What is “Culture Crush”?

blue green and red abstract illustration
blue green and red abstract illustration
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

When I hear a word or an expression, I like to go to the ground meaning. I often use dictionaries. When there is an expression, it is usually formed by two or more words, which on their own have their meaning, and combined, they mean something else, something more than if they stand alone. Even if the original term is “culture clash” which means “a conflict arising from the interaction of people with different values”, I find this definition somehow limited. Therefore I choose to use “culture crush”, not for its dramatism, yet to give a better explanation of what actually may happen.

In the Oxford dictionary, the definition I found for the word “crush” is: “to press something so hard that it is damaged or injured, or loses its shape.” 

For the word “culture,” the same dictionary has the following definition: “the custom and beliefs, art, way of life and social organization of a particular country or a group.” 

If we put the two definitions together, the result would be something like this: to press the customs and believes, way of life, and social organization of two groups so hard that they are damaged, injured, or lose their shapes. In other words, the values, beliefs, and way of life of two countries/groups are pressed so hard against each other that they are altered.

I would say that this meaning put together by the two definitions might not be necessarily accurate because I do not believe that one set of values can crush another set of values. But, at the same time, they can influence each other, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It’s like mixing colors in a painting.

We think of Culture Crush mainly when we speak about the experience many people go through when they decide to move and live in a different country than their own. Yet, each family can have a culture, school, organization, group of friends, and all this we can find within the same country among people who speak the same language. Nevertheless, the cultures can be different, which implies that the set of values people live by are different. 

When we put it in the context of cultures in different countries, I believe that the best way to look at it is that these different values blend, and something good can come out of them. I do not necessarily agree with the use of the word “crush”. At the same time, I believe it comes from the feeling people can get when they realized that perhaps something they have thought to be true all their lives doesn’t work, and it can have a completely different meaning in the new culture they chose to live in. 

The pain caused by the feeling that someone can have when they realized they have made a mistake, or have misunderstood words and signals, can be so strong that it can be similar to a punch in the face – therefore, perhaps some muscles or bones would be smashed and altered. It is a figure of speech, where its plasticity can give a better picture of the real act. Yet, I believe that if there is anything that it is crushing, it is on one side of the brain, which contains the limiting beliefs one has lived under for a very long time. The heart and the body are feeling “the crush” the brain is suffering. It is like the soul is aking. 

This crush can feel stronger or softer, depending on how “black and white” people are wired to think from their own cultures. If someone grew up and lived in a system where rules were whipped into the people, and there was little room for tolerance for creativity or who people are, this would “crush” with a tolerant way of life. When I say tolerant, I mean that people were allowed to make mistakes and find out for themselves how to function within the system of rules they were born into. After all, we learn better from our own experiences and mistakes. Making mistakes is what allows us to grow and transform at the cellular level. 

Imposed rules and learned rules without understanding the process behind them will affect people differently. Even if people do as they are told at the surface, there will always be frustration underneath the smiling mask. That frustration is linked with not experiencing the process on own skin, and the lack of the lesson, which is not learned from experience. 

There are some that we all have in common when it comes to values, no matter the culture, and I like to quote here David Rock. He says that we all have our perception about five main areas in our lives: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness, known in neuroscience since 2008 as the SCARF model. 

When we meet other cultures, we do not know how these values are positioned in each of them.

Status has to do with who do we become in the new contexts. In the country of origin, studies, diplomas, and leadership positions would give status and a specific type of identity. It is possible that neither of that would be important in the new country, yet the personality and the soft skills would be more critical in terms of status. Here we can meet a lot of considerable confusion between being kind and being stupid. They are not the same thing, and I will address this discussion in another article. 

When we are new in a new country, our need for certainty is also challenged, especially when we don’t know anything about how the visa paperwork process is working and how long it will take, if we will be allowed to work or not. Another example would be having a boyfriend or a girlfriend from another country and not knowing their intentions and how the relationship will go further. 

If we come from a tolerant culture, we will tend to recognize the need for autonomy people have. This means we will let them make their own decisions because this is what we are used to. But if we come from a dictatorship, for instance, where we were told what to do and how to feel, and we would have had harsh rules imposed on us, we will have a stronger tendency to impose ideas and rules on other people simply because we do not know any better. That will threaten people’s autonomy from the tolerant culture, and they are going to react strongly to that. They may not like to be told what to do. 

Relatedness has to do with how familiar the behavior of the people we meet is. Is there anything we can relate to? Is there anything we can recognize? The things we see in a new culture and how we interpret them are entirely different from how the locals see them. Therefore this can create frictions, especially if we see something that may have negative connotations and the locals were not aware of it and never thought about that perspective. One obvious thing would be the skin color, and another straightforward example I can think of is the definition of “network”. In some countries, it means something positive. In other countries can mean “corruption”.   

Fairness is about what feels fair for each individual. In terms of immigration, we will find here many shades. It has to do with being a woman or a man and the color of the skin, immigrants from 1st world countries or 3rd world countries or from between, which is quite a grey zone. Former colony powers or former colonies and the list of distinctions can continue. Politics has a significant role in this aspect as well. We may hear the word “discrimination” here quite a bit. Not an easy subject, which again I will address in another article. 

As immigrants, not knowing how these five elements are defined in the new culture can cause many misunderstandings that can come under the category of “culture crush”

Which of the five elements of the SCARF model is the most important to you? How do you recognize when those elements are triggered in you by the people in your new adoptive country, and how do you realize when you activate one of those five within the local people you meet? 

Please leave a comment underneath this article or let me know in confidence by clicking on this link

I wish you a smooth landing in the new country of residence!

