Three Steps To Heal the Trauma of ‘Insensible’ Immigrant Parents

Insensible Parents BELatina Latinx
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My father has always been a stoic man, especially during some of the family’s worst times. My mother, on the other hand, was always a mountain of emotions, even when life’s most difficult experiences thickened her skin.

I’ve never been able to figure out the reasons for my father’s apparent emotional disconnect. While it has always been clear that love did not fail, the lack of expression was evident and even uncomfortable.

And this is the case in many Latino families.

We often blame ourselves for our parents’ apparent insensitivity, even when nothing could be further from the truth. We tend to feel responsible in some way for the actions of loved ones.

However, to understand the real reasons behind the repression of emotions, one must go to the cultural background, generational trauma, and hurtful experiences that, more often than not, create these protective barriers in our parents.

The trauma of the immigrant population is buried under the stress of circumstances. Threats such as lack of employment, survival with minimal resources, the pressures of single-income households, fear of deportation, loneliness, alienation by society, and minimal support can bring anyone to a place of despair.

Parents forced to face these difficult situations cannot afford to break down but instead put on a brave face to help families maintain hope and security; learning to hide emotions such as fear, doubt or shame is the ultimate sacrifice to foster a safe environment for loved ones. 

Hiding vulnerability can create a distant exterior that leads others to believe there is a certain detachment.

Cultural background can also play a part in parents that are supposedly missing the expressive gene. Latino men, for example, are encouraged to be strong, courageous, and masculine. The pressures to be a “man’s man” can produce a state of disconnection, as they have to appear to have tough skin. Portraying the man in charge sometimes forces many to construct a resilient exterior, even when they don’t feel that way. 

Children of insensible or “expression-less” immigrant parents have their own challenges born out of the disengagement experienced at home. Having a parent or parents unable to meet emotional needs will create deep-rooted issues that manifest later in life and relationships.  

The most valuable first steps to take to break free include:

  • Acknowledge the lack of support in your life, then find ways to nurture self-love and worth. Seeing the people you love for who they are and understanding limits help you with acceptance.
  • Realizing that you are not at fault for parent behavior is key since carrying around that guilt is damaging and untrue. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, and children should not carry a parent’s emotional baggage. 
  • Make decisions that honor you. Surround yourself with the things that make you feel cared for, respected, and appreciated. Allow positive influences to enter your life to help you thrive.

Unloading trauma left by parents is by no means a simple task. Our mothers and fathers are our greatest influencers growing up. However, as you enter the age of adulthood, you gain individual power. I have learned to cultivate the good that my parents gave me and replace what does not serve me with thoughts, ideas, views that encourage me to live the best version of my life.