Culture clash with our family background

Guilt, anxiety, difficulty connecting with others. When you come from an immigrant background, these are some of the things you might end up dealing with more intensely than others. Growing up as an Asian Australian, I’ve spent a lot of my life figuring out how much I align with my family’s culture and the culture of the country I live in, and I’ve noticed this with a lot of the people around me too. We adapt to the new culture at a quicker pace than our parents. Experiencing this ‘culture clash’ can create additional strain on our lives and on the people around us.

The good news is that this is something we can address and eventually overcome. By exploring what you value and unpacking barriers, you can take more control of your life.

As second-generation immigrants (first-generation Australians), we might like parts of our culture but we also clash with previous generations on a range of issues. There are a lot of reasons why older generations think and do things the way they do, but it may not always align with who you are because you’ve been raised in another culture. Some of these might look familiar:

  • success means becoming a doctor and being rich vs. having good friends and good mental health
  • what parents say go, there’s no ‘back chatting’ and your views aren’t considered vs. being able to express your opinion and do things your way
  • making your parents happy is your job vs. valuing yourself as you do others
  • your parents’ role(s) is to go to work and/or feed you vs. being people you can turn to for emotional support and helpful advice
  • parents only criticise, punish, and expect perfection vs. acknowledging your achievements or the efforts you put in
  • you’re compared with others a lot of the time vs. being allowed to be you

Although this can be seen in non-immigrant homes, it seems more common in culturally diverse homes.

For a lot of us, experiencing this kind of upbringing has made us uncertain about various aspects of our identity. We might not feel enough of a sense of belonging to the wider society and we might feel a bit directionless at times. This often manifests in our:

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • behaviours.


We can be aware of some of our unhelpful ways of thinking but a lot of the time, we just go through the motions of life and aren’t aware of how our thinking can make things difficult for us (and the people around us). The way we think has an effect on the way we feel and the actions we take. Here are some examples of what goes on in our heads:

  • “I have to focus on academic achievement and working hard over everything else. This is what my parents have worked hard for me to do.”
  • “I shouldn’t say how I feel or ask for what I want.”
  • “I don’t really matter. I’m not good enough. Look at how much better other people are.”
  • “Should I do this? I’m not sure I can.”
  • “I should deal with things by myself. I shouldn’t need help from anyone for anything.”
  • “If I’m not the best, then I’m worthless.”
  • “I’m not achieving enough. All of the things I’ve done before don’t count.”
  • “What’s the point in trying?”
  • “Is what I’m doing right now the right thing?”
  • “Why do they also criticise me?”
  • “I shouldn’t have said that yesterday!”


Feelings of shame, guilt, being judged, feeling bad about ourselves, worry, fear, frustration and anger are often attributed to the culture clash with previous generations. We have these feelings when we’re with our family or when we think about our family, when we’re at work, thinking about our studies, and at social events. Maybe we repeat the cycle by not dealing with these feelings and letting the emotions bubble up inside, letting them spill out onto others. But we can learn to deal with these emotions in both healthy or unhealthy ways.


For some of us, these feelings lead us to hide things about ourselves from our family and others. We might even try to avoid certain people. We might not speak up. We experience difficulties asking for help from other people. This might make it difficult for others to connect with us and difficult for us to feel meaningfully connected to them.

For others, it’s about making others happy in the short-term. We don’t want to disappoint them so we don’t say ‘no’ to things and often put them before ourselves. This might mean compromising on small things, like the movie we watch, but it could also be bigger life decisions, like our area of study or profession.

We might move towards the extremes to the detriment of our own sanity; either being a perfectionist and overachiever, or we don’t really try at all and tell ourselves we don’t want the things we want, that we can’t get what we want. We might worry a lot more than we’d like to when making choices, constantly asking “what if” and avoiding any sort of risk or unknown.

For a lot of us, we might have unhealthy ways of coping to avoid dealing with difficulties and emotions, blaming things on everyone else, distracting ourselves, using substances including alcohol, and expecting others to make us feel better all the time. This could also spill over to how we manage conflict, leading us to yell at our loved ones, making loved ones feel bad, and clash with people more than we need to.

Enhancing our minds to better manage these impacts

The good news is that we can take control of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours with a bit of dedication. We can learn to cope in healthier ways and avoid ongoing distress, which will then help us live the life we really want.

Some options include:

  • Exploring past experiences and memories to learn how to enhance current situations and behaviours
  • Unlocking the kinds of thoughts that will help you
  • Equipping yourself with tools to manage emotions and gain support to use them, especially when life becomes challenging.

Our experiences shape who we are today. We have strengths that help us in our daily lives but culture clash can limit us or make life extremely complicated. The guilt or anxiety or difficulties in dealing with other people can end up taking over our lives. By deciding to work on ourselves, we can take that control back and decide on our own direction in life.

Note: this is general information and not a research report. Feel free to book in a session for support that is tailored to your current situation.