What is bullying?

black man grabbing student near university
black man grabbing student near university
Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

What does it mean to be bullied? Cambridge dictionary defines this word as follows: “the behavior of a person who hurts or frightens someone smaller or less powerful, often forcing that person to do something they do not want to do”.

We often hear children and teenagers saying that they are being bullied at school. They mean that other children pick on them for being different or simply because they don’t like them. Being different can mean anything: from having a different skin color to have different hair color or style, speaking different, being the new kid who just moved in the neighborhood, being too fat or too skinny, or too short or too tall, being too bright or not, wearing glasses or not.

All of us had our shares of bullying in school. One of my shares was because I was reading too much. I still do. I can’t help it, there is too much valuable information around. I am too curious not to look it up.

Origins of bullying

From my perspective, bullying does not start at school. The first bullies we meet are in our closest circle of caregivers: family, parents, siblings, extended family of cousins, and uncles. They are people who took care of us at a certain point, long before we started school.

How many of you do not have mothers who tell funny stories since you were in your diapers? There are many videos on the internet showing adults how they test various reactions of their children and then make fun of them as if they are not there? What do you think that is? Or keeping a baby within a reaction which the adults like, yet they have no idea that being in that reaction is hurtful for the child. That is also “forcing a smaller or less powerful person to do what they do not want to do”. Adults often do not take the child from that state until the child starts crying, and sometimes (more often than we would like to think) not even then. 

We also have parents/caregivers who call their babies names: “little bug”, “little mouse”, or shorten the names they have chosen to give to the children: Billy for William, or Andy for Andrew, or Seby for Sebastien, Alex for Alexandra, and so on. These are the happy cases, and I am sure you can think of your examples which can be more unfortunate. Many parents do not even ask the child if they like the short name they picked as a sign of love or simply because they don’t consider they have the time to pronounce the full name – this sends the message to the child that it is not worthy of the parent’s time. The child does not protest because the parents/caretakers are their “Gods” and its survival depends on them.

If people grew up in a culture where violence, public shaming, and bullying were a tool for child-rearing, they have met the less happy version of parents or caretakers who used violence to make them obey.  Perhaps you can recognize phrases like “You have to do this because I told you so”, “God speaks through a parent hand”, or “I gave birth to you, I will kill you”, and I am sure that in each language there are expressions which can express “tough love”. One of my course participants called this once “a regime”, which sounded like a rigorous environment, or dictatorship to me.

It is good to remember that these parents did not necessarily apply this regime because they felt pleasure (well, some may have, if we are speaking about pathological cases). They did it because it was the regime they have experienced themselves from their parents. They didn’t know any better. At the time, there were no child psychologist and parenting courses. This is modern science, only about 50 years old.

Children deal with the situations the best way they can so they can survive. Since they cannot distinguish between the behavior and the feeling, they will store the feeling of inadequacy within their body with the nametag “familiarity” or worse, “love”. They will carry this familiarity with them at school, where other children feel it’s natural to pick up on these particular children. Even if the feeling of being bullied is uncomfortable, it will also give a thrill because it reminds of how “love” was shown at home by caretakers. These children are not yet equipped with the intellectual tools to deal with abuse at home or at school. They need help from the adults around to step up for them. Either the person doing the “bullying” to apologize and say “I am sorry”, either someone else to come into their defense.

How can it be fixed?

When parents realize their children are bullied at school, it is always a good idea to change the schools. It sends the child the message that their feelings are right and their needs of being safe are fulfilled, and that mum’ and dad’ are present and involved in their lives, which is the ground for a human being to grow up with a strong sense of self and certainty. Even if the parents cannot do much anymore concerning the “bullying” they did themselves to the child when it was very small, it is never too late to rectify the behavior when they become conscious of the harm.

Since the conscious brain is not developed until we are about 25, we meet many cruelties in school, high school, and college. Keep in mind that bulling means “crossing personal borders/lines/boundaries” other people have. Which is a subject I’ve already approached in a bit different manner in this article.

Unfortunately, bullying does not stop in school. It continues in the workplace. As adults, the difference is that people are expected to “deal with it” or fight it back the best they can. We hear phrases like “He/she can take this”. Or when a boy/man pics up on a girl/woman, or the other way around, people would say, “It’s because he/she likes you”. I would think that showing love by hurting someone would not be the best way to get to that person’s heart. Yet, we see this behavior, and we hear these words around us a lot.

When we are immigrants/expats, we also carry with us the tag of being different. We speak the new language with an accent, or perhaps we pronounce the words in a way that means something else than we actually intend to. Perhaps we have a different skin color, or perhaps we grew up in a “regime” not only at home but in the country of origin. As immigrants we can be more often a subject of bullying, it is something that comes in the same package, it depends a lot on how politically correct the locals from the host country are raised to be. At the same time, if at home we had good and caring parents/caretakers, it will always be easier to deal with the bullying. There is an HBO series called “Six feet under” where the youngest child in the family is writing on the walls of her apartment “Terror starts at home”. Watching that episode and following the story of the family, the scene made a lot of sense.


Experiments show that people who have been bullied themselves at a specific time in their lives become bullies for other people. It is an unconscious strategy the human body and brain is programed “to release” the frustration once felt by giving it to another person. It is the same with good experiences. When someone is treated well, they tend to treat well people around also. It comes naturally, and it is not harmful since we are talking about positive experiences.

Yet, when we deal with less positive experiences, like anger which can be provoked by a bully, as adults, it is essential to find ways to channel that anger towards something else and not someone else.

So, if you are an adult and you experience either that you are still bullied by people around, or that you feel like bullying other people, and perhaps actually doing it, how does it feel for you? Let me know in the comments below, or tell only me, in confidence, by signing up here.

I wish you build awareness!

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Setting boundaries VS burning bridges

photo of woman leaning on screen fence
photo of woman leaning on screen fence
Photo by Ivan Oboleninov on Pexels.com

In the world of therapy, we have many discussions about setting boundaries. Usually, it applies to people who answer YES to everything. Unfortunately, these people find themselves in situations where they take too much responsibility on their shoulders because they cannot say NO. If they would take responsibility for themselves, that would be another story, yet they take responsibility for others.

Many of these YES people end up being very tired and at the edge of burnout, if not already reaching it. At this point, they see a doctor or a therapist. In the end, they conclude that they need to learn to say NO, or what we call “setting boundaries.” 

The story of these people is quite common. Their boundaries have been broken while growing up by people in their close circle of grown-ups/caregivers. At the time, they concluded that they could only survive if they gave in or if they meet the expectations of the adults/caregivers. 

Examples can be many. Some children aspire for their parent’s love by taking up more chores than they should within the household: taking care of younger siblings, cooking, cleaning, becoming “confident”, in other words, the adult’s best friend or “therapist”. Others start working early so they can earn money and support their families. This way, they gain praise and appreciation from the adults/caregivers around. In an ideal world, this should not happen, children should not be given adult responsibilities.

Others, more unfortunate, end up in even more terrible situations like being spanked/beaten or, worse, incest and rape, and, it applies both to girls and boys.

These children fall into the same pattern when they become adults by getting into relationships similar to those they have experienced in their childhood. Either they choose a partner that abuses them, or they get jobs where they find it difficult to say NO to tasks above what has been negotiated in the original contract. 

The feeling they fall back into is that one cannot survive if they say NO. The same feeling they had when they were children and very dependent on the adults around them. They are so caught up in the feeling of fear of being left to die that they cannot see the difference in their minds. They are not children anymore, and the authorities they work for are not their parents. Or the partner is either the mother or the father (caregiver), and that they can survive on their own since, theoretically, they are adults. Yet, it is challenging to get out of the feeling, act “as an adult,” and negotiate the boundaries. 

From the work with my clients I have noticed that when people become aware of what is happening, they start slowly recognizing the moments when they should say no. Even if they continue to say YES, just acknowledging the moment is a big step. The second step is still saying YES, at the same time knowing that they should have said NO. The third step is saying NO, and then regret it, and say yes in the end. And so on, small steps forward and other small steps backward. Yet, no matter how much one should feel that it is going backward, as long as they are aware of what is happening, they will rarely get back to the point where they couldn’t even think of the possibility of saying NO at all. 

Other people react differently, and when they learn that they can say NO, they will do it brutal and definite. It has to do with the way the adults in their families used to put boundaries to them. If the caregivers were harsh, the child has learned the same model and will be severe in saying NO, as an adult, even without intention. This kind of attitude usually leads to “burning bridges” and ruined relationships. At the same time, in the process, some people may consciously choose to end up some relationships because that is the best for them. 

A reason someone can keep saying YES even if it is against the energy limits and perhaps they should say NO, is to see if whatever they have said yes to is manageable. If they can handle it, or if they can solve it. It is a way of challenging themselves because this may be the only way they can feel accomplishment and feel better about themselves. Just like in childhood. In this situation, sometimes, the feeling of accomplishment can give energy instead of draining for energy. This implies that the person doing this is aware of what they are doing and how much they can push themselves. They also know how to ask for help, if they need it.

This one also has to do with the feeling of control. When one is doing everything, then the power is in their hands. The cause could be that at an early age, the child was not allowed too much freedom. Their boundaries were crossed, their autonomy was challenged, and they felt that they did not have any control and felt terrible about it. Later in life, they will do everything they can so they won’t have to feel helpless again.

Personal boundaries are specific to each culture. For example, there is the well-known French or Swiss way of saying Hi, which is kissing on the chick, whether you know the person or not (I am sure Corona has put a stop to some extend). These people may want to do the same in other countries because this is normal for them while crossing the boundaries of people in the new culture who need more personal space.  

It is the same with all types of boundaries/borders people have learned in their homes, from their parents, close family members, neighbors, teachers, community, country. If someone has had their boundaries broken in their culture, they will consider it being normal. They may not be that good at taking into account that other people have other types of boundaries. Between people with broken boundaries, it becomes a dance where each is pushing the other. To eliminate the frustration one has suffered in childhood or own culture, it is common to give it to someone else, often without even knowing.

An example would be children who have a difficult situation at home. They become aggressive and are bullies at school. This behavior can create “cultural crushes” both for children and adults. The person doing the push-over boundaries of a person from the local environment may not understand why they do not get the reaction they would expect in the culture of origin, where this behavior has its roots. This is also something that can help or hurt the process of integration into a new culture. In some societies, it is good to be pushy and aggressive. In others, it is a turn-off for the locals who may have different approaches to networking and building relationships. 

Trying to live in a society where this kind of attitude is not productive will be challenging to adjust for pushy people. But, on the other hand, people who are not pushy, who respect their boundaries and the others, adjusting to a society where everything is rushing and people hurt each other by being too sharp, can also be problematic.  

As immigrants and expats people have already put boundaries between themselves and situations back in their home countries. Physical distance is a good way of sending the message, “I want to be on my own, and I want to have control over my life”. At the same time, technology makes it easy to still be in touch with people in the country of origin much more than one may wish. Here we find “borders,” which are made by distance and space.

Yet, the border of time is not well defined since people can be reached through the internet and by phone very quickly. It is a way of keeping in touch at the same time it can also be a way of “control”, or a way of keeping a toxic relationship going. For the children who used to be “best friends/therapists” for one parent or both or siblings and friends, these parents, siblings, and friends will not want to give it up. They will keep calling every day or even a couple of times a day, so they will get from the child/sibling/friend who has left the country what they need: a shoulder to cry on, without consideration over the fact that the child “left the nest” so it can fly on its own, without burdens.

It will again be challenging to limit the calls and be strong enough not to pick it up when it rings. One needs to decide how the relationships with people from their country of origin will continue, which borders they will need, to enjoy their lives on new and foreign ground.

How do you feel about your boundaries? Are you good at saying NO in a friendly manner? If you are an immigrant or expat how is the relationship with people back home? How often do you call them, or do they call you?

Leave a comment here, or you can let me know in confidence, by clicking on this link.

May this be useful to you!


5 ways to deal with Impatience as an immigrant/expat

person holding turtle on table
person holding turtle on table
Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

Be patient! It takes time… Wait a moment! Let me think about it! 

The dictionary says that patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”

How do we accept and tolerate delays and problems and suffering without becoming anxious? How do we do that when we feel the energy of impatience running up our spine and giving us shivers, and it is so difficult to keep that feeling inside our body? It needs to get out, but how do we get it out without affecting people around us in an unpleasant way?

There can be at least five ways to deal with it: 

  1. We can express the lack of patience and describe what it does to us when we need to wait for something to happen. We can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having to wait and its consequences. That means we have a conversation partner who is not shutting us up by telling us how well they deal with the same situation or telling us a story about when they had a similar problem. We need to be allowed to speak it out until the end. We need someone who knows how to listen. 
  2. We can also find something else to do when we need to wait for something to happen or a person to decide. Being creative and prioritizing can help through the discomfort of waiting. It also depends on how important that thing or person is. 
  3. Another way to express the lack of patience can be to exercise. One hour in the gym or running/walking or swimming, or anything else that implies moving your body or your brain, is an excellent way to help the discomfort of impatience get out of your body. 
  4. People who have a hobby can lean into that. Then, work on that hobby, no matter what that may be: drawing, knitting, painting, carpentry, gardening, cleaning, etc. If you notice, the activities I mention have something to do with being in physical activity.
  5. You can ask yourself the following questions: 
  • Can I do anything about it?
  • If I am losing my patience and get anxious and irritated, how is that helping the situation? 

See which answer you are coming up with for each question, and see where it takes you. 

When we decide to move to another country, many things require patience: paperwork, visa, finding a place to live, finding a job, learning the language—especially learning the language at a level that can guarantee a good job. But, of course, if there is no need to learn the language to have a job, and you know that you will only be there for a few years, it can be ok not to use the time to learn the language that well. 

Yet, if you intend to spend more years in that country and have a social life among the locals, it is a good investment. The language we learn in layers, and we catch it faster or slower, according to our experience when learning foreign languages or similarities with our mother tongue. 

At the same time, learning a new language has to do with how much we liked school or not. If you didn’t like to learn in your mother tongue, it might be difficult to start learning now a different language. 

Patience is also needed when it comes to making friends in a new country. Some cultures can be more accessible, perhaps because there is a long history with immigration, and people are more used to it. For instance, Canada, USA, France, are only some of the big countries where immigration is part of history. It may be more difficult to become friends with the locals in countries where it was not that common to receive immigrants, even in the big cities. If one ends up in the countryside, there may be a better chance, since the number of inhabitants is small. People can get curious and make a step towards foreigners. At the same time, that is not guaranteed.  

If someone is married to a local, that person needs patience for the spouse’s family to get used to the fact that there is a foreigner among them. Patience to get to know the family members, and patience to allow them to learn the exotic addition to the family, with a new language, habits, clothes, and way of being. 

You need patience with yourself and give yourself time and space to take in the new impressions, the new people you meet daily, and the new social system. Time to observe the written social rules and time to discover the unwritten codes. Those no one talks about because they are in people’s backbone, and there is no need to speak about them among locals. Yet, it can be a challenge when you’re new and do not know the local history and habits of the people who adopted you. 

All in all, you need patience. Patience so we can wait for the time to bring what is in store for us in our new environment. 

Patience is also wrapped around the relationship with time you’ve grown up in. In many cultures, “time passes” and it is the most valuable resource we can have since we cannot get it back. In other cultures, “time comes” and time is a resource used consciously to reach good results, well thought through, “matured” in the minds and hearts of people. They need to feel comfortable with the process that leads to the results and not feels rushed and “whipped” through it. These people are more careful to “how” they reach a result, instead of focusing only on the outcome, regardless of the methods used. 

If the culture you come from is one where you’ve heard a lot of Hurry! I don’t have all day! Come on! Let’s move! Faster! I needed it yesterday! Then the challenge of time is going to be even bigger. 

In this kind of culture, people do not allow themselves to breathe even, and the results are more important than people. You may find yourself trying to implement “your system” in the new environment, yet, it may not always be a good idea. Perhaps a better idea would be to use the time in the same way locals do and try to find out why is it so important for you to reach your goals fast. Is it because this is the way you’re used to, or is it too painful to tolerate the feelings of waiting? Is there some anxiety or panic involved? 

If you have other ideas about why people are impatient or how can we deal with the lack of patience, please let me know by commenting under this post, or let me know in confidence by signing up here.

I wish you to be patient!

Expat VS Immigrant: a matter of language aesthetics

person holding world globe facing mountain
person holding world globe facing mountain
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

I have noticed a confusion of terms regarding people who choose to live in other countries than where they have been born and raised. I find it interesting to see how each person identifies him/herself. 

Therefore, dictionaries are helpful. I am using here the English Cambridge dictionary, which has straightforward definitions for both terms:

An “ex-pat” is someone who does not live in his or her own country. 

