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10 Ways How South Asian Parenting Behaviours Impact Self-Esteem

Updated: Apr 10

A woman sitting on a couch with a book on her lap with the title "Parenting"
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services

If you grew up in a family where South Asian traditional cultural values were prioritized, it’s possible that you encountered some parenting behaviours that had a major impact on you while growing up and now as an adult.

It’s important to note here that the primary issue is the behaviour – not the person. Sometimes, our parents act in ways that they learned from their own parents. This doesn’t excuse the negative influence that these behaviours can have on a child, it just highlights what may have led these behaviours to develop in the first place.

Behaviours have the capacity for change. The hope is that, within greater awareness and openness around the discussion of South Asian mental health, some of these challenges will be less prevalent with each generation as we strive to reduce the continuation of intergenerational trauma. We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can try to change the future.

With that said, this article focuses on describing what some of these South Asian parenting behaviours look like and the different ways that this can influence your self-confidence.

Examples of South Asian Parenting Behaviours

While there are many aspects of your childhood that may be unique and specific to you, there may also be some commonalities regarding how children are raised by their parents in traditional South Asian family households.

For example, your parents may have exhibited controlling behaviour where they managed how you spent your time, who you interacted with, what your routines looked like in terms of nutrition, exercise, sleep/wake cycles, and other aspects of your daily life in an attempt to encourage you to be a productive, high-achieving, and successful child - and future adult - according to their standards.

Your parents may hold unrealistic expectations for you in terms of your school performance, career path and achievements, financial status, relationship/family status, and other factors that are often valued in South Asian culture.

As a result, you may have faced constant criticism where your choices, decisions, and actions were critiqued, particularly when this deviated from social, cultural, and/or gender norms.

You may have also been compared to your siblings, cousins, family friends, fellow members of your religious/spiritual group, and other acquaintances regarding the standards your parents may have set for you.

Similarly, conditional love could have been a factor in your parent-child relationship, where encouragement, affection, praise, and positive feedback were only expressed when you met your parents’ expectations or did as they asked.

The parenting behaviours described above are just a few examples that you may have experienced. There may be other behaviours not on this list that come to mind for you.

Take some time to reflect on those and how it may have shaped how you see yourself now as an adult.

We will turn next towards exploring how these parenting behaviours could influence your self-confidence.

The Impact of South Asian Parenting Behaviours on Self-Esteem

1. Lack of motivation

You might feel that nothing you do is – and ever will be – good enough. This could make it hard for you to even want to try to make an effort toward your goals.


You may feel stagnant in several key life areas (e.g. education, career, relationships, etc.) as it becomes difficult to push yourself to take that first step forward.


2. Procrastination

You might think to yourself that you can’t fail if you don’t get started. You then decide to postpone doing important tasks so that you don’t have to face the anxiety, stress, and worry that you tend to experience when you step outside of your comfort zone.


3. Avoidance

Procrastination is often closely connected with avoidance. You may choose to not tackle new challenges or risks that could be reasonable based on your knowledge, skills, and abilities because it feels too scary to you.


You may fear that you won’t be able to handle the new responsibilities, not do as well as you hoped, or be criticized by others, so you choose to stay where you are as that feels safer than taking a leap of faith.


4. Fear of failure

Given the impossibly high standards that your parents may have set for you in your childhood and youth, you may have developed a perfectionistic mindset where you feel like you have to do everything right – all the time – and this leads to a fear of failure.


There may be rules you have set for yourself, such as the idea that you should be perfect in your school performance, career achievements, relationships, and other aspects of your life – if not, this means you have failed. The pressure to stay on top of everything can further add to your stress and anxiety.


5. Minimizing

Your parents’ criticism may have led you to minimize and dismiss your past successes, competencies, and positive attributes. If others give you good feedback, you might brush it off and say it was due to luck or external factors.


6. Self-blame and self-doubt

If you were often criticized as a child, you may have incorporated this way of thinking into your own self-talk.


You may notice that you engage in self-doubt when it comes to trying new things or when making major life changes or decisions.


Or, you could end up taking on more responsibility than necessary when something goes wrong because you think it is completely your fault. It may be tough for you to recognize other factors, such as things that are outside of your control, that could have impacted the outcome.


7. Lack of self--trust

Self-blame and self-doubt also can lead to a lack of self-trust as you may find it hard to believe in yourself, your skills, and abilities. It can be difficult to feel at peace in your choices as you may constantly worry that you are making a mistake or that your decision will result in a negative outcome.


You may lean on others, such as your parents, to make decisions for you, especially if have implied that they know best or that you should trust and respect your elders based on their life experience and wisdom.


This is sometimes common in South Asian culture where independent and alternative thinking or going against the norm is discouraged and sometimes viewed as unacceptable. As a result, you may allow your parents to take the lead in various major life decisions and continue to feel incompetent and incapable.


8. Fear of success

You may have a fear of failure and a fear of success at the same time. If a good opportunity comes your way, you may be scared of doing so well that you can’t keep up that high level of achievement or that everything will come crashing down eventually or taken away from you.


It may also be hard for you to see yourself as a successful person because of parental criticism during your childhood and youth. You might intentionally avoid setting goals for yourself and keep yourself small so that you don’t have to deal with navigating new challenges.


You may also engage in other self-sabotaging behaviours where you purposefully do badly at something as a way of proving to yourself that you couldn’t succeed because you didn’t believe you could in the first place.


9. Feeling unworthy

You may be holding yourself back from what may bring you true joy and happiness because you feel that you don’t deserve it.


This could make it difficult for you to feel that you are just as entitled as anyone else to leading a fulfilling, rewarding, and meaningful life.


10. People--pleasing

People-pleasing behaviour is a common challenge, particularly in South Asian culture, where serving others and putting other people’s needs above your own is held in high regard.


This mindset may mean that you ignore your own needs or perhaps are not aware of what you want, what your goals are, or what you would like your life to look like in the future.


You may also feel that other people’s needs are more important than your own so you strive to do well by your loved ones and may lose sight of yourself along the way.


Final Thoughts

This blog post has given an overview of some South Asian parenting behaviours – controlling behaviour, criticism, unrealistic expectations, comparison, and conditional love – that could have impacted your self-esteem as a child and now as an adult.

We’ve reviewed how the development of low self esteem from difficult childhood experiences not only impacts how we think about ourselves – it also influences how we behave and interact in the world around us.

While this can have a heavy impact, there is still potential to make positive changes in your life moving forward. The next article will focus on different ways that you can boost your self-esteem – stay tuned. And, please reach out to a mental health professional for additional support if needed.

Wishing you well on your mental health journey.


Davina Tiwari  MSW, RSW, CSFT

Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist

If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment.


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