How therapy works

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When I say that I have therapy praxis, I notice different reactions from people. Some stop for some seconds and try to digest what they’ve heard. Others answer with long: “Ooooookeeeeyyy!” or “Interesting”. And the conversation stops there.

With time I realized that people around me have a different understanding of what “therapy” means than I do.

For me, therapy is a word that expresses a process someone is willing to go through together with a trained person within the field of psychology. The purpose of this process is to have a more fulfilled and easier life. A process, which allows people to discover themselves and see a bigger and perhaps a different picture of the world they are living in. It’s a process of growth and becoming.

Yet, for many other people, “therapy” means something very scary. It means that you are mentally ill, diagnosed, and in serious trouble. I have no idea why it is like that. Just is, and those people think for themselves: “I am fine. I don’t need therapy. I’m not crazy. Other people have it worse than me”, which is called “denial” in technical terms.

Many are going out and speak under the influence of a famous “therapist” who goes by different names: “Wine”, “Beer”, “Scotch”, “Vodka” and many others. I’m sure you know who I mean. There is also a saying “What happens to a party, stays at the party” and one can say that the “confidentiality” agreement is in place. Although, images and films we see on the internet these days, say otherwise.

All good. Speaking with family and friends under influence or not, is great. These people are precious. At the same time, they have their own issues and their own emotions to deal with when they hear your problems. Most likely, their advice will come with good intentions; yet, they are not in your shoes. I have seen enough broken relationships because people cannot manage their own feelings when they find out how the other person really feels. And it’s also a kind of tabu to speak about feelings. 

Therefore, let me explain how therapy works.

If you’ve been to therapy and you didn’t like it, it’s ok. It’s not for everybody. For people who realize that they need this kind of help is good if they try several therapists/psychologists until they find one, they resonate with.

When they found that person, it will take six to eight or ten sessions to feel progress. Unfortunately, their problems are not going to be fixed overnight. The therapist is a good support through the process, with knowledge, compassion, guidelines, and questions, while they are doing the job. Nobody can fix other people but themselves.

If you do not want to be fixed, or if you are not willing to put in the work, nobody can do that for you. Nobody else can feel your feelings or think your thoughts for you.

Working with yourself is not like working with pottery, or cooking, or carpentry, where you actually “see” or “touch” the progress. When you work with yourself, you need to feel it in your daily life, in the time between therapy sessions. You feel it in the behavior patterns you have towards yourself and others.

With the therapist, who is bound to confidentiality, you can speak about everything without being afraid of being judged or nailed to the ground because of who you really are. Managing to speak about issues you’ve never shared with anyone, in a safe place, can change your perspectives over your life. More than that, after you’ve experienced putting words on difficult situations or feelings, in that safe place, it is much easier to talk about outside the therapist’s office. You learn how to use words, and how to express your needs in a way that is comfortable both for you and for those who hear them.  

Where else can you do this? In today’s society, when we’re supposed to be “perfect,” where is it that YOU can take the freedom to be yourself with all that you are?

Migration of Emotion

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Behind the decision of moving, working and living in another country always lies a feeling; one that gives us the necessary energy to proceed with the action.

I like to call it Migration of Emotion because we take with us our feelings about how it is going to be in the new place to which we have decided (willingly or unwillingly) to move and live. I have identified five big categories of feelings people act upon when they take this decision:

  1. LOVE: And here there a couple of more sub-categories:
  • People marry a person from another country and they decide to follow their spouse.
  • One spouse gets a job in another country, and they bring their family along.
  • One is a refugee in another country and then the family follows.
  1. COMFORT—material or emotional:
  • Material comfort is when people cannot find jobs that pay enough in their own countries and they travel to another country where their skills are appreciated and rewarded accordingly. They earn money and they feel good about themselves. With this money, they also help their families in their country of origin and that makes them feel good about themselves as well. Feeling good about yourself because you manage to provide material comfort to yourself and for others always feels nice.
  • Emotional comfort is the next level. It is when people travel to live in another country, not because they do not earn enough in their country of origin, but because they do not like how they are treated as human beings. Many call it “civilization,” which is more than just money. It is the way people behave with each other; how they speak and how careful they are with each other’s feelings. It is the way the political, economic and social system works, and how are the rules respected. Is your opinion as a human being at least listened to, and then, perhaps, taken into consideration, or does your voice not matter as long as you do not have money? There is a lot to be said here; I know that there is no perfect system or perfect people. At the same time, in some countries these values stand stronger.
  1. SAFETY—included here are the most vulnerable people of all; those who are experiencing war or an extreme dictatorship. The first thing they want is to know that they can live and their life is safe. Being able to still breathe the next second becomes the biggest priority. The need to feel safe becomes the biggest drive in their process of fleeing. The emotional luggage they carry with them is the biggest and rawest of all.
  2. Study abroad also comes with feelings of FUN and INSPIRATION. These can be the feelings behind the decision to study abroad. A degree or some credits acquired in a different system and a different educational culture and another language can count when it comes to showing flexibility in a potential future job. After all, we live in a more globalized world than we like to admit.
  3. EXCITEMENT induced by the travel experience is another feeling, the last on my list, for which people decide to travel. I include here tourism, backpacking, nomadism, and Interrail. People just decide to see what it is like in other places/countries in the world. They either go on holiday or decide to stay, or they travel from place to place, then find something/someone they like in one particular place and decide to stay. As simple as that.