An “immigrant” is a person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently. 

I believe that in our modern times, it is difficult to say if you are going to live in one country for the rest of your life. This is because the borders are quite open and it is easier to travel. Various visa possibilities allow people to stay in one place from a couple of weeks, up to three months or more. This gives the opportunity to many people to travel and see the world, work remotely, and not necessarily decide if they will live in one country for the rest of their lives. Perhaps, if they have the opportunity, they will do so by the time they get citizenship, and then they can make different decisions when it comes to the country where they want to live. 

I also think that the confusion is primarily aesthetical. For example, “Expat” sounds better than “immigrant” does.

Suppose I am looking into why “ex-pat” can sound better. In that case, it may have to do with the fact that an expatriate or ex-pat is an individual living and working in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work reasons. The ex-pat was sent to work abroad by organizations from the country of origin; they did not necessarily choose it themselves. I’ve heard this explanation quite often among diplomats. A website called Investopedia.com also says that an expatriate can be an individual who has relinquished citizenship in their home country to become a citizen of another. 

I have also encountered the term “ex-pat” associated with skilled workers. People who have a level of expectation to return to their own countries, after finishing their work contracts. Ex-pats are people who provide an area of expertise in the new country and are granted different foreign expert visas. It does not matter where you’re from or what race you are. If you are a Vietnamese engineer working in the Netherlands, then you’ll be an ex-pat because you provide your expert skills. If you are Norwegian picking strawberries in Spain, then you’ll be an immigrant. If you are an African lawyer working in China or in the USA, then you will be an ex-pat. 

From all this, I guess ex-pats are those who are expected to move to their countries of origin after a while. They are people on limited work visas and do not generally naturalize in the new country. 

Coming back to the term “immigrant”, I find it mainly used for unskilled people who come to other countries as refugees or simply looking for any work, unqualified work. But, again, it is expected that these people come from third world countries, because people from first world countries do not like much being called “immigrants”, but prefer the term “ex-pat”, even if they do unqualified work, doesn’t matter in which country. 

A while ago, I did an experiment on social media. I have created a group called “Immigrants in my hometown”. I have written in the description of the group I wanted it to be for, and I have invited all the people in my list of friends who I know are immigrants to join. Not all of them did, and I have found out later that many of them did not see themselves as immigrants but as ex-pats. They were not necessarily skilled workers, but they had ordinary jobs that any other person could do. 

So, why is it difficult to navigate between these two words? Why can the word “immigrant” sound more “shameful” than the word “ex-pat”?

I would assume that perhaps people from countries that were and maybe still are great powers in the world do not believe themselves to need emigrating to live a better life. Probably “the superiority” still sits in the backbone, and the concept of being a citizen of a country from the first world does not need to emigrate but is “ordered” to go and live in a third world country. Even if we live today with the borders, we have today, and with many countries, which gained their independence, that is not the case anymore. People choose to live wherever they want, and many choose to go where they can buy most for the money. That is in the third world countries. 

On the other hand, skilled people who come from third world countries to work in first world countries do not have any problem identifying themselves as “immigrants”. 

A category, which I believe is more entitled to use the word “ex-pat”, belongs to the people who are not allowed to live in their own country for political reasons. Their lives are in danger because of their beliefs and for the freedom of expression. In the old times, we find them sent “in exile” as a punishment for crimes committed against the king. 

Some people do not care about any of the terms, even if they have lived in many countries for shorter or longer periods of time. It is a lifestyle either they have chosen themselves; either they have inherited from their families. So many people in the world have moved because of their parents who have moved. These people did not have a say in the matter, and they grew up with this nomad lifestyle. They continue it because this is what they have become good at through their upbringing. So how do we call them? I would go for “global citizens”. 

I would love to hear how you identify yourself. So, please leave a comment under or, you can let me know in confidence by signing up here.  If you’re thinking of moving abroad and do not know where to start planning, I have a guide about what you should know before you make that step, and you can access it here

Wishing you safe travels!

How “work” can become a drug

man carrying gray pipe
man carrying gray pipe
Photo by Yury Kim on Pexels.com

I don’t know if it is new, yet it is the most accepted behavior to “fall into” in the world. It doesn’t matter if it ruins families just as much as chemicals. It is considered a much safer place to hide the real emotions or to channel negative feelings than any other legal or illegal drug.

I am talking about work. It is good to work.

Work gives us the possibility to earn money, pay for the house and car, and all the other comforts we need to have a good and decent life.

Work challenges us to be creative by solving various problems that may occur.

Work gives a good social network and the sense of belonging all humans need since we are considered to be “herd animals”.

As long as we enjoy what we do, it helps us gain more energy than we waste by doing the work.

Work is good as long as it is done in moderates amounts of time, and it does not interfere with sleep, healthy eating, and physical exercise.

Those in relationships, or with families and children already know that all that requires work. It is a different type of work than the one we get paid for in money.

A teacher of mine told me once, “Gabriela, if you love what you do, then you don’t work one day in your life”. Although I do resonate with what he told me, at the same time, I also experience that I need to do something else as well. I also need to spend time with my friends and family, or just on my own, doing nothing. Yes, you have read well: doing NOTHING.

Too much work, no matter how much we like it, can be overwhelming and stressful if we cannot put a limit on it. Unfortunately, this is an issue many immigrants and ex-pats are struggling with.

