May 26, 2020
By request we are publishing this letter anonymously. Thank you to the author for their courage to share their story.
Professor Riane Eisler’s work has had a huge transformative impact on my life. I am someone who was raised in a blended dominance-partnership family and it has taken me many years of self-reflection to unlearn the toxic, parochial, tribalistic mindset that the paternal side of my family imbibed me with as a child.
I was raised in a fairly conservative Chinese Singaporean home, with a father who believed that emotionally abusing me and yelling at me whenever he felt like it was a “good way to help me build a backbone.” However, he did not hit me, which was already extremely unusual because most Chinese Singaporean kids my age grew up getting whipped with rattan sticks and leather belts.
It took me all the way ’till I was 21 to realize how toxic some of the beliefs my family had imparted to me were. My paternal grandma who babysat me while my parents were at work was an unabashed Chinese supremacist who used to constantly imply that all Japanese people were evil, because she lived through the Japanese Occupation. She also used to brag to me about how Chinese people were the hardest working and most intelligent of the Asian races, and that tan-skinned Southeast Asians were inherently lazy or “only good at blue collar jobs.” When the Fukushima disaster hit Japan, my maternal grandpa told us that he felt a great sense of satisfaction, because he believed that the Buddhist gods were punishing Japan for its war crimes.
It was only after discovering Professor Eisler’s work that I realized that hierarchical cultures that glamorize retributive revenge, rather than restorative justice, share many of the same characteristics of the Confucian culture my family raised me in. When my father was an infant, my paternal grandmother used to slap him until he blacked out from concussions to get him to stop crying. When he fought with his brother or misbehaved, she would thrash them across their arms with a bamboo stick, often leaving red marks or welts. When I was 7, she nearly killed my Labrador puppy by choking her and dragging her by her collar, before whacking her with a metal stick and breaking several flower pots on her head.
While my father never laid a finger on me, he pressured me to excel academically and nudged me into getting my degree from an Ivy League university, because failure was never an option in his eyes. When my desk was untidy, he used to pick up my valuables and throw them across the room before yelling at me for being a useless slob. When I was suffering from anorexia at 15 and refused to eat grilled pork belly, he threatened to thrash me with a bullwhip if I didn’t consume what was put in front of me.
The turning point came for me between ages 21-23 when I had several major falling outs with some of my American liberal friends. Many of them were horrified by me parroting some of my grandmother’s racist anti-Japanese sentiments and mimicking the harsh, authoritarian language my father used to use. For a while I could not understand why white Americans were so “hypersensitive.” It took me a while to realize that not everybody believes that retributive justice and yelling your kids into submission were virtues to be extolled.
I am still in the process of unlearning many of the toxic dominator culture behaviors my family taught me, and trying to learn conducive partnership culture behaviors instead. I no longer argue with or villainize people whose beliefs clash with mine, and I no longer slam door sand yell at the top of my voice during disputes.
The unlearning and relearning are a journey, but one that I am happy to be on.
See the CPS webinar “Uncovering the Roots of Violence”
Get the book Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry