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What Boundaries? When culture clashes with self-care

Our boundaries are our own personal roadmap to feeling safe and secure. When we explain them to others, they are shown the areas of us that they can have access to, and the areas that are prohibited. Sometimes our family members forget the map, or even worse, throw it out the window in a fit of frustration. When this happens, they are free to try and occupy any part of us they like, be it our minds, our bodies, or our time.  

Might be of interest – What Are Boundaries and Why Do We Need Them?

Changing Ourselves

We may have seen our parents smile and say, “nothing is too much trouble”, but behind closed doors in a sea of chaos and strained voices, we know that it is most definitely too much trouble. Witnessing such behaviour doesn’t go without consequences, these acts of martyrdom are contagious. We can find ourselves throwing our own roadmap out the window to please others. For some South Asians, elements of our cultural upbringing can make it even harder to keep our boundaries intact with others.

Using Guilt to Break Our Boundaries

As our parents and grandparents get older, we might feel a sense of guilt if we don’t meet their needs. When we are told,” look after your father”, or “look after your grandmother”, we are assigned a duty that we must fulfil. 

What Our Culture Expects

In some south Asian cultures, the very purpose of the younger generation is to serve the older generation. Whether the reasons are religious or cultural, the result is the same, our boundaries must be sacrificed to care for others. We might have to give up our dreams of a new job. We may be living in our family home when we don’t want to, or even neglecting our own self-care. 

Feeling Scared to Say No

Sometimes we are incapable of saying no because of the guilt we feel in abandoning our duty and the people who need us most.   

How Our Sacrifices Break Our Boundaries

When we sacrifice something, we may also be breaking a boundary. Sacrifice is the language of love we are taught growing up. Our parents might have expressed their love by spending the whole night cooking for us, providing a taxi service at a moment’s notice, or they may have worked tirelessly to ensure that we have the privileges that they did not. 

A Personal Cost to Give

These acts of love have a personal cost to the giver, whether they are aware of this or not. The cost can be different for everyone, but usually it involves burning through physical or emotional energy reserves until there is almost nothing left. 

Expecting Something in Return

We may be expected to show love back in the same way, but this can be difficult for us if we do not want to sacrifice our boundaries. In households where the words, “I love you” are hardly ever uttered, there is even more pressure on our boundaries because sacrifice becomes one of the few ways that love is given. It could even be the only way our relatives can understand that they are loved by us.  

Feeling Pressure From Family

The soundtrack to family functions may be the low humming of unhelpful comments coming from prying older family members. We might cringe when we are told that we are getting too old to find a husband. When we are advised to hurry up and settle down, we will force ourselves to nod and smile through gritted teeth, appearing grateful for the helpful advice. 

Dealing With Family & Our Boundaries

We may feel a sense of sadness when we are told that we’ve put on weight, or our skin has become too dark or spotty. Sadly, most of us are holding our breath in these moments, tensely anticipating when the next bullet will be fired, contemplating how bad the damage will be. Comments like this are normalised by older generations in South Asian culture, so much that we are led to feel “too sensitive” when we become upset or are deemed “disrespectful” when we talk back. 

Finding Boundaries Hard to Set

This can make it hard to set boundaries with our family about what they can or can’t say to us, leaving us open to attacks.   

Having Boundaries When South Asian

There are elements of South Asian culture that can work against our boundaries, making it harder to create and implement our roadmaps. When we are faced with these challenges we could question if we really are being as selfish or sensitive as others might say. However, most importantly we should consider whether we could be better at taking care of others if we were better at taking care of ourselves.

If you’re looking for help with setting boundaries or maintaining them view our ‘Find a Therapist Page’, for therapists who can help you progress further.

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