South Asian Relationships: How to Express Concern

Due to the value placed on keeping personal matters within the family, South Asians are often hesitant to talk to professionals, friends, fellow students, teachers or coworkers about what they are struggling with in their private life. There is a misconception that if they don’t talk about it and act as if everything is fine, that they can hide their personal issues and no will know what they are going through.

However, very few people are able to fool their close friends or relatives into thinking everything is fine because emotions find a way of expressing themselves no matter how hard you try to hide them.

Think of a house with water leaking through the roof. At first there might be one spot where the water leaks. If you close that leak without figuring out where the source of the water is, it will find its way out by creating a second leak. Even if you close that hole, the water has to release somewhere and will continue to make holes and create leaks until the source of the water is addressed. Similarly, emotions will find a way to work their way out of your system (whether that be through sleeping less, picking fights more, or getting sick, etc.) if you don’t address the source of the problem.

Close friends and relatives notice these small “leaks” of emotions and often feel like they are placed in an awkward situation of wanting to help but not knowing how to approach the sensitive situation.

If someone close to you seems to be struggling with personal issues (such as stress, relationship trouble, depression, anxiety, etc.) but seems to be trying to hide them, here are some tips on how to express your concern:

1)      Use I sentences to avoid making the person feel blamed.

e.g. “I’ve been concerned about you because I’ve noticed you seem more tired than usual.”

2)      Talk to them one-on-one instead of in a group so they don’t feel ganged up on.

3)      When talking to them, be direct and upfront, while being tactful, so they can feed off of your confidence that this is a topic acceptable to talk about.

e.g. “I wanted to talk to you because I’m worried about you. You’ve looked tired for a long time, much more so than usual. Are you ok?”

Avoid vague and unclear comments, which might sound like you are also embarrassed about talking about this.

e.g. “Is there something different about you?”

4)      Encourage them to educate themselves on the detriments of keeping emotions bottled up and experiencing chronic stress.

5)      Emphasize that you are asking because you care. That way even if they react negatively to your questioning, they will have heard that your concern comes from love and not a criticism of who they are or what they are going through.

e.g. “I really care about you and I want to see you happy. I know you love your husband very much but I’ve noticed you seem very upset with him lately. I don’t mean to pry but I just wanted to let you know that I am concerned about you and your happiness.”

6)      Remind them that they don’t have to tell you all of the details and that they can speak with someone else if they’re more comfortable.

e.g. “I know we haven’t known each other for too long even though it feels like we’ve known each other for ages. So please don’t feel pressured to tell me anything if you’re not comfortable. I just wanted to let you know that I’m concerned and that I think it would really help you to talk to someone, like another friend or your sister?”

7)      Recommend therapy or counseling very carefully as many people will take that recommendation to mean that they are “crazy” or “abnormal” (common misconceptions about therapy amongst South Asians).

e.g. “Gosh, I had no idea you were going through so much. It makes perfect sense now why you’ve been so upset and down lately. You know I’m always here for you and will help in any way I can. Have you considered seeing a professional, like a counselor, who can be an added support on top of your friends and family?”

8)      When they are talking, do not tell them how they should feel. Listen compassionately and express empathy. Only offer advice if they ask for it.

9)      If you are very concerned and they seem very reluctant to talking about what is upsetting them, consider calling their primary care physician and mentioning your concern.

10)  If they are exhibiting any signs that they are contemplating suicide, contact a suicide hotline or your local police station immediately.

We would love to hear your response to this article! Please feel free to leave a comment.

Scroll to Top