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  • Is this Healthy Closeness? Filipinos on Attachment and Codependency

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    What is the line that separates healthy attachment and codependency?

    In America, closeness or healthy attachment in the name of coregulation can be misconstrued as being too dependent on others. 

    Closeness to soothe an aching heart is our mammalian biological social need. This is coregulation. Seeking to be in someone’s warmth because the cold wind is too much to bear despite your best effort to warm yourself up.

    coregulation in Filipino families


    If at the mere sign of change in the weather, you become rigid and panic to find a source of warmth without seeking first what emotional resource you have within you, it’s possible you are codependending.

    Children have to develop their emotional resources first before they can weather the storm. This happens when they are protected by their caregivers consistently. Consequently, they learn that the world is a safe place. Let me explore is the child’s mantra. Confident that she can run back to a caregiver when she gets sugat (boo-boo) on her knee.


    In the study of 3,000 nations by cultural psychologist, Michelle Gelfan, she found that countries/environment that had experienced more threat in the aspect of history, ecological, socio-political upheavals….etc. have a tendency to be tight cultures.

    Tight cultures are defined as cultures who seek to  work more in cohesion, tightly-knit as a protective mechanism to survive  threats, perceived or real. 

    The Japanese Macaque (snow monkey) is an endangered species in the region of Japan  with extreme cold weathers. The snow monkeys have to adapt their behavior and mannerisms to survive. They’ve learned how to ride the back of a deer, a behavior only discovered with these monkeys. In close proximity with others, these snow monkeys are able to combat the intense threat of cold conditions.

    If other species of monkey saw this unique deer-riding behavior of these Japanese Macaque, they may find it weird or unruly.

    When operating from our own landscape of what is appropriate only based on our cultural and societal framework, we miss the complexity of living organisms to magically adapt to its environment to survive. 

    One generation’s surviving can potentially lead to  the next generation’s thriving behavior. This may be contingent on the next generation’s ability to make sense of the former generation’s adaptive behavior from a wider cultural and anthropological perspective.

    When we perceive only from an American cultural perspective, a monkey on a deer seems repulsive and we become convinced that it needs to change.

    Is the monkey too dependent on the deer for transportation, for warmth and connection?



    If the snow monkeys ever descend to the warmer weather that other parts of Japan offer, would they have to change their deer-riding behavior?


    Would they be able to change an adaptive behavior instantaneously?

    Probably not.

    When Filipino immigrants immerse themselves in the American culture, they seemingly adjust without a hitch.Our bilingualism can both be a blessing and a deceptive measurement of our level of acculturation. 

    codependy filipinos

    In the study between Korean and Filipino immigrants, Filipino immigrants hold stricter adherence expectation for their young than their Korean counterparts. In most cases, Korean immigrants might still be learning the English language while Filipino immigrants have a general grasp of of the language per their scholastic socialization in the Philippines.

    If you’re interested in discovering how Filipino children are oriented differently from the mainstream American culture, check out the Masterclass on Pakiramdam (Attunement): Filipinos on Affection Beyond Words.

    From this perspective, we might expect our elders and parents to stop riding the back of the deer as they begin to do what other monkeys in warmer weathers do.

    But they don’t and this creates tension in America, the land of the free.

    In a over-simplified comparison, Filipinos can be what they want in America given their intention and motivations. It is the land of the free.

    Or is it?

    In the Philippines, disparity, threats ranging from natural disasters to political unrest can make reaching for your dreams an illusion. Unless you have connections and the financial backing to realize your dreams, it stays between you and your pillow at night.



    In the ideal world, disparity in the area of social resources allocation is narrow enough that each member of a socio economic status feels that self expression will not cause their exile in the group they currently have membership to.

    Such memberships become legacy of the previous generations passed on to the young. The effort to climb up the ladder on whatever means it takes to buy privilege is like a bridge built over a raging river. 

    The young is expected to maintain it to be able to cross the river successfully to the other side.

    Loyalty within the Filipino family circle is teaching the child consistently how important this bridge is and all the mechanics to sustain its purpose. Problem arise when the context has changed and much about life is expecting that things don’t remain the same.

    It’s possible that there is no more raging river, or  that a bridge need not be built or other side no longer connotes what used to be defined as success.

