- Sharon Chan, LMFT
The Beautiful Paradox of the Asian Culture
I've always had such mixed feelings about being Asian American. I don't know about you but mental health was not really understood or talked about growing up. I am not here to look down upon the Asian culture ( I am too Asian) but I am here to point out how the values of the Asian culture can be both a strength and a weakness.
Major Disclaimer: I get that these are generalizations and may not resonate with every Asian American. I also get that every culture and person will be different. I also know that some of these points can be found in every culture to some degree. I also want to add that I love, love, love working with all cultures. My main goal here is to continue to spread awareness about these messages and how it may have impacted the Asian American person.
As Asian Americans.............
Here are some messages that we might have adopted:
1. Be hardworking and excel at what we do. This was the message growing up. What a great value to have. I mean who doesn't like a hard worker and which boss is not going to love someone who excels at their job. It's a strength to be successful, to have great work ethic, and to be high achievers.
But I would challenge this value with: At what cost? Do we lose our own sense of self? Do we sacrifice our physical,emotional, and mental health in order to live by this value and expectation?
2. "Saving face" in front of others to keep the family name intact. There is a huge amount of pressure to withhold a certain image in order to maintain a level of respect, not only for oneself but also for your family. A parent's offspring can be a direct reflection of him or herself. This can demonstrate extreme loyalty, consideration and respect for the family name. It can also highlight a sense of being proud of oneself and of leadership to do well not only for a person but for their family. The downside of this value is that vulnerability and authenticity can take second place. If a person's values/behaviors conflict with the image of a person and who a person really is that can lead to a great deal of anxiety and stress.
3. Loyalty to your family no matter what. I admire the value of the Asian culture and have seen the faithfulness and dedication being lived out in my own culture. However when we say "no matter what" this is where it brings up challenges. What if family members are abusive? What if family expectations versus one's own expectations become extremely conflicting? This can be very difficult on ones identity and one's own self process of growth.
4. Listen to your physical health but not really your mental health: Again this is not just for the Asian American but I do think that there is a lot of emphasis on being physically healthy. From the way we look to living a healthy life style. Why is it that stress is one of the biggest factors leading to health problems and yet that part of us is ignored? Why do we often not take our mental health into consideration until our bodies are falling apart? Do you experience migranes/headaches, muscle tension, extreme stomachaches? Why do we only listen to our mental health when we reach this state?
5. You are weak if you seek out help. This message is probably linked with all the messages above. In my opinion, there is a great deal of shame when reaching out for help. Especially when it is about emotional health. The message has been to be strong and to be able to keep things private or within the family. I think there is a great pride to that and the value of being self sufficient. Strength and perseverance is something to honor and respect. However the message that gets lost here is: We are all human, we all struggle, we all need some level of support, and that doesn't mean we're weak it actually means we're strong. The greatest leaders know their strengths but they are also well acquainted with their weaknesses. They are able to lead but they are also able to delegate and ask for help when needed.
If you are an Asian American or if you are a person in between two different cultures and are struggling with how to integrate being faithful to your family roots and still finding and building your sense of self this article may resonate with you. You are not weak. You are not wrong. You are not failing because you want to reach out for help. You are in a normal process of becoming your own while holding onto what your family has instilled in you. We ourselves can not give to others if we are not healthy ourselves. I encourage you to reach out to someone if you are struggling. Struggle is not a weakness it is a result of being human. I hope when reading this is doesn't further cause more shame but instead it empowers you to give yourself permission to reach out if you need, to know that you're not alone, and to continue to build awareness of how these messages have impacted you.
What are some ways that your culture maybe a weakness or a strength in your life? I would love to hear below.