Latinx Grandmother and granddaughter sitting reading together book and laughing

Overcoming the Guilt: Coping with the Pressure to Meet Familial Expectations While Prioritizing Your Well-being


The importance of family is intricately and profoundly embedded in the daily life of Latino culture, so much so that it was ingrained in my bones at a young age. A belief instilled in me from a young age by my father would tell me, “La Familia es todo” (family is everything). Within a culture that celebrates we-ness, collectivism and familismo are celebrated and passed on from generation to generation. However, there are moments when familial expectations become overwhelming in the celebration of connection and family and caring for others. 

As a clinician, even I grapple with the challenge of uttering that two-letter word-” no.” It’s not easy, not even when faced with a well-meaning request from Abuelita. This struggle highlights the universal shared experience of pressure between familial expectations, guilt, and well-being.

In this blog, I will highlight the guilt that comes with familial expectations in a collectivist culture and what it means to take care of one’s well-being while trying to care for others. 

Familial Expectations 

Addressing familial expectations in Latino communities can be challenging, especially when dealing with general expectations from family. These expectations are learned and passed down at a young age. There is nothing more impactful than seeing multigenerational family social support and the celebration of family achievements and community. However, large multigenerational families and a cultural emphasis that favors relationships over self can sometimes lead to significant negative family-related factors. 

Research shows, “In Latino culture, there is an expectation that female family members of a family should consider their wants, desires, and needs as secondary to the needs of the family, particularly the male members of the family.” Drawing from my personal experience as a Latina, I was raised in a traditional Mexican household where the norm was to naturally assume roles such as caretaker for my grandparents, supporter for my parents, and designated big sister. These familial roles, expectations, and gender norms are not arbitrary; they are learned behaviors passed down through generations and absorbed by the influential mother figures in our lives.

Side note: If you would like supplemental music; may I suggest Jessica’s Darrow’s-surface pressure from Encanto. 

Familial expectations often coexist with gender roles in females and what is commonly referred to as eldest daughter syndrome. The role involves:

  • Navigating through heightened responsibilities.
  • Pursuing perfectionism.
  • Coping with elevated expectations.
  • Experiencing parentification.
  • Grappling with a lack of emotional expression.
  • Struggling with establishing boundaries.

Additional research indicates that Latinos who have recently arrived in the United States tend to report higher levels of family stress compared to those who have been in the country for a longer duration  (Ayón, C. et al., 2010). 

Furthermore, studies suggest that newly arrived migrants face additional stressors while relying on social network support and are expected to support other migrating relatives, encompassing areas such as housing, financial assistance, and employment relationships. This dual role of seeking and providing support can contribute to or exacerbate family stress and responsibilities.

Just a sprinkle of guilt and pressure 

In an attempt to attend to your own needs, you may find yourself contemplating, “I shouldn’t have said no, I should have found a way to help them, I could do more, I’ll just sleep later, this will all be done soon.” versus “I need to take care of my own needs, it’s okay to say no if I don’t have the capacity.” The difference is considering the perspective of acknowledging your hard work and deserving a moment of rest and self-care. The familial expectations and the emphasis on productivity can intensify feelings of guilt and pressure to set yourself aside.  

Guilt is an uncomfortable feeling. 

According to Brainfacts: “ Guilt and shame share some neural networks in the frontal and temporal areas of the brain but their patterns are distinctly different. Guilt arises when your behavior conflicts with your conscience…while supplemental research shows: concluded that shame, with its broad cultural and social factors, is a more complex emotion; guilt, on the other hand, is linked only to a person’s learned social standards.” Highlighting that guilt is bigger than an emotion.  

The pressure to meet family expectations accompanied by guilt can be a heavy one; however; it’s even more of a reason to prioritize your well-being and be mindful of your own needs. 

Self-compassion and Empowerment 

The socially implanted sense of duty to meet family desires and expectations can sometimes lead to self-neglect. It’s fundamental to recognize that self-compassion isn’t an extravagance but a need for mental well-being. Self-compassion involves embracing the idea of treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness when faced with pressure. 