As you can see, when we decide to travel—to move to another country—we all carry with us an invisible luggage: all these feelings, and we may or not be aware of them. Most people are not aware of them, because we don’t really think about them. We just feel them and act upon them.

What makes/made you move to another country?

The Invisible Luggage

man in bus
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People move a lot, generally. Move from a house to another, from a city to another, from one country to another. But why do they do that? What is it that makes them choose “the moving” move?

In my experience people move because they believe that in another place, they will feel better. They will have a better job, better friends, better living standards, better experiences, and so on.

For many though, moving, does not necessarily mean a life changed to the better. Because, I have noticed, when we move, we are not only taking with us luggage which is visible in the form of suitcases or parcels sent by post. We are also taking with us an invisible luggage which lies within us, in form of culture, values and experiences we’ve gathered during our lives until the moving point.

Some experiences are good to have, and others is best if we manage to leave them behind. Sometimes we need to just put them aside until the time to take them out is right again. Others, we need to heal, and say Good-by to them for good, if we don’t want them to stand in our way. How do we manage to do that? Leaving behind experiences, habits, way of being is hard and it hurts. It is like you would be asked to leave behind a foot or a hand. All those invisible parts of us, are just as painful to let go as it is to have to cut a lim.

I notices that it is more understandable when a visible wound is created, that time and patients is needed for healing. People go to doctors and take painkillers, in order take away the symptom. When it comes to feelings, ideas, culture, experiences, behavior, which are “invisible”, less understanding is in store, even from ourselves. Sometimes, even if some people around us give the right support, we are not able to receive that support because we are the toughest judges upon ourselves. We are so stuck and full of the invisible patterns, that we do not manage to take inn new ones. Just like a cup. In order to be able to fill it, it must be emptied first. If we are “full” from before, how are we to take inn new knowledge and experiences? And all this things we are “full” of, are invisible. And because they are invisible, we do not go to see a therapist who can help us empty the cup.

From what I saw around me, all this invisible stuff can be just as painful as a physical wound. But instead of letting that pain out, and live it, even if it hurts, people prefer to hide it deep into their hearts, and cover it with creative ways of distraction: wine, food, cigarettes, laughter, smiles, drugs, shopping, traveling, and  other things which make us feel good. The illusion of feeling good, and coping with the situation makes us believe that everything is fine, and we never speak of them.

If they are spoken of, they are more in the form of accusation of the other. It is the other which is so, and such and so damn different from me that I can barely bear the sight of it/he/she. It is easier to point the finger at the other than to press it on our own invisible wound.

This invisible luggage has a tendency to create the new reality in the new country, and some how shapes the new environment. Some may feel that the only thing they changed is just the geographical position on the globe, and the language they speak and the system of rules in the working world. But otherwise, the experiences they run from are the same. The histories repeat themselves even thousands of miles away from the country of origin, in another language, and with other characters.

To avoid that, some groups stick together. Usually there are people who did not learned or speak badly the language of the new country. It is easier that way. To gather and be together, creating an environment like the one in the country of origin makes the adjustment or life in the new country easier. Here, where it is safe, the old values can be kept and lived after. Even if not entirely disregarding the ones of the land they live inn but judging and comparing themselves after the values from the country of origin.

For some it is a good thing, because it keeps them alive and sane. Having a platform where you can be validated according to what you know, is a creative way of surviving in “hostile” environment where even if you speak the language so that you can function, it is still difficult to understand the underling values.

Have you ever thought about your invisible luggage which you carried with you from your own country of origin to the adoptive one? Is it easy to find it within yourself?  I know it wasn’t easy to find mine.