I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, and of course, I have seen the movies where Benedict Chumberback plays the famous detective. I have recently heard a line there, which says: “Work is the best antidote against sadness”

People tend to “tuck away” or numb their feelings in various ways, especially those less positive. The most common ways to numb feelings are through alcohol, food, cigarettes, entertainment, screens, and games. A more powerful and more expensive list of drugs like gambling, cannabis, heroin, cocaine can continue. In the same line, work can also be a drug to numb feelings we don’t like. If family life doesn’t work, instead of facing the issues with the partner, many people hide in work. It is a way to regain the feeling of self-respect one may have lost in the relationship. Many people don’t even think if they like what they do or if they only like the sense of “identity” the workplace is providing and the feeling of “achievement” that comes up with the company’s results. 

Other people suffer from a huge amount of responsibility, making them think that the world would collapse if they don’t do the job. It comes from a childhood where the adults in their lives have failed them. It felt so awful at the time that now when they are adults, they have promised to themselves not to fail themselves and keep their word no matter what. It doesn’t matter how many sacrificed it implies that they may lose family, friends, and most importantly, health, but they will keep their word. 

Once I had a guest originally from an Asian country. Yet, this person was living in France. Why? Because the working hours were 09:00 to 17:00 and after 17:00 it was time that could be used freely. It was a time for housework, spending time with friends, having a hobby even, and cooking something from homelands. Because in the homelands, it was working all the time. The hours were longer than eight. They could stretch to 12 and 14, which would leave no free time. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner were for work as well.

This is happening in many countries globally, and most immigrants are carrying with them in their “invisible luggage” this behavior. As a result, when they reach a new country in West and North Europe, many of them do not know what to do with the free time they may have in hand.

The democracies in the Western and Northern parts of Europe have a long tradition of fighting for workers’ rights and have unions that take care that the number of working hours is limited. This way, people can also have a life aside from it. Yet, this is hard to understand for people coming from dictatorships and result-oriented societies. What I’ve seen them do is that they stay longer at work, even if there is no need and nobody asked them to, in the hope that their employers would more appreciate them. Some of them are, some of them aren’t.

A couple of years ago, there was some work done on the roads in my neighborhood. One morning, in the middle of the week, I woke up at 04:00 AM to a terrible noise. A worker from the company in charge of fixing the roads has already come to work and started using asphalt breakers with no regard for the people living in the area, especially the children who were having a school day. We found out later that he was an immigrant, and he could not sleep that night. Nevertheless, he thought it was a good idea to go to work.

Many of these people gain “the hatred” of their colleagues from the new country because they fear that the employers will raise the standards and ask them to work more. In our case, the road-building company has got a complaint from all people in the neighborhood as well.

This kind of behavior is happening because the world is spinning around results and money more than leisure. It is a fact that makes many people not have the opportunity to learn that they can have hobbies and that they can also have rights, and they become what we call “workaholics”.

Are you one of those?

If this article has raised some questions for you, please comment here, or let me know in confidence by signing up here.

I wish you have a life free from any drugs!


How Eating meets your needs and follow you around the World

Cambridge dictionary definition says that eating disorders are mental illnesses. I, though, don’t see it this way. I mostly see them as emotional distress.  

First of all, we eat so we can survive. Lack of proper food leads to diseases and malnutrition. Yet, food meets more than this particular need in many people.

One of the needs food meets is the need for variety. We saw it very clear during corona times when people were not allowed to go out for entertaining. Therefore, many people picked up baking and cooking so they could have fun with it. 

Another need met by food is that of comfort. In movies where children get upset, we often see that someone older and wiser gives them some cookies and milk, ice cream, and cake, so little ones would forget their troubles and find comfort in the food. We, adults, are no different. 

If we look around a little, we’ll see that many people use food for comfort

For instance, if someone is alone and misses company, something to eat will make things better. This is also something that often happens with people who decided to live in another country than their own, and they may lack the support network. 

If one does not speak the language and it is not easy to find friends, food can be a good ally. Or, food can easily be used as emotional support if someone is surrounded by too many people or only one partner that is not the perfect fit. 

If someone is a single parent, and there is no one else there to share the burdens and the joys of bringing up children, food will always be there. 

Many people eat when they are stressed as well. It is interesting to see what kind of foods people choose. The use of crunchy food increases since chewing something that meets resistance is also a good stress releaser. In eating because of stress, one may also notice that if it is not crunchy or chewy enough, the food is swallowed without chewing or feeling the taste, and one can suddenly eat way too much without even realizing it. Just at the edge of overeating if it happens from time to time. If this behavior happens excessively or every day, it is definitely overeating and getting under “eating disorder” category. 

Stress, anger, or discomfort can also make food be rejected. People may refuse to eat out for the same reasons as eat too much. There is no one else they can trough their frustration at, and they punished themselves by starving themselves (anorexia), or even if they eat, they through it up (bulimia). Anorexia and bulimia are also used as weight control. For some people shows up in childhood, teenagers most often, and has to do with severe stress (trauma). 

Family members mainly cause this stress, and I know that some parents may protest while reading this. At the same time, think about it. Who is that we are dependent on for many years at the beginning of our lives. No parent wants to harm their children, yet much harm can be done without intention and unwillingly. When children do not have any control over their surroundings at home or school or both, the only thing they have control over is their own body. A good example can also be the potty training children have when that time comes. That is the only thing they can still control, and they are using it to put boundaries between them and their parents. 

The same with food, when they grow a little bit older. Parents cannot control how much their children keep their food. Some go to the bathroom immediately after a meal and through up, and nobody notices anything. I am not mentioning that there is also little control over that when children are in school. Therefore, we have another need met by food—the need of control children/young adults need.

Under the weight control cames also counting the calories—the amount in and the amount out. And the amount out one is counting it by working out excessively. This one is called orthorexia and came on the game a bit later. 

