Ask The Therapist: “I am struggling to adjust with my in-laws…I just can’t match their vibe…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I’ve been married for over a year now but still am struggling to adjust with my in-laws. The problem is they are so sweet, welcoming and lively that I can’t match their vibe. I’m an extremely introverted person who just enjoys her own company, likes being alone and doesn’t like talking much, while my 13-year-old sister-in-law wants me to gossip with her, play with her but I can’t. Despite trying hard, I can’t meet their expectations – I am struggling. Please help. What should I do?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I can really feel your struggle right now. What I’m hearing is that you’re having a tough time adjusting to life with your in-laws, and that it’s difficult to meet their expectations. This is a new environment and a change for you, Anon. Let’s look at this a little more and see how we can help you feel a little more comfortable.

Marriage: A New Chapter, A New Story, A New You

Marriage can come with a great deal of changes, one of the biggest ones is the move from your current environment to an entirely new one. Now, each person will respond differently – some might find it easier to adjust, while others might find it difficult to find their footing and their place in the new space. There can also be a certain amount of pressure to adhere to certain expectations of how you “need” to be. This is where the slightly challenging part comes in: setting boundaries.

Boundaries: What Are They And Why Are They So Difficult To Set?

I know. It’s a word being thrown around a lot nowadays. Yet, there is a great deal of importance that comes with it. Setting boundaries not only protects you, but protects your relationships as well. This can of course seem easier in theory than in execution, which is okay – going at your own pace is key when it comes to setting up those boundaries.

Before we move further, let’s look into some of the most common obstacles a person faces when trying to establish healthy boundaries:

  • Guilt/Shame: one of the biggest things that comes in the way of establishing boundaries is the feeling of shame or guilt. It might come up because you feel like you may have offended someone, or hurt their feelings in some way. This comes with the territory of being Pakistani: putting other people’s needs before your own. You might be deathly ill, but there is no way you can miss your second cousin’s dholki! (Am I right?)
  • Fear of rejection or exclusion: sometimes you might feel like you might need to rest, but your friends insist you go out with them. At the end, you might push yourself, ignoring your body and mind’s needs, and going out anyway. The thoughts might be: “what if something happens and I’m not a part of it? What if this brings everyone closer and leaves me behind?”
  • You might be used to the idea of putting your needs second to others:  building upon what was said earlier, boundaries are especially difficult if we learnt to value the needs of others over the needs of the self. It ties into the idea of shame and guilt. You might have been told that you’re “being selfish” or that you “only think of yourself” or that “the world doesn’t revolve around you”. Those words are the “open sesame” equivalent to the mystical door of shame. 

So, What Can You Do?

While boundaries are important, I also understand the importance of keeping things peaceful within the household, especially with in-laws. So, let’s see how you can establish them gradually, while also maintaining your relationships.

  • Have a discussion with your spouse (if you can): in times like this, it’s good to have an ally, ideally your husband, who may be able to help you when you feel like you’re struggling. Perhaps the two of you can talk about what you’ve been experiencing, and see how you can move forward.
  • It’s okay to say no: Yes, it is alright. If you’re tired, and if you need some time to yourself, you’re allowed to say no to plans and just replenish your energies in whatever way you can. Others might say otherwise, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong to look after yourself. Which brings me to my next point…
  • It’s okay to disappoint others in the process of protecting/looking out for yourself: I was once told that I am not here to fulfill the needs and expectations of others, and it felt as if the world was lifted off my shoulders. Value yourself, know that your needs and feelings are important – just as you would value the needs of others, try extending that compassion and understanding towards yourself. You deserve it!
  • You are YOU, and you don’t need to change that: This is the most important thing I will say in this entire article – Anon, you are allowed to be yourself. You don’t need to adjust yourself or mould yourself into what others expect you to be. Just be you! 
  • Take things at your own pace: Be kind to yourself, remind yourself that your needs matter. Set your boundaries at whatever pace you are comfortable with, and do set them. Not for anyone else, but for yourself. You can do it. 

Anon, I know that it can be difficult to work around adjusting to a new place altogether. Just remember that it is a process. Allow yourself the space and time to adjust, and remember: you don’t have to change anything about yourself. You don’t need to match their vibe, or anything like that. Just be yourself – trust me, it’s the best thing you can do for your relationships and for you! I hope you found what you were looking for in this article, Anon. I wish you all the best on your journey towards healing. Good luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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