    The snow monkeys can now begin to trek their path with more security and safety. Eventually, they’ll have to learn that it’s ok to get off the deer’s back.



    Loyalty has a social purpose to ensure that groups are maintained and that its members don’t just stray away to get a new membership elsewhere.

    In the animal kingdom, a group can maintain itself when members function as their role. You might imagine the papa monkey as the protector of the group, other members as the collector of food resources, and perhaps a handful of members who tend to the young. 

    Loyalty is important for survival and when a threat compounds the situation, loosing a member can have a profound effect on group efficacy. 

    Imagine if the monkeys assigned to care for the young boycotts their role. 

    loyalty filipino culture

    Loyalty in the motherland (Philippines) becomes a much rendered commodity for as long as disparity in resource accessibility is given to those in power and connection. It’s important to note that it’s not about the assigning of role but that role assigning is privileged to the few.

    If papa monkey can also tend to the young and woman monkeys can collect food resources when situation calls for role switching- is not the problem. The rigidity to label members to ONLY certain functions/roles is. In both cases, loyalty plays an integral part.

    In the motherland, parents unconsciously play the part of keeping the status quo. The uninformed swim in the river of survival, their heads down to thread the water, they don’t even see that higher grounds are a few feet away.

    The privileged (earned or gained)  parents ensure that their children stay on higher grounds.

    Loyalty in America is in the shape of loyalty to oneself, pride for your American identity, to groups you currently have membership in. It’s an important value but not  emphasized, opposite of the word Pakikisama (to get along within the group) in the Filipino lexicon. 


    In immigration, is it possible to allow the snow monkeys to get on the deer’s back once in a while? A behavior they’ve been used to, comfortable and soothing although no longer needed.

    The Filipino immigrant leaves closeness to a culture where a wider space of physical/emotional proximity needs to be maintained so that the American can feel safe enough to be close to.

     The definition of loyalty needs to be modified.

    Watch this youtube on how I attempt to explain the difference between codependency and coregulation (healthy attachment)


    Closeness to test one’s loyalty is like a examination given to the Filipino American where the latter has not studied for but whose grades depend on it.

    The yearning of the Filipino immigrant to be sensed (in words and absent of words) for closeness may feel like the teacher frustrated that her students can’t do multiplication. Her students need to learn addition first.

    healthy filipino family

    From my perspective, the Immigrant can be allowed to yearn for closeness but would need language to allow the Filipino American to decipher these needs. In the Masterclass: Pakiramdam- Filipinos on Affection Beyond Words, I shared the nuanced and the cultural implications of Pakiramdam ( sensing with and without words).

    Being aware how the Filipino child is oriented very differently in the Philippines versus in America can help elicit compassion to elicit a cross-cultural expression of connection.

    When the Filipino immigrant parent is made aware that her child is oriented differently for survival and to thrive in the American society and not just for the sake of “ being American,” she might be able to consume the information better.

    Simply teaching parents to verbalize their thoughts do little to change the Filipino dynamics in the home. They must understand that this is mutually beneficial to them as well and not just for the child. 

    The child-centered paradigm is a westernize concept to the Filipino immigrant. 

    At the same token, when the Filipino American is made aware that their parents’ passive assertions may be their unique affection-seeking behavior, you can begin to assess their love skills with the right tool (of course, not all passive behavior is a sign of affection and health). 

    Finally, the teacher gave the right examination for the subject you studied for!

    Loyalty is a value emphasized in the Filipino culture. It does not always mean selling your soul just to sustain your earned membership. It means that you value connection with people. You are loyal to uplifting their wellness. You are loyal to disrupting the status quo for generational healing.

    Pakiramdam Filipino core value


    Being close to someone is your psychological primal need. When you begin to believe that you can be self-sufficient enough  to need no one else, you are in deep need of connection for others.

    When you can’t separate your anguish and pain from someone else’s and you become obsessed to soothe others to ultimately soothe you, you are in need to deeply connect with yourself.

    Closeness is adaptive just like the snow monkeys reaching for the deer’s back for comfort, for access, for a ride. In moments, you find yourself, stuck and you’ve done the best that you could to weather the storm, it’s ok to allow someone to take you on their back, even for just a moment until you’re back on your feet again.

    If you need additional support and would like to learn more about Story Therapy/Coaching, book a 30 minute consult with Roanne here.

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