Having parents immigrate to another country to provide a better life for you can come with a lot of emotions. Guilt being one of the main ones I’ve heard and experienced myself. In this post I’m going to tell you how to overcome First-Gen guilt and share some of my personal journey with it.
I’ve been wanting to write about “First-Gen guilt” for a little while now. I feel like starting a new year and thinking about goals and aspirations has brought me back to this topic. One of the reasons is because as I’ve helped my coaching clients create goals for themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder who they were creating certain goals for. Sometimes we say we want something but in reality we think that by getting it, it’ll please others (*our parents*).
What is “First-Gen guilt?”
Not sure if this term has been coined but I’m naming it this because as children of immigrants, guilt can be a prominent feeling encompassing parts of our life. For the sake of this post, when I refer to “FIrst-Gen” I’m referring to being the first-generation born in the United States to immigrant (foreign) parents. Therefore, “First-Gen guilt” is pretty self-explanatory. Feeling guilty for being the first generation born in the U.S with opportunities and privileges your parents didn’t get to have.
As I researched this topic I only seemed to find information on First-Generation college student guilt. It makes so much sense, being that for many of us, our parents didn’t have the opportunity to obtain a higher education even in their home country. Moving away for college comes with so many challenges in and of itself with guilt being front and center of that transition. This post is about all types of First-Gen guilt though, not only relating to college.
How to recognize signs of it
The feeling of guilt can be masked through other feelings such as low self-esteem for instance. Other big ones are feeling inadequate, resentment or simply feeling sensitive. If you find that you overthink and question your decisions, go within and figure out why. Journaling can help you gain this clarity or work with a coach, of course.
For some of you, maybe your parents straight up pressured you to accomplish certain things or to take a particular life path. Whether you chose to follow through with that or not, eventually some if not all of the aforementioned feelings may surface. But even if your parents were super supportive and generous with you like mine have been, guilt can come up too. There’s no right or wrong reason(s) for feeling guilty for having the opportunities and privileges you have for living in this country.
Finally, ask yourself who you are living for. Please do this with a nonjudgmental lens, always choosing to be kind to yourself. By simply inquiring that question you can find unexpected answers. You may begin to recognize that you have been living for other people. If that’s the case, relax, you have clarity now and it’s never too late to make any changes you want to make.
How to overcome it
There is no linear path to overcoming First-Gen guilt but here are some tips on how to handle it. First and foremost, recognizing the feeling of it will help tremendously. After acknowledging the guilt and the root cause(s) of it, reframe your thoughts to better serving ones. For instance, if you’re constantly thinking that you “should be doing more in order to repay your parents for their sacrifices” (which is a self-imposed guilty thought), reframe it to something like, “everything I’m doing is enough and my parents see that too.”
Next, choose forgiveness. If your parents have pressured you or acted in ways that caused guilt, forgive them. Forgiveness is a way to liberate yourself. You are doing it for you, not for them. With that being mentioned, most importantly remember to forgive yourself. Decide to start fresh with this newfound perspective and with better serving thoughts.
Finally, choose to live in the moment and recognize that you are right where you need to be. Everything that happened in the past needed to happen in order for you to learn and evolve. Your parents starting a new life in a new country was their choice. Choose to be grateful for the life you have without the guilt. You deserve the opportunities and privileges you have. That’s the reason why your parents chose the path they took. By feeling guilty you are resisting their desire to give you a “better” life than they had. They did everything out of love for you. You are worthy of it. You deserve it.
My experience with First-Gen guilt
To be completely honest, I am now barely overcoming this myself. My guilt appeared on and off since around my high school years. That’s when I began thinking of my future so I chose to go away for college in order to get an education and to make my parents proud. While in college, the guilt intensified because my parents were now able to provide financial assistance for me (something I didn’t grow up with). So having their full support caused me to feel guilty…for no reason.
It got worse for me as I got older and continued making “unconventional” life decisions such as traveling on my own and moving out of my parents’ home without being married. The main one that triggered it the most was after I eventually ended a long term relationship with the man my parents and I thought I’d marry. I began feeling like I didn’t deserve the privileges their sacrifices and hard work gave me. I felt like I was letting them down for some reason but after recognizing the guilt and shame, I decided to do something about it.
After acknowledging the guilt, I questioned it. I got to the root cause of it for me and what came up for me was the feeling of unworthiness. One of the main reasons for my guilt came from needing and accepting my parent’s help after a major life transition. I was making things worse by shaming myself and feeling guilty about it till I recognized it was ALL SELF-IMPOSED.
How I overcame it
Once I realized there are countless people who need and receive help at any given time, I shifted my thoughts about it to better serving ones. I decided to be grateful for everything my parents have chosen to do for my siblings and I. Most importantly, I decided to choose myself and feel worthy and deserving of their love and support.
I realized that by feeling guilty and ashamed, I am resisting all they have accomplished. By doing this, it’s literally not serving anyone. Working with a coach helped me recognize some things as well. Coaching is transformative. But anyway, I’m still a work in progress. It may sound easier said than done so I’ll end by telling you it’s an ongoing practice. I invite you to practice forgiveness, gratitude and self-acceptance. You got this.
I hope this post landed for you in one way or another. At the end of the day it all comes down to your thoughts. By reframing your thoughts, you can completely change our life. It may take time and practice but it is possible. As always, be kind to yourself. Remember that I’m here for you if you want help with this and want to dive deeper. Finally, I’d love to know your experience with First-Gen guilt. Feel free to DM me on Instagram and of course, make sure to follow me on there too. And make sure to sign up for my newsletter HERE. Thank you for reading!
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