Dear Thelma: I'm an adopted child, with no citizenship or freedom

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Dear Thelma,

I am 23 years old.

When I was five, I was adopted and it changed my life.

I was adopted by an Indian family in Malaysia, raised and brought up in a good environment. I appreciate everything that has been done for me in the 16 years of my life.

But my life has not been easy for the past few years due to many reasons.

I did not manage to obtain Malaysian citizenship, and am currently still holding a Malaysian Permanent Resident (PR) card. I envy other non-Malaysians who can easily obtain their blue IC.

Besides, being an Indian-raised child, I am controlled in many ways. For example, I am 23 but still not allowed to start my love life with a guy, despite the fact that I am employed and have a good job.

I am always being watched at home – I can't work on my own, and spending my own money on myself is always a problem in the house.

I don't understand why I am being controlled in so many ways. I think I deserve some freedom so that I can learn to be more independent, work hard and achieve my life goals. I want to be a strong and independent woman.

I have tried talking with my parents but it is not working. What shall I do, Thelma? I am feeling frustrated and depressed most of the time. I cannot focus on my working life due to this. Please help!


Dear Rissa,

I'm not surprised you're frustrated and depressed: at 23 years old, you should be well on the way to being an independent adult, in control of your own life, including dating so you can figure out what you want for your future.

You are very clear about what you want, independence, and it's a very natural wish. What I'm not certain about is what lies behind your family's wish to control you.

Now, some people would say it doesn't matter. They might suggest that depriving a 23-year-old woman of her money and of a social life is abuse, and that the proper thing to do is to have a conversation, set boundaries and if that doesn't work, leave.

It is of course an option that you are free to take. However, you have not walked away, which suggests you want to maintain a connection. This is very natural. Whether born into a family or adopted into one, children tend to love their parents. It takes a lot to become estranged.

Therefore, I suggest you consider what is behind this behaviour.

There are people who think that children are there for the use and pleasure of their parents. If your family are controlling you because they think they own you, or that you are in debt to them, then a step towards independence is to ask yourself what you would consider adequate payback.

Another common drive is fear. Some families are anxious, asking, "What if her boyfriend isn't kind?" and "What if she spends all her money on frivolous things?", and so on.

For those parents, they try and keep a hold over their kids, which is sad because the child feels constricted, the relationship suffers, and when the child escapes, they may not want to go back. Estrangement can be the result.

Finally, a third common driver is that parents refuse to see that their kids are now adults. Their mindset is inflexible, they can't see that time has passed, and they are blind to the consequences of their behaviour.

Again, as they refuse to update their thinking, they cause the relationship to suffer, the child leaves eventually, and there may be a rift that never heals.

Once you figure out what may be driving them, you can plan a more effective way to communicate. Perhaps this is enough for you to figure out a better plan. However, if you think it may be complicated, get a team to help you.

I recommend a social worker or therapist who works at an NGO or organisation where there is also legal input. Try Women's Aid Organisation ( phone: 03-3000 8858/ SMS or WhatsApp Tina: +6018 988 8058) or All Women's Action Malaysia ( or call/text at 016-237 4221/ 016-228 4221).

With them, you can plan the steps it will take to negotiate change with your parents, and if necessary, gain control over your money, and make sure your paperwork is in order.

As part of the process, you will need a support group, which will include your own friends, and hopefully also an older person in the extended family (an aunt, uncle or cousin) who can advocate for you.

Hopefully, if your family are open to it, a session with all of you together can help too.

Family dynamics tend to be complex, so it may take a few sessions to figure it all out. Please don't be in a rush. Take your time and think it all through.

But whatever is going on, please do reach out because you all deserve happiness. Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

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