  • Cultural Self-Acceptance: Embrace your cultural identity with pride and self-acceptance, recognizing that your journey is shaped by both tradition and personal growth.
  • Positive Self-Talk: Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with affirmations that validate your efforts, acknowledging that meeting family expectations doesn't define your worth.
  • Cultural Resilience: Draw strength from your cultural resilience, recognizing that navigating familial pressures is a shared experience among Latinos and other collective cultures. This is a shared experience; and you are not alone. 

Note: Dr. Kristin Neff is the self-compassion Queen, and if you’re looking for further practice, please look no further: Exercises 

A sense of empowerment can come from honoring one’s choices, setting boundaries, and honoring cultural traditions while continuing to honor one’s individual growth. 


Nedra Tawaab’s wisdom on boundaries resonates deeply with family expectations and pressure. Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is an act of self-care and a tool for navigating family expectations without jeopardizing your mental well-being. Ultimately, boundaries are for you. 

In an interview, she highlights how difficult it can be to create boundaries with family members while fostering relationships. “ A boundary is something that keeps you safe and comfortable in your relationships.

She highlights the following, based on her own difficulties with family expectations and pressures: 

  • You’ll never have a perfect relationship with anyone in your family, Ms. Tawwab said. With a difficult family member, it helps to step back and consider what a “successful” connection means to you.
  • To begin, identify the issues that are affecting your dynamic with this family member, she said. Then, decide what type of relationship you can realistically have and want to have with that person, taking those dynamics into account.
  • Ask yourself: What can I control?  

Remember, boundaries are for you. 


As renowned shame researcher Brene Brown noted, “We can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.” Highlighting this point, as often in caring for others, family expectations and pressure are particularly important in Latino and collective culture. It’s imperative to emphasize the importance of self-compassion as a foundation in caring for one’s well-being. 

Coping Strategies

1. Meditation/Mindfulness: Practicing mindful exercises to ground yourself in the present moment, whether through breathing exercises or even through meditation; these practices can help alleviate stress and help you feel more grounded. 

2. Journaling: Create a journaling routine to explore and express your thoughts and feelings. Find the best time for you to journal, whether it’s at the start of your day or at the end of your day. Writing can be a therapeutic outlet for navigating and processing complex emotions related to family expectations. Use your journal as a safe place for introspection. 

3. Free-writing: Find your favorite cozy nook, set the mood, and start a timer. Give yourself (10-20 minutes) to free write and let your thoughts flow naturally without any judgment. It can help uncover some underlying emotions and thoughts and just relieve some of that pressure. 

4. Sleep: ​​Prioritize quality sleep as a critical element of self-care. Establish a consistent sleep routine so you are well-rested and better prepared to handle the pressures of family. This may mean limiting your screen time before bed; the temptation to scroll through social media or binge-watch a new series can hinder how restful you feel the next day. Quality sleep significantly increases mental and emotional resilience. Take the time to build your nighttime routine. 


Between the difficult experiences of family expectations and family stressors, the journey to mental health is a true exploration of resilience and self-discovery. The narrative isn’t just about navigating family expectations and pressure; it’s a story of empowerment through boundaries and self-love through wellness. Choosing well-being is not a departure from cultural identity or tradition but a practice of self-compassion and creating harmony in balancing familial responsibilities and self-care. 


  • Glicksman, E. (2019, September 12). Your brain on guilt and shame.
  • Longoria, D.A., Rodriguez, N.M., Gonzalez, J.M., & Escobar, R. (2020). Latina Daughters and Their Caregiving Roles. J Ment Health Soc Behav 2(1):120. 
  • Mohamed Hussin, N. A., & Mohd Sabri, N. S. (2023). A qualitative exploration of the dynamics of guilt experience in family cancer caregivers. Supportive care in cancer : official journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer, 31(12), 659.
  • Molina, Y., Henderson, V., Ornelas, I. J., Scheel, J. R., Bishop, S., Doty, S. L., Patrick, D. L., Beresford, S. A. A., & Coronado, G. D. (2019). Understanding Complex Roles of Family for Latina Health: Evaluating Family Obligation Stress. Family & community health, 42(4), 254–260.