Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.
Growing up in a Latinx immigrant household, I often heard the phrase “Nadie me ayuda en esta casa” (No one helps me in this home) from the women in my life. This message, echoed by many of my therapy clients, typically evokes strong feelings of guilt. It reflects the experience of numerous Latinas who strive to fulfill societal and cultural expectations, often feeling isolated as they navigate their expected roles within their families and communities. Trying to meet these expectations can be a confusing experience. At times, individuals may take pride in their roles. For instance, I witnessed my abuelita’s joy in cooking a meal for her family, despite the sleep deprivation and exhaustion it entailed, preparing that meal provided her with a sense of purpose.
However, there can also be moments of exhaustion, isolation, and desperation. The pressures can be overwhelming and come at a high cost to an individual’s mental health and well-being. It can lead to not feeling valued or recognized for your efforts, feeling that nadie me ayuda en esta casa.
In a recent conversation with my mother, she expressed this sentiment. In the past, I did not know how to respond, but in this recent instance, I asked her, ‘What would it be like if you asked for help?’ At that moment, my mother’s frustration grew, and instead of feeling supported, she felt betrayed. She replied, ‘I shouldn’t have to ask, they should just know!’ I reflected on her response and understood. She was raised to anticipate the needs of others and to prioritize those needs before her own. She was looking for someone to do the same for her. This is a common experience for many mothers or those in motherly roles.
As a therapist, I often help Latina clients who struggle with balancing their sense of familial obligation with their desire for change and independence. They face the challenge of honoring the narrative of being a good mother, daughter, and/or sister while being criticized as ‘selfish’ for prioritizing their own needs. These critiques often stem from deeply ingrained cultural values, such as marianismo, familismo, and respeto.
Marianismo refers to the expectation of women to be feminine, submissive, and self-sacrificing. In practice, this may look like being tasked with domestic responsibilities and not complaining about it. This can reinforce the acceptance of the status quo and can be disempowering, which may lead to anxiety and depression symptoms. While this value may have provided a necessary structure for past generations, it no longer serves the same purpose. Challenging marianismo involves offering help and support to alleviate some of these burdens. In my earlier example, I noted that I asked my mother, ‘what if she asked for help,’ upon reflection, I think I could have also asked, ‘how can I help?’
A consejo: Consider whether you are in a position to ask for help or offer help and take action to challenge the status quo.
Familismo refers to the expectation that family is a priority. In practice, this may look like considering family needs before your own. For Latinas, this may reinforce messaging that individual needs are selfish and not as important as collective needs. In turn, this could lead to feelings of guilt over having the desire to center themselves and their needs. Finding a balance between self-care and upholding this value is essential for individual and community healing. You are better able to be a support to your family when your individual needs are addressed.
A consejo: Consider working with a mental health professional or seeking support from trusted loved ones to help you find a balance between caring for yourself and honoring this value.
Respeto translates to respect but heavily involves obedience to authority. This value reinforces submissiveness and can result in the dismissal of one’s own needs for others’ comfort. If we value respecting our elders, why not also value ourselves and our needs?
A consejo: There are different ways to show respect to family members and elders, consider whether you’re able to uphold this value while still honoring your own needs and boundaries. Perhaps that means going to the family dinner but only staying for the time you have the capacity for.
This exploration of gender roles’ impact on Latinas’ mental health only scratches the surface. As a final consejo, engage with your comunidad and reflect on how you can help or offer support to the women in your life. Let’s change the narrative from “nadie me ayuda en esta casa” to “que lindo que todos trabajamos juntos en esta casa” (how beautiful it is that we all work together in this home).