When people are not aware of their eating patterns, they can easily say that they have no problem. And there is no need to be either. No matter where you go, your eating patterns will follow you and take different shapes and sizes according to the emotional state at certain phases in your life. Even as an adult, when the world around is difficult to control, the only thing one can control is own body and weight. Therefore, we see many diets and many people who work out excessively. It may be the only thing one person owns and can have control over.

Moving countries can sometimes make it harder for some than for others, especially when one is having issues with food and cannot read labels because one does not know the language. It makes it difficult to read the content of the products or the number of calories.  It can also be difficult in social gatherings which implies food. Especially when people do not want to eat. For some, it can be difficult to justify “the lack” of appetite, especially when the biggest honor for the host is to eat their food.

When you’re new in a new country, it is also difficult to control many things, at least for a while, and by the time things get settled. The need for comfort as well as the amount of stress is playing a part in eating habits. 

I argued here that eating disorders are not necessarily mental disorders, yet only ways many people choose to meet their various needs. If you have other ideas about how food is helping or not, please let me know by commenting here, or let me know in confidence by signing up here.

I wish you build balance in your life!


Hunger as a drive away from home

Among the feelings that drive people away from their countries, we also find the feeling of hunger.

Looking for a definition of this word, I found the Cambridge dictionary, which says the following: “a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat”, “the feeling you have when you need to eat”, “a situation in which the body does not have enough food”. The description of this physiological need is followed by the next nuance of the word: “a strong wish or desire”. 

I am approaching this feeling of hunger because I meet it quite often in my therapy room. People use this hunger for various reasons and in different forms, and to cover other needs as well, not only the one that is meant to keep the physical body alive.

Which is the main reason we feel it. Hunger is one of the first physiological human needs—the third in line after air and water. Without food, we cannot survive. Therefore, after the way food distribution looks like today, many people would do anything to have food on the table. Proof for that we have the history books, which mention times of hunger during and after wars or plagues. We see it today in countries with no war, but with severe dictatorship and corruption in its pure form.

Many people still do not have access to education and jobs, do not earn enough to put food on the table. Just take a trip outside the western world and outside the tourist areas in third-world countries, where things are not shined and polished, and it will stare in your face.

Hunger is one of those feelings which also chases people away from home. To make a move to another house, neighborhood, city, country, to feed themselves and their family. The lack of food in particular countries has made it a commodity that people would like to show.

We see on TV and travel channels or read in books how hospitable people from developing countries are and how welcoming. If you’re a guest there, people will put in front of you whatever they have best, even if they know that they won’t have enough for themselves tomorrow. It is a paradox and challenging to understand. Why?

What makes poor people more generous than people considered rich? From how I understand this behavior, in a country where food is scarce, showing that one house has food to give is a sign of wealth. Keeping up appearances is essential everywhere, no matter the cost.

Beauty standards are also different. A friend from Africa told me once that a chubby person is considered rich because that person needs to have a lot of money to buy that much food to maintain plumpness. Therefore, chubby is beautiful there.

On the other hand, in Switzerland, I have heard from another friend that doctors don’t even look at overweight people. The amount of extra kilos is a sign of illness. It means that people wearing them do not take care of themselves, do not exercise, and eat unhealthy food. Becoming sick is a result of that. Therefore, they need to lose weight first before the doctors take them seriously.

Hunger implies food not only in the strict way of survival. Food is also a big part of each country’s culture. If we travel, we want to taste the local food. If we are foreigners in a foreign land, we are asked about our traditional food. I, for once, am tired of speaking about it, yet I understand that it is a good conversation subject, and the way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs.

Food brings a common subject to talk about, a tasty experience, and a way of being together safely. Many problems of the world are solved and stirred around a dinner table.

Have you ever wondered why do we make more food than necessary, especially around holidays? Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Ramadan, and all the other holidays that exist in each country?

It is a celebration, we can say, and yes, it is nice to celebrate with food. However, is it necessary to make more than we need? Or to eat more than we need, for that matter? What causes this behavior? The first reason that comes to my mind is that many people come from families who have suffered from hunger at some point. If you think for a moment, when you lack something, with the first occasion you have to meet that need which was not satisfied for a long time, what is it that you do first? You buy it and use it in excess quantities so finally your need is met. And you are going to do this until you feel satisfied and suddenly, you don’t feel like needing that something, because you’ve had it for so long and in so large quantities that you’re saturated. It is the same with food.

Therefore, people who come from countries or families where food was scarce will make more food than necessary because in their subconscious lies that fear of starvation which was very present in their families at a particular time in history. Few people think it trough now, and call the excess of food making “tradition”. Yet, the times we live in today look nothing like they did 20 or 50 years ago.

Many people do not even realize this behavior and the reason behind it. If you read this article and you know that this perhaps happens in your family, maybe it could be a good idea to do some research and find out when some of your great grandparents or even parents have suffered from hunger? Then, you can think about if that is the case today, and if really, it is necessary to use that much amount of time, energy, and money to prepare or buy food that may end up in the trash.

I also noticed that many parents show their love to their children by making them the foods they like. They also think that putting food on the table is all a child needs and nothing more. Many parents prefer to sacrifice their time with their children for an extra job that brings more money and more food—not often realizing that the child may use that food to compensate for the lack of emotions they are supposed to receive from their parents. 

Or these children are using food to regulate the fluctuation and the unstable emotional ground created by overworked parents or single parents, or absent parents. That leads to a behavior, which clinically is called Eating Disorder, and I am speaking about it in my next article.

The lack of food the parents are trying to fill by working too much, just as well as the lack of emotions, these children are trying to fill when they decide to travel away from home. Most of them dream of better lives so they can offer (save) their parents from too much work. It is a way of wanting “to buy” the parents love, buy earning enough money to buy them food, and much more than food. This “hunger” extends to houses, properties, or successful businesses. Nothing wrong with it, I just think it is important to know where it comes from and what provoked both the travel away from home and the hunger, and hunger for what, exactly.

