Many of us spend most of our lives seeking outside sources to make us feel good about ourselves. This may include parents, authority figures, partners, skills and talents, academic achievement, religious affiliation; and the list goes on and on.
Then, there are the lucky few whose sense of self neither expands with outside affirmation nor wanes with perceived criticism or failure. They seem happy being who they are, despite what others think of them. So, how do we all get here?
Here is something each of us can remind ourselves:
I came alone into this world and will go alone, then why do I not trust my own self during this journey? Everything outside me is only an aid, a companion. Let me HOLD MYSELF UP every moment of every day, knowing that NO ONE ELSE CAN TAKE MY PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE. I do not need to be anything else or anyone else, because I came here complete. All I need to do is to love MY SELF, because when I remember to do that, everyone around me MAGICALLY feels loved!
I want to share an experience I had not many months ago, while doing therapy in a 95-100% White part of town. ( In case you do not know, I fall under the "brown" category here in the U.S). So, it was our 3rd session and my client began by telling me that she and her boyfriend had been discussing my origins and that they had come up with Japanese, Mexican, Native American etc. I took this as a friendly exchange and quite enjoyed her curiosity. This was until she came closer to me and asked, "Are your people the ones who have been shooting and killing our people?". I asked her to repeat the question since I was not sure I had heard her correctly and of course, she asked me the same question again. Despite my reflex of shock, disbelief and fear, I managed to compose myself and explained that I was born and raised in India. I had to show this client where India was on the World map, because, of course, her school had not taught her to look beyond her state. I spoke about the religion I was raised with and this again, did not resonate because she had not heard of Hinduism.
This experience awakened me to the fact that outside the comfort of the university environment, there were still people who viewed me as "foreign" and therefore a possible threat. I was not sure if this client would return the following week and was delighted when she did. She went on to becoming one of my most regular clients and we both hugged and were nearly in tears when I left the agency.
My point is that thanks to the "Us versus Them" messages some individuals insist on spreading, the people of our country ( I am a citizen of the U.S) stand divided and categorized today, especially after the elections. This morning, I watched a Christian preacher on T.V and her messages seemed to resonate with the message of the Gita (holy book of the Hindus). I was amazed and pleasantly surprised that the one message all religions preach is that humans should do their duty with the trust that God will do the rest. THEN, she began narrating incidents about "them versus us". She talked about how others may not understand the Christian way and denounce it, and that those people may suffer later etc. etc.....That is the point at which I switched channels. Just before I switched, I heard a lot of Amens from the crowd watching her.
While it personally serves this preacher to incorporate categorization and hate in her messages, it is all humans who have to bear the brunt. At this point, it is has become a practice for us to divide ourselves into categories based on religion, Trump versus non-Trump followers, race, skin color etc. One question we seriously need to think about is - "who stands to benefit from these divisions"?
The U.S has given me and my family more than I could have asked for. We have received respect, education, a chance at honest employment and the freedom to express our individuality. This is a country where most people ask questions and not swallow information provided to them. This is where I learned that despite the existing hierarchies, I do not have to be afraid to ask questions of authority figures or think differently from them. Until this day, I have believed that this country will provide opportunity to those who work for it, irrespective of how they look.
I pray that the divisions created by the recent election are only temporary and that the messages of kindness and oneness that we ALL heard growing up, will prevail.
Those of us who grew up in developing countries know of the stigma attached to mental health conditions and therefore, to any form of therapy in this area. It is understandable that in my grandparents' generation, there was not much energy or resources to focus on emotional issues. Therefore, families often either pretended that such conditions did not exist or discarded the affected person as "crazy".
Today, there is greater awareness that mental health is as important, if not more, than physical health. We certainly know that they are intricately related and one does not do well without the other. While developing nations seem to take their time recognizing this, the U.S has taken huge strides in the area of mental health. I am grateful that the field of Marriage & Family Therapy was created back in the 50s and 60s and that there are some graduate programs offering excellent training using the family systems perspective.
Immigrant families in the U.S would benefit from using therapy as a resource in their lifelong process of adjusting to a new culture. There has been some conversation around the acculturation process for the children of immigrant parents, particularly in terms of their social life. Children often feel like they are leading two lives, one outside home where they act in accordance to the adopted culture and another, very contrasting one at home. This identity confusion often has a negative impact on the child's well-being.
From my own experience, parents seem to struggle too, especially once their children reach adolescence. Adolescence is generally a stage where both parents and children go through some adjustment and conflict in order to renegotiate their roles. Being an immigrant family compounds this struggle to some extent. The child wants to assert individuality and one way to do so is to shun the parental culture and push for the more familiar one ("why won't you let me go on dates, ALL my friends get to!". The parent(s) may experience this as not only the loss of their "baby" but also a threat to their cultural identity.
Raising children in a new culture also places a strain on the parental relationship. The transition to parenthood is universally a difficult one and again, this is compounded when one has to incorporate two cultures into one's parenting. The isolation from one's own family (parents, siblings etc.) and support structure can add to the stress of new parents, leading to possible conflict in the couple's relationship.
Such conflicts do reduce over time in most cases. However, as we all know, unresolved issues do not tend to go away. They just appear in other forms and during other stages of our lives. Immigrant families, especially those from Asian countries, have created something of a record in terms of achievement and financial success in their adopted country. It is now time for us to acknowledge that the years of hard work and focused attention it takes to create a place for ourselves in unfamiliar territory, does take a toll. What manifests as physical problems may in fact, have an emotional basis.
Facing our limitations and acknowledging that we cannot do it all by ourselves, may be the first step. The next step may be to let go of some redundant notions about mental health, so we can recognize symptoms of anxiety or depression (or other conditions) in us or our children and seek the necessary help.
Sujata V, Ph.D, MFT
Always Learning..through the good AND not-so-good times!