The Child King : food for thought

Child King Emma

The concept of children as “Kings” and “Queens” is a special one. We do not come often across it, even if it makes sense. Children are our future. The way we take care of them is how we take care of our future. Therefore, how we raise them is important. Norway and Scandinavia are generally very aware of this issue and they are known to be some of the countries where children are raised in a special way.

We who grew up in former communist countries need to keep in mind that our cultures were deliberately held back in many areas of study, like psychology and parenting, among many others. After the Second World War, Western Europe and Scandinavia were rebuilding their societies in freedom while our countries were going through communism as a new social experiment and the Cold War.

After arriving in Norway to study (2004) I quickly noticed the difference in mentality and way of thinking between students from former communist and African countries and those coming from Western Europe and the Nordic countries. I did not understand much at the time, and many of the Western and Nordic students seemed way too sensitive to me. I couldn’t quite grasp what was it.

Later, I made friends with Norwegians and I tried to ask different questions to help me understand why everything was so different from what I knew. By that time I managed to understand that it had to do with the way they were raised. My interlocutors couldn’t necessarily give me an answer since they weren’t educated in the field, but what they knew was that they were following Norwegian Law and that the child protection system was very powerful.Children are informed at school, when they are about 10 years old, that they have rights, and that they are protected by law if anything happens at home. When I say anything, I mean: sexual abuse, physical violence, addiction, too many people crossing the house and partying, too much alcohol, etc. We all know that children speak at school about what happens at home. Therefore, the teachers and the educational stuff is obliged by low to inform the authorities if they hear anything suspect in that regard. At that point, the Child Protection interferes in the family, and some times, it removes the children from their parents, if they find out that they have been exposed to some of what I mentioned before. This is not something to joke about.

In my communist childhood, I have experienced violence, both in school and in people’s homes. The system used many kinds of violence to keep people under control. Being silent for fear of the system meant “being good” and staying safe.

Nordic countries have their own ways to keep people silent, but direct, blunt, violence is not one of them. Here, the “fear” is of “what other people say” and the “fear” of being left out of social groups has some impact. In a country of a few million people that is important, unlike in other countries where tens of millions of people live and work. Another Nordic way of maintaining silence is to give everybody the opportunity to have a roof over their head and a full stomach. As long as everybody has their primary needs met, the need to protest is not that urgent.

In my effort to understand why the culture of the place was so different in this particular respect, I came across the most prominent “child” psychologist in the world and some books she wrote. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place once I read her books and her personal story.

Her name is Alice Miller, and she is the first psychologist to write about what it is like to be a child, about the various feelings one may have as a child. I remember that we grew up with the notion that “children should be seen, but not heard”, with violence and bullying as teaching methods in school and at home. Children were not “humans”; they were just “something” with no feelings, something that had been given birth just because the system required it. It was illegal to have an abortion in Romania and all mothers who had given birth to at least four children were declared “heroine mothers” for contributing to the country’s labor force. It was a different kind of “baby boom” the rest of Europe experienced after the War. Not natural, but ordered by the communist state.

Scandinavia was not much different. It is enough to speak with people older than 60, some even younger, and if they are open about their own lives one can hear many violent stories, of child abuse, domestic abuse, of oppression of indigenous people. These things are part of history. We cannot either deny or go around them.

What is different here is that when people in the medical system came across Alice Miller’s books in the ’80s, they took seriously what they learned from her and implemented this new-found knowledge into the system. They created a child protection system that puts children first and that confuses many immigrants for whom children’s rights are a foreign notion.

But I guess we all learn. If any of you is curious to find and read Alice Miller’s books (they have been translated into many languages), you will find the research she did on people who shaped history like Hitler and Ceausescu.

For those who understand Norwegian, I leave here a link to a TV show made by the Norwegian National Television about Alice Miller, and where it is very visible that she wrote about her own feelings and she used her self as a study subject.

Nothing is lost, but changed

Bruma

 

 

Recently, I’ve been asked how living in Norway has changed me?

Well, it changed me in many ways. I have learned a lot about myself and about others. I have learned what it means to be a human being and what it means to be tolerant. The concept of “tolerance” doesn’t really exist in practice in my country of origin.

I have learned that I don’t have to be perfect, that perfection is impossible, and trying and failing is a part of the winning process.  

I have learned that people can help each other out of the need of helping. The need of contributing to the welfare of their neighbour.  

I have learned what it means to be grateful also in fact, and not only in speech.

