Protecting one’s peace is considered a pillar of modern self-care culture.
In any corner of the internet, it’s common to find TikTok therapists and pop psychology gurus preaching the need to stand our ground in arguments, cut off those who don’t see our inherent value, and put our well-being first at all costs. They tell us: “You don’t owe anyone anything” and suddenly, it feels like a curse has been broken. We are lighter—and freer than ever before.
But unfortunately, this seems to go against what Filipinos typically believe in. We are a naturally conflict-averse culture: The concept of pakikisama has been ingrained in our psyches and placed at the center of our relationships. As a result, it’s become too commonplace to prioritize group dynamics over personal interest, to the point where we neglect our own peace of mind just to keep the peace. Sometimes, we don’t even have a choice.
“A lot of us live in intergenerational households. This could be a product of tradition or of socio-economic lack,” explained Abegail Requilman, a clinical psychologist from mental health organization Empath. “Each generation has a different way of thinking, which makes these living situations prone to clashes. But even if we want to establish boundaries or a sense of independence, we have to keep the calm within the family because we can’t afford any interpersonal rifts.”
Contrary to what love songs and fairy tales often insist, relationships can be transitory—it’s better to not force them when they’ve obviously run their course.
Most of us may find this increasingly hard as the holidays draw nearer. Because of our predominantly Christian faith, we may feel compelled to forgive others or might find ourselves pressured to do so because it’s what the conscience dictates or because it’s what Jesus would have done. Add to that the fact that we often end up seeing those who wronged us anyway around this time of year, whether in family or barkada reunions or along the streets of our hometowns. Even when we’re not ready to accept an apology or even if none was made in the first place, the onus is suddenly on us to move forward and make amends.
Such was the case for Ricky, who has been estranged from his father for over a decade now. “I haven’t fully healed from what happened [to me and my dad], and he has made no effort to reach out to me in any way. And yet, for some reason, many family members and even outsiders keep trying to serve as the bridge,” he shared. Unfortunately, most of them can’t even maintain neutrality and end up forcing Ricky to make the first move out of respect for elders. Requilman refers to this phenomenon as "tribal gaslighting," where groups of people try to downplay our emotions with an influence so strong, it can cause us to second-guess what we feel.
It also doesn’t help that the Christmas season gives us too much free time to ruminate on the past, therefore amplifying dormant feelings of loneliness. “When you finally have time to sit with your thoughts and feelings, it becomes easy to think about how good things were with certain toxic people in the past. Sometimes, you may even end up missing them,” Requilman said. This tendency to view their transgressions through rose-tinted glasses might result in forced reconnection, even if there were very valid reasons for the relationship’s dissolution. Comfort can lull us back into old patterns and delude us into thinking that what we chose to break away from was healthy all along.
This happened to Sam, who started off as best friends with her ex before he cheated on her a few years back. “Every Christmas, we would reconnect because he would greet me and I’d greet him too. We’d even see each other during barkada hangouts and get to talk and it would feel like old times,” she shared. “But I noticed it would mostly happen because he and his girlfriend were in a cool-off period and he would disappear again when they would patch things up.” While the constant cycle adversely affected her mental health and chipped away at the boundaries she worked so hard to build, there was always this lingering hope that things would one day be different.
Despite these obvious consequences, some people still claim that patching things up and getting it over with is the perfect way to cap off the year and usher in a new one with a positive disposition. But there are real dangers to forgiving just for the sake of forgiveness, Requilman warns. “In these moments, you’re not being true to yourself. You’re beating yourself up for feeling real emotions and expressing that you’re not ready to move on. You are forcing yourself to take a certain course of action that’s against what you truly believe in. That doesn’t sound healthy at all.”
Instead, she suggests that a much better alternative would be to look at the relationship in question for what it was, rather than just assessing little bits and pieces of it. What was good about it and what was bad? Why did it not work out and why do we suddenly feel the need to welcome this person back into our lives? Is it something we genuinely want for ourselves, or is it a mere product of inordinate social pressures? Write it down or map it out in any visual form that helps us process most.
Once we’ve made the decision to keep our distance, it’s our responsibility to build up physical and emotional “walls” that can help limit our contact with the source of toxicity. In times where interactions seem inevitable, though, it’s best to keep conversations as succinct as possible, avoiding topics that can obviously touch a raw nerve or open up old wounds.
For instance, Ricky has learned to detect when people plan on setting him up with his dad for a meal and now courteously rejects these offers. Sam, on the other hand, has succeeded in cutting her ex off cold turkey by constantly reminding herself that some people just aren’t deserving of her civility. “When they see or think that you’re ok with what they do, they’re perfectly fine with abusing you even after you’ve given them so many chances already. I don’t want to be an option or a way for him to feel better about himself,” she shared.
Our peace of mind is not a present we owe anyone, regardless of what time of year it is—and it is perfectly possible to move forward even when the other party isn’t willing or can’t be bothered to give closure.
Of course, just because these boundaries have been established, doesn’t mean our feelings instantly change. Several emotions can exist simultaneously. As the great Phoebe Bridgers confirmed, we can hate someone for what they did while also missing them like a little kid. But the presence of guilt or sadness should not cancel out the necessity or urgency of the action. “Remember that you are choosing what’s healthier for you. Don’t listen to the guilt within you that gaslights you for not being the type of person who can always maintain harmonious ties with others,” Requilman said. Contrary to what love songs and fairy tales often insist, relationships can be transitory—it’s better to not force them when they’ve obviously run their course.
As controversial as this may sound, the state of our relationships does not require a group consensus by way of debate. Our peace of mind is not a present we owe anyone, regardless of what time of year it is—and it is perfectly possible to move forward even when the other party isn’t willing or can’t be bothered to give closure. After all, our ability to heal is not reliant on another person’s ability to apologize. Learning to accept that may just be the greatest gift we can ever bestow upon ourselves.