bird for their sustenance.
- Dumping it to a compost to nourish back the earth.
- Allowing them stay in the ground trusting that nature would know what to do with them.
- Saying goodbye to the seeds or even tossing them in the ocean.
The imprints of being mothered by the Toxic Filipino mom can lurk like a dark shadow even in high noon. Without noticing these imprints or wounds caused by it, you may be running full speed in life but slowed down by a big gush of wound on your leg that’s dragging down your happiness & satisfaction in your relationships.
Taking an honest, pit stop to check out this wound, see what it needs and ultimately tend to it is the break that will allow you to be in full-speed in optimizing your joy, your relationship with yourself and others and even attracting abundance wherever you look.
If you’re interested in taking this pit stop through hypnotherapy with me, send me a message here.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.