Norway has been a poor land until about 60 years ago. It was a hard life being a farmer or a fisherman. That’s why people have learned to be grateful for everything they had, or came to them. 

There was none or little rich or noble people, therefore class distinctions were less visible. Each farmer or fisherman was a king on his/her land and in his/her house. Everybody was proud of what they did and about what they had. They didn’t need to kneel in front of anyone. When the time came to be independent from Sweden, they reached to Denmark for a king.

Equality among people is a high-priced value. At all the dinners I’ve been invited, I have seen how chefs, waiters and people who helped would be praised and brought in front to be seen. This kind of work is not taken for granted. There is always a “thank you for the food” speech. This is something I have rarely seen in my country of origin. If there is, I didn’t come across, not in this way. 

In my experience, being nice is important at all levels of society. The word of a kitchen made can be just as valuable as the word of the director. It is important that someone else knows you as a human being, besides your trained skills. Doesn’t matter how good you may be at your job, and how many qualifications you’ve acquired, if you are not behaving like a human being, you may lose quite a lot.

People talk and sometimes the experience of it can be felt like “Everything you say can and will be used against you” which we see in American movies when someone is arrested. This is also because the number of inhabitants was always small, and everyone was heard when spoke, even if the voice was not very loud.

This is not something I was used to from my culture. When growing up with many people around us, we needed to shout louder to be heard. Small intonations wouldn’t be heard. It is not always happening here. Words spoken without thinking and which would be overheard otherwise, will be heard here. Of course, this has advantages and disadvantages, in the same time, the system is built in such a way that there are always ways for everybody to be heard, even without shouting.

I’ve noticed that some times, a good way of fighting a fight is just to remove yourself from the situation, and things will sort themselves out, better than if you are in the midle of them. Letting people to come to their own conclusions can be a far better way of communication. You may have the pleasant surprise that the conclusions they come to are also your own, or even better for the given situation. All you need to do is breath and let “everything fix itself” or “alt ordener seg” as Norwegians say, and use THE TIME to help you. 

Speak the words, but not the culture

Words have Power

Learning Norwegian was difficult. It still is. At the beginning, listening to the sound of it, it reminded me of a stone avalanche. Thousands of big and small rocks falling down a mountain. I realized that it would not be easy to learn.

I took evening classes, and I was using many hours memorizing words and irregular verbs, expressions that change meaning with each context they are used in. A long time I was frustrated about it, since in my experience, there were few rules and the rest was exceptions. Every time I thought I would have a good and grammatically correct sentence to say, a big laughter would come out from my Norwegian friends. After so many years, they still tease me about the things I used to say or write wrongly.

What I noticed about a foreign language (I speak a couple of them) is that one learns it in layers. Moreover, with time, it gets deeper and deeper into your subconscious and eventually you manage to master it, bit by bit. My accent will always betray me, but my understanding is more complex.

For instance, at the beginning you only speak the words. It is easy to trick the other part, because if you speak the words, repeating them like a parrot, it does not mean you know what you are saying. Because the words you put together with the meaning you have from the background of your mother tongue, it is not necessarily the same with what the native speakers would understand. If they are open minded, they might guess that you don’t really mean what you are saying, and they would help you through it. If they are not, you may have a challenge explaining what you mean. That could represent a danger in this culture. In my experience, the native speakers expectations are that you are supposed to understand much more than they are willing to explain.  The reason for not being willing to explain is not because they do not want to, but because they don’t know how, since whatever is the matter at hand, they never had to speak about it, therefore, there is no culture of explaining. Many misunderstandings can have roots in the fact that we, the foreigners, speak the language of the country we live in by translating word for word out native tongue, and expect the same result as in our culture of origin.

For instance, when I was a student, we had a colleague from Bangladesh. Every time he would make a new acquaintance, he would say, “It gives me pleasure” instead of “Nice to meet you”. We laughed about it at first, and then one woman took him aside, and explained to him that his way of greeting people for the first time, might be misunderstood. He’ve got the point, and in the same time, he was not saying anything wrong. He just translated word for word the phrases he would use in his native language.

It takes time to understand the Norwegian culture, and not only this one. I believe in any country one would move there are social and cultural codes rooted in the culture and in the use of words, we do not relate to, because they never constituted an issue in our culture. Therefore, there was no need for words or expressions. Sometimes, when I am together with friends speaking the same languages as me, we find ourselves expressing things with words from the language that has the best description of a feeling, for instance, or a situation.

Yet, I find that the more languages and cultures one manages to know the richer one becomes.