Therefore, hunger means much more than just keeping us alive. If you have more perspectives on this issue, please share them by leaving a comment underneath, or you can let me know in confidence by signing up for a chat here.

I wish you a balanced life!

Shades of Shame while being an Expat/Immigrant

There are many reasons people may choose to live in other countries than their own. I like to believe that our feelings drive us away, and at the same time, they also keep us in touch with our roots. There are positive feelings that determine us to move away. I link here the article, where you can see which ones. 

Yet, there are many less positive feelings we can struggle with while living abroad. One of them is the feeling of Shame, and its layers. 

Shame is something we live with since we are born. We meet it the first time with our parents.  

Shame is used as an educational tool. We are raised according to society’s rules, and each community has some ways of keeping order, which involves shame or the well-known phrase «What will people say». Some people live with the impression that what would people say is something we only meet in traditional societies, yet I do not believe it is entirely accurate. 

We are on social media these days, and we have influencers, which measure their popularity accordingly with several followers and views. It is usual for everyone to have a social media profile and post whatever they see fit. Each person has become a «brand.» What people say about us is part of us; we live in societies, both natural and virtual ones. Therefore, «What would people say» is just as present in modern societies as in traditional ones.  

Among many reasons people would decide to move to another country, we also meet the feeling of Shame. It is a feeling we rarely like to talk about, yet we feel it a lot due to various reasons. 

Some people decide to travel and work in another country because they do not manage to make a living in their own country. They travel and work somewhere else with the faith they will manage better. Whatever they think it stops them in their own country, it is shameful. It is the shame of not succeeding, of not being enough, of not managing to provide for their family, or perhaps because the democracy they thought they had in their country is not democracy at all. 

Many of them do manage better in the new country, yet when they return to visit their families in their country of origin can be accused of betrayal for leaving one’s country and wanting something better. As if the courage to want a better life and make the steps to achieve it in another country should be shameful. The shame is here as well, inflicted by the society that stayed behind. 

Another layer of shame is the shame of having a degree and not using it. An internal conflict arises which says: «Why did you spent so much time and energy studying if now you’re cleaning toilets/tables/cars/drive a bus or taxi, etc». 

If people manage to get jobs accordingly to their degrees, they may meet stigma and the reputation of their country of origin, which precedes them. Especially if they come from a country, which is not «Class A» as one of my friends, calls it. People they meet sees them first through the glasses of that reputation—a reputation, which each individual does not necessarily have. One person cannot be responsible for an entire country and history. It takes a lot of work for that individual to prove him/herself for what they stand for and who they are. Even so, some may still be denied promotions or increases in salaries just because they come where they come from, and local leaders see it fair not to treat them equally. These sorts’ of things are individual as well. The politics of the new country of residence may be tolerant in speech and law, yet how each individual applies that law in their yard can be different from the image their politicians are promoting. 

If the immigrants are smart, they meet another layer of shame: the shame of the locals when they see that an immigrant from a country they did not think much of, has a brain actually, and has good ideas. The locals feel ashamed by these people in their own country. It also has to do with speaking a foreign language. The immigrant often speaks the local’s language, even though with an accent. The shame the local feels in front of an immigrant who both speaks their language and has a good idea often comes out by shaming the immigrant for speaking with an accent or poorly pronunciation.

This layer of shame expands to the immigrant who can feel ashamed for being different, for having a better idea, for being who they are, for not fitting in, for not speaking the language perfectly which is common among many. 

Some mixed nationalities’ marriages or relationships can also have the veil of shame upon them. We can see a smart girl/woman or a man with an education from a country with not so good reputation who marries a nice person that perhaps treats her/him well (hopefully) from a country with a good reputation. Yet, if that person does not have an education, she/he can experience shame when she tells family at home, and not only that her husband does not have the education. That can be sweetened if a lot of money is involved because in the world we live in today, a fancy house and car still tell people who you are in a more significant measure than your personality does. At the same time, some people can experience the shame of not meeting the same level of education as their partner. Sometimes can even be a burden for the relationship. 

Diplomat shame is linked to the facilities own government provides and the material support around them: housing, furniture, payment, work environment law, etc. And, of course, the reputation of the country they represent. Again, the country’s reputation precedes, and the representatives need to deal with whatever their government does. 

Some people may also experience the shame of age. This we meet among students since in Western Europe we meet young people in the universities. At the same time, for people from many other countries, it can be a struggle to raise the necessary amounts to afford to take an extra degree abroad. This leads to the fact that some students may be older than their peers in the country they decide to study for a master’s. Then they would not have the same age as their colleagues, which may seem odd. Because of their age and background, these people may be excluded from the student life or exclude themselves since they may find it challenging to find common subjects and interests. Of course, it also has to do with traditions and prejudices, yet it does not feel less uncomfortable. 

Refugee shame is also one layer we should be taking into account. As refugees, many people run for their lives from countries where there is war. They get to the new countries only with their clothes on their back. They suffer the shame of being at the mercy of people they don’t know. People who many times judged them for various reasons: not staying and fighting for their country, leaving behind family and friends, not speaking the language, taking away their tax money or their jobs, not having a support network, and so on. How one deals with all this is only in each person’s heart, and many times it is not spoken out loud, again, because of Shame.

These are only a few examples to name, yet there are far more, and they can be very individual. If you have any examples of being ashamed while living abroad, let me know. I would love to discover new shades of it. You can either comment below or register here and let me know in confidence. 

I wish you build resilience!