As if sharing a confined space with a sibling during puberty wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, having to move back into your family household due to an ongoing pandemic sounds like the trailer to an actual horror film. Unsure if the thought of a pandemic or having to coexist in the same room as your religious abuela at twenty-five petrified you more, both have had an unwavering effect on your mental health. While mental health awareness is slowly becoming a national conversation, there is still an underlying negative stigma toward attending to our mental wellbeing within the Latinx community. To be fair, unpacking family and generational trauma is never easy nor is it something that can be taken on overnight. However, there are baby steps to setting boundaries within your Latinx household that can drastically improve your mental health and family dynamic over time.
HipLatina spoke to a variety of Latinx mental health specialists that shared a few tips on what setting boundaries looks like in a Latinx household. It’s no surprise that there are physical limitations when living in close corridors with your family, but when reoccurring triggers begin to seep into your mental space it is time to set boundaries. “Be mindful and intentional about who you allow to take up your mental space. Emotional boundaries are just as important as physical ones,” Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist April Mayorga notes. Although we can’t promise any more micro-machista remarks from your dad or an extra room for you to binge-watch the latest HBO series in peace, here are a handful of tips on how to keep your boundaries in check:
Your feelings are valid
“Your feelings and experiences are as valid as anyone else’s in the family. You are NOT responsible for your mom, tia, brother, or abuela’s feelings. You are responsible about how you react to your feelings, ” Licensed Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor Maria Bautista says. Now, more than ever, the uncertainties of living in your childhood home may leave your feelings neglected and often invalidated. You have every right and truth to your feelings, and anchoring that internal boundary for yourself enables red flags to be made far more apparent.
Detach and check your tone at the door
Before you get your emotions involved, be sure you are fully aware of how you state your boundaries without bringing up repressed feelings. “When working with clients that are struggling with the parents they live with, I find it important to understand the level of assertiveness, passiveness, or aggressiveness that they carry in their tone when communicating. Because of the past, it may be difficult to speak from a place that isn’t carried with emotion. But sometimes it’s necessary to create emotional distance with our parent(s) as a boundary in order to survive the environment,” Trauma Psychotherapist and founder of Latinx Therapy, Adriana Alejandre shares. While withholding your feelings in an irritable or even toxic environment is far easier said than done and even an oxymoron at times, maintaining an assertive tone is crucial to having an honest conversation on boundaries.
Using “I” Statements
For many of us developing adult relationships with our parents, it is hard to wrap our heads around communicating our feelings with them, let alone disclosing when we feel violated. In the Latinx community, more often than not, you will be labeled “disrespectful” or “rude” when challenging the opinions of elders. When placed against this roadblock, Trauma Psychotherapist and founder of Latinx Therapy, Adriana Alejandre, shares, “For people that are comfortable having dialogues with their family members, using “I” statements (starting your sentences with “I feel” or “I think” “I hear”) can be a good way to reduce any defensive reactions from both sides.”
You can say “No”
Licensed Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor Maria Bautista says, “Learning how to say “No” is extremely difficult but an important step in gaining more emotional control and confidence. It is crucial to be consistent because you are setting boundaries for yourself, not for others.” For a family-oriented community, it may feel like your patience is constantly being tested when asked to take on more tasks at home or cater to the needs of your younger siblings. In reality, you are regularly overextending your boundaries and need to reflect on the responsibilities you can and cannot take on for your mental wellbeing. “Boundaries can seem foreign to our Latinx parents. Talking about what healthy boundaries are with your Latinx parents can be helpful to increase their understanding of where you are coming from,” shares Genesis Espinoza, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.