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  • Setting Boundaries in Immigrant Families

    It can be hard to establish barriers with an immigrant family. This can include if we only see family during the holidays, if they tend to visit unannounced, or if we live with them and are having difficulty establishing the privacy we need. It can be hard to establish barriers, especially when our family may come from a culture where there were few barriers and no secrets between family members. There can be vast differences growing up in an individualist community when our family hold collectivist values that lead to differing beliefs around barriers in conversation.

    Generational differences can also be the cause of conflict. We might find that over time, we hold or want to explore values that might be difficult to share with family. They may have an expectation of a lack of secrets, and we may still be finding the words to describe who we are. Here are some important steps to begin forming boundaries.

    Exploring Our Needs and Limits

    As the child of an immigrant family, I recognize it can be difficult to find the words to express how we are feeling and what we are asking for. When we are deciding on boundaries, it’s important to understand at what moments and with who we feel the most triggered. We may notice that in these conversations, we feel our chests tighten, or our stomachs are in knots, or we may feel flustered and can’t speak. By taking a moment to understand what feels too overwhelming, we can step back and learn to say “no” to certain asks or simply walk away. It can also help put us in a proactive state and may provide subtle cues to family members about situations that are upsetting.

    Frame Boundary-Setting Through Expressing Feelings

    If stating the boundaries that we need feels too difficult, it can be helpful to name the feelings we have in those conversations with family. In healthy relationships, regardless of cultural differences and expectations, there is usually not the desire to want to cause harm to a loved one. Family will want to minimize those moments. A moment of honesty may cause relationships to heal or for a closer relationship to begin with our family. It may also be helpful to express our appreciation and care for family members, which can be a step toward feeling more authentic with family as well. 

    If It’s Safe, Find A Family Member to Be Direct With

    We may find conversations, like sharing about struggles with school, feel safer with a cousin or a grandparent instead of a parent. Or, we may have relatives we feel are safe to vent to when other relatives are reminding us of our lack of children or a romantic partner or their disapproval of a job. And while we understand these questions stem from cultural values that may differ from ours, it doesn’t make these conversations less hurtful or frustrating. If we are unsure of how to share how that family member is making us feel, we should share with a family member we feel safe talking to. They can assist in bridging that conversation and make interactions with someone we may want to spend time with more pleasant.

    Give Changes Time and Keep Boundaries Firm

    Family may be an important value but taking care of ourselves and our needs should be a priority too. There may be time needed for other family members to remember the boundaries we set, and it is okay to give reminders while that change takes place. It’s okay to remind ourselves that these boundaries are here for a reason.

    If you want to further explore the boundaries established with family or explore how the relationship you have with your family affects other relationships in your life, please reach out to our office to begin or continue your therapy journey.