Self-care in a collectivist culture

Collectivism and individualism, two simple words that hold within them years of history and generations of beliefs and practices. Growing up in a collectivist culture can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health and their ability to prioritize themselves. After all, it is understandable though right? From a very young age, you’re taught to think about what other people will think about the way you dress, about the way you act, about the simplest of choices you make in life. It’s almost as if you begin losing your true self before even fully knowing what your true self is. How can we be expected to practice self-care if we struggle to even recognize our true selves? The idea of practicing self-care in a culture that teaches you to prioritize other people’s opinions seems like an impossible task at hand.

 As you grow up and go out in the world, you may or may not come face to face with this reality and how much it may have impacted you and your own mental health. For some people, they are able to develop self-awareness, to have experiences that give them the opportunity to look into their life experiences and to understand how everything has impacted them.  If you do see this reality and choose to change, you may be faced with further criticism. Further criticism because now you’re challenging years of beliefs and practices. You’re rebelling against a culture that teaches you that what your 50-year-old uncle who lives on a different continent thinks about your career choice matters more than you choosing to do something you love and that makes you happy every single day.

Although these prioritized opinions can focus on almost anything, what I’d like to focus on is mental health. While collectivist cultures may teach you to lean on other people for support and we’re all for community support, we cannot discredit the importance of self-awareness and self-care. Almost as if one needs to be able to strike the perfect balance between being able to take care of ourselves and lean on people for support. While we’re on the topic of mental health, we cannot ignore the impact the stigma around mental health due to cultural beliefs can have on us.

Due to cultural beliefs, one may also struggle with the concept of asking for help. You may not be familiar with the concept of asking for help and going to therapy for the first time may also be an uncomfortable experience as you’re unlearning years of beliefs. You may also have been conditioned to believe that there is no need to seek help outside and that “family matters” must be dealt with at home. And of course, the questions of what people would think of you if they found out you were going to therapy are constantly being thrown around you.

These beliefs can not only be toxic but can contribute to lower levels of self-confidence and self-awareness that can take years of work to heal from.

In some cultures, the conversations around mental health and therapy have only existed behind closed doors for years. It is time for these doors to be opened and for change to happen.

Now on a larger scale, changes this big certainly take time and may come with more challenges than initially expected but today we can choose to focus on smaller steps. Smaller steps in the right direction, the direction of choosing yourself, of understanding yourself, of prioritizing yourself and most importantly of loving yourself. 

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