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Culture and Boundaries

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are like an invisible force field that protects our needs, feelings, physical space, and responsibilities from other people. They help us tell others how they can treat us – what is acceptable and what is not. Children of immigrant parents are often stuck between two identities: our family’s and our own. In South Asian culture, boundaries can be hard to set within our families, especially personal boundaries.

Culture and Boundaries

When it comes to boundaries and South Asian culture, things can get a bit tricky. Often in South Asian cultures, boundaries are hard to express as it is not a language our culture understands. We, as South Asian families, see ourselves as a collective community and do not see each person as an individual identity. Our identities are completely tied to our families, so trying to set boundaries feels like a foreign concept that makes our families and – ourselves – question who we are.


Our families have different expectations of us, and we put their needs before ours. It can be hard to say no, especially in South Asian families, due to feeling guilty about abandoning our duties to them. Even though we may know boundaries are a way for us to protect ourselves and an opportunity for growth, we find it difficult to set them because we worry about how the other person will feel, thus leading to guilt. The truth is that even though we have been raised in this collective community, we also have our own lives and obligations. It is important to take care of ourselves before we take care of others, and to do this, we need to set healthy boundaries. See the journalling prompts below for ways to envision how setting boundaries will help you.

Practice Communicating

Practice is the key word. Language is important when communicating with your South Asian family. When communicating your needs, expectations, and emotions, it is important to remind yourself that no one is a master at communication and it’s important to practice, make mistakes, and learn from them. This practice involves trying to communicate your needs clearly and consistently until others are able to adjust to the new way of interacting with you. Examples of ways to set boundaries include

  • starting off small by saying no and being assertive

  • sharing how you feel with others with whom you feel safe, which helps you communicate your needs in an effective way

  • walking away from a conversation or space when you feel uncomfortable or unsafe

Remember, different relationships require different kinds of boundaries.

Setting Boundaries

When setting boundaries, it is important to be consistent. Setting boundaries can become a rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs of heated arguments and can feel emotionally draining when you must put up a fight to have your boundaries respected by your family. I am here to remind you that setting boundaries does not happen overnight and will take patience and time.

Boundaries in their best form are both consistent and fluid.

Journalling Prompts

  • How would setting a boundary improve your life?

  • What is your fear of setting boundaries?

  • Where in your life do you feel the most exhausted and need to start setting boundaries?

  • Where in your life have you clearly set boundaries?

  • How are you able to keep these boundaries set?


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