The guilty party: Coping with toxic guilt as a South Asian American

MHA Admin

Wed, 08/02/2023 – 15:19

by Maliha Khan

Guilt is a feeling that runs through the very social fabric of South Asian culture. Guilt at its core is a natural and healthy emotion that all humans experience. It comes from a sense of responsibility related to our actions, and it helps us relate to others and holds us accountable. As a South Asian mental health therapist, I have seen guilt take an ugly turn in this community because of complex factors that are unique to this group.

Many South Asians grow up in collectivistic homes where the well-being of the family is highly valued. While this helps South Asian families stay connected, it can be problematic if it comes at the expense of the individual’s well-being. Unfortunately, that is the case for many South Asian homes, where guilt tripping is used to force people to comply with familial values and expectations. When it runs rampant, it creates a chronic state of guilt, also known as toxic guilt, which leads people to constantly question their actions and worth. This type of emotional blackmail leads South Asians to put other people’s needs before their own. even when it is hurting them. We may apologize for things that are not our fault, accommodate other people’s needs while putting ourselves in difficulty, or excuse abusive behavior because someone is an elder.

While we may engage in these behaviors to protect our relationships, functioning from a place of toxic guilt over time results in feeling resentment towards the very people whose values we are trying to appease. When unchecked, toxic guilt may turn into shame and cause worsening mental health. In fact, 1 in 5 South Asian Americans report experiencing a mood or anxiety disorder in their lifetime, both of which include deep feelings of shame. In the quest to not abandon our loved ones we may end up abandoning ourselves.

As South Asians we may feel like we are in an uphill battle when going against the grain of generational patterns. We may not feel like we have the option of removing ourselves from environments where toxic guilt was born. However, there are some steps we can take to create healthy change through our actions:

Identify how guilt shows up in your life. Write down how your choices are influenced by guilt. Introspection will allow you to notice patterns you want to address.
Get in touch with your values. Identifying what is important to you will help you build a stronger identity and provide a meaningful sense of direction. Aligning with your values will help you feel more secure in your decisions when someone is trying to guilt trip you.
Set boundaries. Many South Asians can’t entirely cut off family members who use emotional blackmail. You can still set boundaries by limiting your time and what you share with them. Clearly state that your decisions are not a topic you are willing to discuss. Remember, there is nothing wrong with sharing your needs if you do it in a healthy way.

Guilt is a healthy emotion, and the goal is not to remove it from our lives. The goal is to create a balanced way of experiencing guilt in a way that is in line with our values as South Asians: Respecting ourselves but also respecting the ones we love.

Maliha Khan, LPC, is a Pakistani-Muslim therapist. Learn more on her Instagram and YouTube pages.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Child Sex Assault Victim
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At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

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  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
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  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
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  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
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  • Mentorship Training
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Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
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Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: