Ask Sohag: I feel guilty for being away from my immigrant parents


Dear Sohag: My immigrant parents are my best friends. They sacrificed so much for me – leaving their friends and family behind to start over in a new land and then worked to their core for years to build a comfortable, financially secure life for me and my brother. They gave me everything I could ask for and more.

I am now in my mid twenties and walking away for the first time in my life to start medical school. Since my brother and I lived at home during college and beyond, we always had our parents and they were always with us. I don’t think we know life without each other.

I know they are so proud and excited for me on this new journey, but I can’t help but feel guilty for letting it go. I’ve always been a support system for them – especially for my mother, as my dad travels a lot for work – and now I feel like I’m taking away some of their happiness and stability.

My grandmother told me that she was sad that I was leaving because my father would be lost without me. How can I balance this exciting time in my life without feeling responsible for my parents’ loneliness after I leave? How do I stop feeling guilty about leaving my parents and moving to school?

Guilt-ridden daughter

Your dear guilty daughter: It is really nice to feel so close to your parents. However, feeling close to someone and feeling responsible for someone are two different things. You may feel uncomfortable being alone or leaving your home, but remember that this is a normal phase of life. All families function in a certain way—everyone plays a role—and when that is disrupted, it is not uncommon for these changes to cause discomfort, disappointment, or guilt among family members.

Feelings are not necessarily real. You can feel like you’re doing something wrong because someone isn’t happy with what you’re doing. But it doesn’t make what you’re doing inherently wrong. This feeling may be overwhelming, but having it doesn’t make it real.

There are several strategies for learning how to manage guilt. Some of these include:

  • Determine your parents’ beliefs and values ​​and then explore your own, so you can redefine the benefits of feeling guilty. Do you understand what is expected of you?
  • Knowing that if you do not feed yourself, you will not be able to appear at the moment to your loved ones. The last thing you want is to start resenting your family members or parents.
  • Remember that multiple emotions can be felt and acknowledged simultaneously. Your family may feel sad that you are leaving And the It could be the right thing for you. You can feel guilty for being left And the You can love your parents and your family very much.

You seem to be observing feelings, anticipating and keenly aware of what other people are feeling. The sympathy isn’t bad, but this seems to have swung into territory where you really internalize his feelings your family members rather than recognizing them as separate entities. This can indicate a more integrated family system, where your behaviors and feelings may be related to your family members, causing you to feel intense guilt.

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It is not uncommon for immigrant girls to be emotional caregivers in their families. It may be helpful for you to consider whether gender roles have affected the ways in which you and your brother have been encouraged to appear in your family. It may help to discuss with your brother how you can work together to provide for your family without sacrificing yourself.

In my work with immigrant children, I see many who struggle with unrealistic or high standards for themselves. I hear things like: saying no is selfish or disrespectful; Making others happy is my responsibility; If my parents are not happy, I will not be happy. This can lead to unhelpful guilt that is not rooted in realistic expectations that we or others have of ourselves.

I worry about the guilt you feel. I encourage you to watch that guilt so it doesn’t lead to shame – or guilt We are Bad daughter / granddaughter to leave home. Guilt is a warning sign, a reminder to stop and think. Healthy guilt alerts us to our own morality—to the pain and harm we might cause others, or to the social and cultural norms we transgress. It ultimately helps us reorient our moral or behavioral compass.

You show so much sympathy for your parents and their journey to this country. In the end, I bet they probably want what’s best for you. So remember to be compassionate with yourself, and do your best, too. You are navigating new terrain and new family dynamics just as your parents did with immigration. Your courage to carry this forward momentum is beautiful.

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