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Psychosocial stressors for Indian immigrants

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Thomas Kulanjiyil, PsyD, PhD, is a founding member of PARIVAR International. He currently serves on the faculty of College of DuPage. He is co-editor of the book, “Caring for the South Asians-Counseling South Asians in the West.” Dr. Kulanjiyil can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For any personal or family issues contact Parivar Family Helpline: (877)-743-5711.

By Thomas Kulanjiyil

Social psychologists point out five psychosocial stressors for Indian immigrants.  They include cultural assimilation into American culture, intergenerational conflicts, marital preferences, gender role conflicts, and marriage and divorce.

It has been found that majority Indian immigrant youths are more comfortable with the American life style than their parents.  The youth speak English at home more than their parents and have more friends of the non-Indian ancestry.  Compared to the parents, more youths self-identify them as being bi-cultural (Indo-American).  About one-third of the fathers and mothers still keep their Indian provincial identity as Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Keralite, etc.

A major source of intergenerational conflict and psychological distress is the clash of values between parents and the youth on the subject of dating and marriage.  Any adaptation of Western customs and values by the youth is generally perceived by parents as a threat to their parental authority and their right to control children’s behavior.  The youth on the other hand, place a greater emphasis on personal independence and identity.  Female students, significantly more than the men, report dating and marriage preferences as a major source of conflict with parents.  Parents believe that sex is an integral part of dating and, therefore, see it as a serious peril to arranged marriage.

When it comes to the choice of a life partner for their children, nearly all immigrant parents look for a partner with the same ethnicity, religion and language. The importance of caste in marital decisions is frequently reinforced but it appears that this caste criterion is slowly fading these days among the second and third generation immigrants. This can be a source of conflict for some parents and children.

Indian immigrant women find greater freedom for self-expression and independence in the American society,   but this new  found freedom may clash with traditional cultural values, and if their spouses are inflexible in their cultural values, it can lead to marital conflicts. It has been pointed out that Indian immigrant women are forced into develop “two different personalities,” one as the assertive career woman appropriate for the American working culture, and the other as the subordinate woman in the home. The development of two “different personalities” can have devastating long-term effects             on these women. It is emotionally difficult for them to assert their newly developing sense of self within these restrictive roles.

Divorce among the Indo-Americans is a fairly recent phenomenon, but one that is rising.  Both men and women suffer social consequences of divorce in the Indian community, but the greatest effect is said to be on women.

The ability to handle these points of conflicts positively contributes to psychological wellbeing. It will not only reduce unnecessary stressors, but also build and strengthen relationships with family.