Being a first gen in a Latino family can be bittersweet. There is so much honor, pride and recognition that first gens may receive, while also experiencing pain, confusion and disappointment. Many Latinos grow up with narratives that impact the choices they want to make, including the choices made for relationships. I came from a Catholic household where dating was not allowed until essentially I was married. Having a “crush” on boys was frowned upon, going to friend’s houses or parties were prohibited because I could potentially meet a guy y salir con el “domingo siete.” If I were to go out anywhere, I would have to bring my little brother. Healthy independence during youth doesn’t exist in strict Latino families.
One of the first things I did when I went off to college was begin dating and found myself interested in someone. I wanted to do the “right” thing by asking my strict parents for permission and not hiding the fact that I was dating this person. As I learned more about dating, I realized I needed to learn boundaries between my own choices as an adult, and my parent’s fears.
The start of my dating life in young adulthood has common cultural themes that many of my clients have also experienced that I would like to share with you. When we increase our awareness of patterns through education, we engage in healthy decision-making for our dating experiences.
Here are some cultural themes to be aware of for those coming from strict families and a tip for each one:
1. Strict parents project their fears. Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where someone displaces their own thoughts, feelings and insecurities onto someone else as a way to protect themselves. In the Latino community, this likely happens subconsciously, our families may not know they are engaging in this defense mechanism and may genuinely believe their strictness is a way to protect la familia. Journal the following questions to reflect on this more critically:
What are some reasons my family may want to protect me? What have they gone through to create this defense mechanism?
How has their strictness impacted my mental health and the way my body responds to my own choices?
What do I wish I could say to them when they project their fears onto me?
2. A very common cultural value that strict families honor is familismo, which refers to loyalty by prioritizing family over others, having strong family support, and not disrupting the cohesiveness and connection of la familia. Like most values, familismo should be viewed on a spectrum between healthy and dysfunctional sides of familismo. It is important to create boundaries that honor your happiness and romantic separation from your family. Give yourself permission to explore.
3. Secrecy is normalized due to experiencing control from strict families. When we do not feel like we have control over our lives, we find aspects in our worlds that we can control, and in time, this can become a habit once we are in adulthood and live away from our families. If you resonate with this, know that unlearning secrecy about things that do not need to be kept a secret takes not only time but also emotional reminders that you are safe to speak your truth. Practice saying difficult things in front of the mirror, while also recording yourself. Then, listen to the recording and repeat this process until you can share it with someone you feel safe with.
4. Due to growing up in a family where your emotions and choices may have been minimized, we may come into the dating world dimming out light. You may find yourself people-pleasing, thinking you have to be humble about your accomplishments, or not speaking about yourself during your date and rather listening to them talk. Write down some of your accomplishments, make them your screensaver on your phone and practice sharing about things you are most proud of during a date. Be sure to relax your body through your breathing while speaking about this. With time, it will get easier, you deserve to shine bright!
I hope these tips are helpful for you! Remember, you are not alone. Reach out if you are having difficulty and/or if more things are coming up for you as you read today's blog: latinxtherapy.com
Meet Adriana Alejandre, Founder of Latinx Therapy
Adriana Alejandre is a trauma therapist, mental health speaker and podcaster. She is the founder of Latinx Therapy, a national, bilingual mental health hub of resources for the Latinx community.