Emotional manipulation is a disciplining tactic that unfortunately, many parents use on their children. In many Arab and Muslim communities abuse of parental power is largely a taboo topic. Many in my own community would not be able to stomach what I have said about parents. We were all taught to honor parents like gods.
I have resisted writing about this for the longest time, but I have heard too many heartbreaking stories of parents emotionally abusing their children for the parents’ own satisfaction, to keep silent any longer.
I grew up, the eldest of two, believing that when my parents were mad at me, that I was damned and that my life would soon be ending. I loved my parents – I still do – and wanted nothing more than to please them and make them proud. I still want that.
However, for the longest time, I believed that God had extended His powers to my parents and that they had full authority to practically rule over every aspect of my life.
If they said no, that was the end of it. If my sister or I attempted to rebut, we were shamed and told that good kids who loved their parents listened to their every word.
When I talked to my parents about the emotional manipulation and abuse that was going on they didn’t take it too well. In fact it seemed like my accusations offended and pained them.
From their perspective, tough love was the only parenting style they knew, because it was the one their parents raised them with.
It was not until I began college that I found the space and the courage to be my own person. It was not easy to resist my parents because I loved them, but also because, in my mind and heart, I made them out to be more than just humans.
In a sense, they were like God on earth.
As my parents grew older resisting them with love became a messier challenge. Balancing between pursuing my dreams and pleasing my parents felt like I was the rope in a tug-a-war.
But I never gave up. With time, and many loooooong conversations, my parents slowly began to understand my struggles.
The greatest blessing I believe that God has blessed me with is the understanding that God created every human as a dignified being, which, ironically enough, my parents taught me.
Some of my friends have also had a similar reality with their parents. One of my friends – I’ll call her Aruba – was forced to downsize her career because her parents could not understand why she’d want to pursue higher education.
Another friend of mine, who I’ll refer to as Myriam, was forced by her parents to drop out of school and wait, as they searched for a prospective husband for her.
When Aruba and Myriam tried to resist their parents from forcing them to live lives they did not want, they were threatened with the silent treatment, as well as a confiscation of their phones, laptops and car keys.
Despite knowing that my parents, and other parents practicing the same emotional manipulation tactics, love their children, it is about time that we stop being silent and put an end to their emotional abuse.
As a person of faith, I believe that God has dignified all human beings. However, those who hold greater power tend to manipulate those less powerful.
Parents especially do this a lot. They love their children so much that they begin to construct a perfect image of their children. Parents use the emotional attachment their children have in order to get their children back in line with that perfect image.
If a child deviate even slightly from the perfect image, then her love to her parents is questioned. Her ability to be herself, independent and autonomous, is restricted.
God dignified every human being. Meaning that, regardless of age or gender, everyone has the right to be autonomous. To think for themselves and make their own choices.
Some parents can’t seem to comprehend that their children are human beings. No Child is perfect. They all make mistakes and they shouldn’t be shamed for them.
Other parents live vicariously through their children, which prevents children from shaping their own futures when they become young adults.
Children should be taught that every human is dignified. That every individual has a heart and a mind to feel and think for themselves.
To every parent, please do not use your children’s emotional vulnerability against them. It is unjust. It is abusive. Most importantly it dishonours the sanctity of genuine love.