SINGAPORE — The Chinese New Year may not necessarily be a simple day of bonding with family for everyone.
Not only are there plenty of relatives to visit, but there are also nosy questions to answer and tensions with difficult relatives to avoid, both of which can negatively impact a person's mental or emotional health.
It is a reality that Emmeline, a writer in the media industry, is set to face. The 32-year-old was initially looking forward to visiting her relatives this year, since it was supposed to be her first Chinese New Year as a married woman.
It quickly turned into something she is dreading, as she had split up with her fiance of nine years at the end of last year.
Emmeline, who did not want to disclose her full name out of respect for her family, has accepted her fate of having to deal with the potential tidal wave of sensitive questions from her family and friends during this year's gathering.
"I am certain they would want to know why we broke up, what happened to the down payment for the wedding venue, and all of those things," she said.
"I hope they understand that I don't want them (the relatives) to be probing into my personal life, especially when I've gone through such a painful and emotionally exhausting experience. If they continue to bombard me with their questions, I'm afraid I will have anxiety attacks during the reunion."
Stressful period for young people
Some health experts believe that Chinese New Year gatherings can be stressful for the younger generation, especially those in their 20s and 30s.
Karyen Chai, a psychologist from Thoughtfull Chat, said the younger generation could sometimes feel triggered when well-intentioned aunties ask when they will get married or when they will get a job, as they are reminded of the stressors they have managed to distract themselves from in their lives.
"When the aunties and uncles ask these questions, it brings the issues to the forefront, and it brings the younger generation to consciousness," she added.
According to Dr Geraldine Tan, a principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, the modern Gen Z generation is also highly individualistic, which means that they do not want to share their personal matters with others. Or to put it more bluntly, "It is none of your business."
Dr Tan added that this can lead to friction between the younger generation's mindset and the older generation's "kampong spirit" mentality, where everyone stays together and everything is everyone's business.
Not all elders are villains
Eleanor Ong, a psychotherapist at The Relational Counselling Studio, said one could expect questions about everyday topics, such as relationships and careers, to come up during the festive season.
"For example, 'Have you got a job?', 'How much is the pay increment?', 'Why are you single?' - these are the same questions that the older generation would ask," she explained.
She added while it is normal for the younger generation to feel triggered by questions they find intrusive, it is equally crucial for them to understand the intentions of the elders.
"I think this is how the older generation understands connecting (with others)."
Ms Ong said that such line of questioning is the elder generation's way of starting and keeping conversations with the younger people, adding that some elders might not know what else to say.
Ruth Shirley Janarthanam, who is of Chinese-Indian descent, remains unaffected despite being questioned about her relationship status during festive seasons.
The 28-year-old said, "My cousin reminded me that my grandmother and my family would not be here forever. And so, in a way, the questions are a small price to pay compared to how much they mean to me."
"The questions come from a place of concern from my family, and it is not worth it for me to avoid them out of anger or fear."
Keeping nosey relatives at bay
According to experts, there are ways to handle intrusive questions during Chinese New Year family gatherings that heavily involve setting boundaries.
Here are four tips for dealing with nosey relatives.
1. Make sure you don't ignore the questions
The easiest option is to walk away when relatives ask intrusive questions, but Ms Chai said this might just come across as rude and does not convey the idea that the person has crossed your boundaries. Instead, try politely saying that you are uncomfortable.
2. Make some time for self-reflection
Prepare responses to some of the common questions your relatives will ask during the gathering, Ms Chai advised.
"For example, if your aunt asks when you are getting married, you can respond with wit or humour, such as, 'I'm waiting for you to introduce me to a partner'," said Ms Chai.
3. Suggest alternative topics
You should be open to talking to your relatives or asking questions about them. According to Ms Chai, you can ask them questions about themselves, such as, "How is your retirement going?"
4. Keep your distance from relatives if they cross your boundary
Dr Tan said it is not necessary to speak to a relative if they constantly put you down and make you feel devalued, such as harping on your weight issues despite knowing that it is a sensitive and triggering matter for you.
"They don't care if they make us feel like we are nothing, cast doubt on ourselves, and make us feel worse about ourselves, even if we ask them not to. It is clear this person is toxic, and you shouldn't even speak to them," she added.
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