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  • Angela Tam

Self Sacrifice is not virtuous, its a survival response

If you are a 1st/2nd/3rd Gen Child of Immigrants of Color, like me, you are probably familiar with the concept of being self sacrificing. Self sacrifice is a learned behavior among children of immigrants and results from trying to straddle a new culture while trying to maintain ties to one's heritage. Here's how it can unfold:

1) Cultural expectations and duty to one's elders- Children of immigrants feel extremely compelled to prioritize their family's well being over their own, sometimes to an extreme degree. As full grown adults that may or may not live with family.... this can look like feeling pressured to carry out your family's core values and legacies, while neglecting to be curious about your own personal desires or needs.

2) Parental sacrifices- Immigrant parents often make huge sacrifices to ensure their children are taken care of, but also expect their children to "pay them back" by living out their parents core values and expectations. In my family, the expectation was that I would find a financially stable career and "be happy" with it. For others, their families might have an implicit expectation for them to be financially stable, and also service oriented.

3) Cultural guilt- Children of immigrants may experience guilt if they perceive their parents struggles and sacrifices as a direct result of their decision to immigrate. This guilt can cause folx to endure hardships above and beyond what they have capacity for in order to validate their parents sacrifices.

4) dual identity and assimilation- Children of immigrants are experts in leading double/triple lives. We are experts in having alter egos, and role shifting with ease, until its hard to keep track of all the different stories and messages that we told people. They might downplay or suppress aspects of themselves that they perceive as different in order to have a sense of belonging. This can include suppressing personal desires or preferences in order to conform to family norms or societal norms.

5) fear of disappointment- Some parents may have harsh and unrealistic expectations of their children. Some of us may live in fear of disappointing our parents in pursuit of our own desires. This fear can drive people to prioritize conforming to family values and it can be hard to determine what your own values are. I was told that self sacrifice was a high value and anything other than that was considered selfish. I didn't feel any safety to explore my own needs and desires until I was in my late 30s and in a secure relationship with my partner.

Now that we are adults, its now our turn to reject the binary of self sacrifice versus selfishness and define our relationship to money, time and work on our own terms. join me on this journey to do so either through signing up for ​weekly therapy sessions​ with me or through my group ​coaching​ program.

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