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Asian American Therapist Discusses Stress of Asian American Family Obligations

When looking back at how you grew up, did it ever cross your mind that your childhood wasn’t normal? Do you recall looking out for your siblings as if you were their parent? What about making sure you did everything you were told to do, in order to avoid feeling guilty or shameful?

Growing up in an Asian American household, especially one in which your parents are immigrants, can mean that many responsibilities were placed upon you. You know the saying, “It takes a village”? Maybe you are already thinking that you were heavily a part of that “village.” When I was in grade school, I remember going grocery shopping every week. There was never a week I did not go to Costco with my mom to get materials and food supplies for my parent’s small business. Have you ever heard of or seen Kim’s Convenience Store on Netflix? That was literally, to the T, my life.

Collectivism in Asian Cultures

Asian family decorating in their home representing impacts of collectivism on Asian and Asian American families in Los Angeles, California | 91006 | 90071

Collectivism isn’t just a part of Asian cultures. It is seen within Latinx, Mediterranean, and African cultural groups, where the collective whole outweighs the individual’s needs and wants. 

From a very early age, children are taught to be in accordance with the mass majority. If you “stuck out like a sore thumb,” you were punished by the family and seen as rebellious or even selfish. Having immigrant parents means that this cultural aspect naturally flowed into your Asian American household and family dynamics.

Preservation of Face

“Face” represents your social currency in the world. It’s how people within many Asian cultures view one another, and it often seems to take precedence over anything else. You either “Give face” or “Build face” by following the masses, upholding social norms, and “not causing a scene.” 

If you dare do the opposite, you then “Lose Face,” thus bringing dishonor to your family. In some cases, this cultural aspect is prevalent not only in Asian American households but also in religious settings, particularly in Asian Christian or Catholic churches. If you attended an Asian church with your family, that was probably a double whammy of collectivism, preserving face, guilt, and shame.

Conflict of Individuality in Family

Growing up in America as an Asian American can almost be compared to mixing oil with water. To say the least, it’s very difficult to do. Have you tried frying dumplings and then steaming them with water over hot oil?! It’s a battlefield. Within American culture, one is praised for seeking out their own passions, desires, needs, and wants. Whereas in Asian American households, acting in one’s own interest is seen as ungrateful and can be perceived as ruining the reputation of the family. If you try to do what you want or what you have always dreamt of doing, you are acting selfish and entitled, and therefore not looking out for the family.

The Stress of Family Obligations

Image of a man wearing a red sweater with his eyes closed. This image could depict someone who could get support from an Asian therapist in Los Angeles, CA. Reach out for Asian American therapy today. | 91006 | 90071

Living within an Asian American household while being drawn out by the individualistic nature of America is a tough act to pull. You almost feel like you have to be two different people. And you become conflicted because you want to go out on a Friday night with your friends or chase your dreams of doing whatever it is you want. Yet, at home, you are facing ridicule, doubt, frustration, and resentment for having to uphold your obligations to the family. Because if you don’t, you have to deal with shame

I remember feeling immense guilt and shame for going to another state for my undergraduate degree. I interpreted it as if I was ripping apart the family. On one side, I saw it as freedom. On the other side, I was dealing with the guilt of no longer being there for the family. I recall in high school when I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I needed to help the family business. Most often than not, my needs and wants were set aside… to avoid feeling like an outcast and a disobedient and unloyal son.

Get Support with Online Therapy in California and New York

You are not alone in your shame and guilt. Your struggle with family obligations and your identity can come to a happy compromise. In therapy, we can help you to find the balance that you are looking for. At our Los Angeles, CA and New York City, NY-based therapy practice we have many culturally sensitive, Asian American therapists, including myself, who can help you in this journey. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that your mental health is important, and we want to help you work through whatever’s holding you back. Follow the steps below to begin.

  1. Fill out the contact form to get connected with us.
  2. Get matched with a skilled Asian American therapist.
  3. Start processing your own family dynamics that still impact you today.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you’re needing support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.

Relevant Resources

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | 3 Dead-Easy Tips to Setting Boundaries for 2nd Gen Asian-Americans with Allison Ly, LCSW (Pt. 1)

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | 3 Dead-Easy Tips to Setting Boundaries for 2nd Gen Asian-Americans with Allison Ly, LCSW (Pt. 2)

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Sibling Roles in Asian Families