Latinas Confronting the Belief Systems That Have Historically Harmed Us

Latinas carry an invisible burden surrounding the messages that have been passed down from generations paired with societal expectations, here's how to begin healing

Latinas calladitas no more

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It is challenging to be a Latina, especially a Latina in the United States. We carry an invisible burden surrounding the messages that have been passed down from generation to generation paired with societal expectations. We have been exposed to patriarchal beliefs that include male superiority, control over our bodies, restrictions on education and employment, objectifying our bodies, normalizing violence against us, needing to follow specific gender roles, and silencing our voices. This can be incredibly damaging to our overall mental and emotional wellbeing, increasing the risk of major depression, debilitating anxiety, and complex trauma. We may find ourselves feeling powerless or helpless, wondering if this is how we are meant to live our lives. It’s harmful and scary when we want to keep up with traditions while also having a voice. We may begin to experience increased sadness which can lead to ongoing silencing and isolation. We may want to give up completely. 

It’s a reality that we live in and while we cannot control the entire narrative, we can find ways to control our OWN narrative.  As we begin to explore the healing process, there is an opportunity to honor the messages and traditions that were passed down to us in our own way.  The first step is awareness and recognizing what is making you uncomfortable. This is important because each person has a unique threshold and while something might be important to me, it does not mean that it is important to you. This allows us to have empathy towards others who might feel differently than us. We each have our own journey and destination within our healing. 

As I continuously bring healing to the forefront, I want to shed light on the harmful beliefs and traditions that often create a negative impact on our lives and how to begin to work through them and cope.  

Harmful Belief

The need to follow specific gender roles: The belief that men and women have certain fixed roles in society, with men being the breadwinners and women being responsible for the home and caregiving.

How to Address it

Address this belief in a way that fosters understanding and promotes inclusivity, emphasizing that both men and women have the capacity and right to choose their roles in society based on their interests, abilities, and aspirations.

How to Begin to Heal

Continued self-reflection while recognizing any biases that might be present. Explore assertive communication and continued empathy. Allow yourself to notice any feelings that come up. Use stream of consciousness journaling (write what comes to mind without any structure) to release thoughts and feelings. 

Harmful Belief

The thought that males are superior: The idea that men are inherently superior to women in various aspects, such as intelligence, leadership, and decision-making abilities. In our community this is most apparently within the home where men are seen as the head of the household and women are expect to be subservient and obedient.

How to Address it

Challenge the beliefs and continually promote gender equality. Highlight female achievements (including your own!), advocate for equal opportunities, and support initiatives that have gender equality at the forefront. Speaking up can and often does cause tension but it’s important to continue to address and confront this reality in a constructive way so as to make progress.

How to Begin to Heal

Use positive self talk (I am enough. I can accept all parts of myself, I am okay just the way I am). Remind yourself of this on a daily basis as this belief can create a negative impact in multiple spaces. Talk to like-minded people that feel safe. Have open dialogue about your thoughts. Your thoughts ALWAYS matter. 

Harmful Belief

Society objectifying our bodies: The idea that women are objects of sexual desire, rather than individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and ambitions. This is especially common with Latinas as we are often viewed as “exotic” or “spicy” and expect to be overly sexual and provocative.

How to Address it

Call it out when you hear it or see it. When we silence ourselves it creates the idea that these behaviors are okay. We are more than just our bodies. We have a powerful voice that needs to be elevated. 

How to Begin to Heal

Seek out mental health support or reach out to your support system. While this can be done with any negative belief, its beneficial with this harmful belief to increase positive self esteem and continued healing. When we are seen as just a body, it can trigger past trauma that we may have experienced. 

Change is challenging, especially when our role models and mentors are sharing a distinct message that we may not understand. 

The first step in the stages of change is pre-contemplation. This refers to situations where others notice that change needs to happen but you are not there yet. You need more time, more evidence, and more awareness. Suddenly though, through ongoing conversations, you may find yourself in contemplation, which is the second stage. Contemplation allows you to begin noticing that something needs to be different, something needs to change. It may initially be unclear but with time, you will know what needs to be done. As you are working through contemplation you will slowly find yourself in preparation. In this stage, you are making plans, making moves, and deciding what makes sense for your lifestyle and overall well being. As you prepare for what needs to change, action occurs. Within action, you are challenging the messages that were brought onto you. You are speaking out on what matters to you and are motivated to heal. This is a beautiful moment that is an ongoing process. This ongoing process is also called maintenance; keeping up with your healing and doing what you need to do to feel empowered. This is now when we truly start noticing ongoing and deliberate changes. 

However, we are human and while I wish that by following a simple formula we can achieve healing from the systems that have consistently harmed us, this is not always true. Throughout the stages of changes there is a chance that you will have a “slip-up” – where you will want to give up on yourself and you are sucked back into the patriarchal cycles. This is normal and it makes sense. Ultimately, this makes you human. We are all prone to a “slip-up,” it doesn’t mean that you go right back up to pre-contemplation. Obtain what you need within preparation and continue working at it. Challenging the narrative is difficult and change takes time. 

We are living in a world where healing is consistently needed and necessary. You are allowed to heal. You have a right to heal despite the messages that have been passed down from generation to generation. Don’t sell yourself short and continue slowly stepping into your light. 

Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals

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