Clients have described some of their cultural challenges as like being a “fish out of water”. They feel overwhelmed with feelings of shame and there is a need to withdraw and isolate.People have shared experiences of no longer feeling themselves, when they are in a new unfamiliar environment or situation.There is a sense of loss, fear, strangeness and anxiety in relation to this change.Giving up or denying parts of our culture is painful when there is the belief that we will not be accepted the way we are. We are often unaware of how important our culture is until there is a conflict because for some it feels so natural and ingrained. We may not always notice it like the air that we breathe. Nevertheless, in some situations we maybe sub consciously encouraged to give up or deny parts of our culture to fit in.
Sadly, for some people this can leave them feeling torn between loyalty and belonging. This occurs because we know who we are, in part, because of our culture. As individuals, we have bonds starting with our family. Furthermore, the people in our lives know us and care for us making culture a significant part of our existence. Giving up one's culture is not always a forceful process yet, it may be something that is necessary or unavoidable in order to survive, especially if there are social implications. For example, someone moving to a new country, new company, new school, joining a new family, may find challenges in adjusting to a whole new way of speaking and being. For many these new customs may be different from their own and may leave them feeling out of place.
People are built to adapt, so adapt we do, however, when we are challenged about our existence and the parts of ourselves that have shaped who we are, there is usually a grieving process. For some it may hurt when we give up what is natural and important to us. It is normal to have an adverse reaction to thinking about yourself without parts of your culture, especially if there are lots of messages such as “this is how we do it”. Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to be.
It's worth noting that in some situations it can be beneficial for the individual to mindfully integrate and consider change. For example, many individuals from cultures that are restrictive may find choosing to leave parts of their culture liberating. But this is not always the case.
So, how do we balance things in life: activities, family, working in a new culture? First, it is important to evaluate how it makes you feel. Sometimes, we operate from the notion that we will not be accepted. In taking the time to self-reflect and recognise what is important to us, we can re-gain our sense of belonging. To summarise, I encourage my clients to build a capacity for compassion towards themselves and to be sensitive to what their needs are when dealing with cultural challenges.New skills can be acquired when working with a therapist who can support you to develop coping strategies for dealing with change. It’s important to hold a balanced perspective on your own vulnerabilities because with the right support, you can walk on different cultural grounds and maintain your sense of self.