When I was in grad school, everyone talked about how important it was to have good boundaries. At first I thought, boundaries? What are those? I guess that was a sign that I didn’t have good ones.
In my defense, Asian cultures have a different definition of boundaries than American culture. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable for any Filipino adult to tell you that you’ve gained weight and look fat now, that you should have a baby, that maybe you look fat because you’re about to have a baby? OK then you’re just fat. This is one of the downsides of having all of those aunts and uncles that aren’t actually related to you.
These kinds of conversations are difficult for many people, and this is where therapists are supposed to be helpful. In assertiveness training, you learn how to say things like, it hurts my feelings when you say things like that. Or I’m not comfortable with this conversation.
However, in Asian cultures, you are expected to be respectful of your elders, so they can say whatever they want to you, but you really don’t get to say whatever you want to them in response. I have found this difficult to explain to my therapists. Sure you can! Just tell them. No big deal. Except it is a big deal.
In fact, it’s because of this power differential that people engage in passive-aggressive behavior. You’re not allowed to say, well you’ve gained 20 lbs. yourself! I guess we’re both fat. Instead you might do something like ask in your most sincere voice, how is your son doing? The one who got a DUI? Is he out of rehab yet? Then they get to be the ones who feel bad about themselves.
Another option is to be completely passive and not go to any Filipino functions. Or leave early. Or hide in some room somewhere with your siblings who also don’t want to have to answer rude questions and only come out for food. This is actually the route that I’m more likely to take.
This weekend I am going to a mandatory family gathering. Since it’s so hard for all of my brothers and me to come home at the same time, my parents have decided that they are going to force us all to come home for my nephew’s birthday, and no amount of inconvenience is an acceptable excuse.
I’m nervous about it because my dad keeps asking me if I’ve lost weight (I have not) and if I’m taking the appetite suppressants he gave me (I am). I talked to my brother this weekend and my dad is telling him the same thing–that he’s fat and needs to eat less. I think this sudden interest in our weight gain is because he has gained about 20 lbs., but like I said, I’m not allowed to point that out.
I am sure that there is some way to set boundaries even in Asian cultures, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do so. So I’m just going to grab my food and hide out in the TV room and play with my niece.