To influence and be influenced

When you throw a stone into the water, it makes rings. Smaller and bigger. If you take the time to watch them, you notice that those rings are spreading their waves further and further from the place the stone felt. They can get very far, and it can take a while by the time they disappear, and the water’s surface regains the original flatness.

It is the same with people. We never know how we influence the people we meet and how long they will keep the impression we made on them. We don’t know how they see us either. Accordingly to Albert Mehrabian’s communication model (7-38-55), 7% are words, 38% are intonation, and 55% are body language. In the mirror, we do not see ourselves more than a couple of times a day. Do we know how other people see us? Do we know what kind of ideas we help create in their minds, or what kind of associations they get in their heads about who we are and what we stand for?

This can be hard to control even in a country where we have been born and brought up, and we know the culture and the secret codes and the expectations people may have of us. Yet we do not know much about it when we move to another country.

We can learn to shape words and phrases both in our native language and if we are lucky and put in enough effort, we can also learn that in a foreign language. Yet we do not know how our voice sounds in other people’s ears, and especially when we speak with an accent. It doesn’t sound the same way when we hear ourselves. We don’t know either how our image will influence the people seeing us. Of course, we have dress codes, at the same time those dress codes are different in each country. What is appropriate to wear in a job interview or a party in one culture, may not be appropriate in another country. It may be either too much or too little.

As immigrants/expats, we take patterns of behavior with us, (in our invisible luggage), that were accepted in the culture we know, yet they can be misunderstood and misinterpreted in a new culture.

I know there are many cultures where the “I don’t care about what other people think” philosophy is very well spread. It has to do with how many people are in the respective country, also with status and wellness. It is impossible to make everybody happy anyway, yet it is an expectation in smaller societies, where people depend on each other in a much bigger measure. After all, “what people say about you when you aren’t there” is your “brand”. Therefore, no matter how small or big the number of inhabitants the community you live in has, reputation is important, and it is difficult to control.

Therefore, big companies have people to deal with their image, to make commercials, to “handle” the company’s reputation. But how do ordinary people handle their own personal reputation? Of course, in the world we live today, we also have social media which allows everybody to become a “public figure”, at the same time, can we control how people see us? Not really if they don’t tell us and give us feedback. If we are lucky, we get positive feedback, at the same time the less positive feedback can be useful. It tells us how we can become better, either by understanding how we can integrate that feedback into our behavior and life, or simply by ignoring it if we find that it is not worth paying attention to it. We can choose.

Sometimes the feedback is with words, yet other times is with pictures. Like the one, I chose to place in this article. You have the camera picture on the right, which was taken on Christmas Eve, while I was wearing a Mrs. Clause outfit. At the event I was taking part in that evening, I met for the first time someone I had a fun discussion with, about awareness and how do we use words when we talk about ourselves and with ourselves. It seems that both the discussion and the way I looked that evening had made an impression.

This new person is an artist, a painter, and was inspired enough to make a painting about it. I chose to make a collage of both the painting and the picture of myself from that evening because it is a very good example of how we think we look and how others see us. At the same time, it is also an example of how the painting has influenced me to write this article and use the pic collage to prove a point. It works like a boomerang, somehow. What we give, comes back, and so on.

We cannot control the length of time people keep us or the event or the discussion in their memory either. This painting was made between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and it will always remind both the painter and me about the moment we shared in a good discussion. It may also influence other people who see that picture, without knowing who “the model” was. The model won’t have any control over that either. Eventually, some feedback will come around in some time. If not, I will never know.

Have you ever thought of how other people see you? If you haven’t, have you thought about asking some of your acquaintances whom you know are not afraid to speak up and give you honest feedback? Do you think you can handle the honesty?

Let me know what you think in a comment underneath, or let me know in confidence, by clicking on this link.

Wishing you a good year!

Christmas and New year holiday Story

I hope you are enjoying your holidays, and you will make some time to read a Christmas and New year story.

It is the second Christmas holiday we have spent together with our new friend Corona. 
At the beginning of 2020, I have decided to do an experiment. Every Sunday, I was supposed to write on a small piece of paper one good thing that happened the week that just passed and put it in a jar.

In the beginning, I did not know what to write, but slowly, I started to see that by the end of February, I was already good at finding up to five good things that happened that week.
What do you think happened when Corona came and everything shut down on March 12th? Well, I was happy! I was getting the chance to try working from home in a larger sense than I was already doing it. I was about to try something I had wanted to do for a long time. So, now was finally the right time to do it. So, I considered it a gift. I wrote it down and dropped it in the Gift Jar.

Working from home allowed me to sleep at least one more hour every day. I like to sleep and wake up to feel that I have rested. Each morning after a good night’s sleep, I have that feeling of being able to accomplish everything I want, and I have the energy to do stuff that day that I would have otherwise postponed. Therefore, this kind of morning increased their number, and, of course, they ended up in my Jar.

I live in the countryside, and I drive a fair amount of time every day. Well, I didn’t need to drive every single day. And, since I live close to the North Pole, we had snow until June and a fair number of storms. So, guess who was happy not needing to drive through that weather. Therefore, it ended up on several notes: “Grateful for not having to drive through the snowstorm today”…in the Gift Jar.

Since I was working from home, I enjoyed the beautiful weather every time we had it and even went for a walk in the afternoon. It was a gift as well because I know that many people were not allowed to go outside of their houses during the lockdown. So I was lucky, and that the walks went in the Gift Jar as well.

I also had the chance to speak more often to my family, especially my mother. Like many other people, I have a unique and special mother who is fond of cooking, yet she is very sensitive to the smell of food inside the house.

Since I grew up in a country where spring and summer and autumn are a long time with good weather, we had a garden kitchen, and cooking outside was acceptable by my mum’s standards. But when my mum had to cook inside the house, during winter, we would freeze because all the doors and windows would be open. The stove fan was not enough.

As a good and loyal daughter, I copied this habit and behavior when cooking. Opposite to my mother, I am not fond of cooking, and I’m not doing it often, but when I did, all the doors and windows were open, besides the fan. Well, I found out that one of Corona’s symptoms is losing the sense of smell. So guess who started to appreciate the smell of food in the house? “Being able to enjoy the smell of food in my house, without freezing” ended up on note as well and in the Jar.

I even reached a point when I am smiling when I realize I can smell the cinnamon I like adding on my oatmeal in the morning or the smell of fried bacon and eggs or baked potatoes. And I spoke with my mother about it, and we both laughed because, surprisingly enough, she reached the same conclusion as me: the smell of food and backing in the house is good to have. It tells us we are healthy.

When I write about all these things that ended up in my 2020 Gift Jar, I remember another thing I took from my mum and carried with me across borders, to the country I live in now, and which still sticks to me: my mum’s philosophy over harsh times; when you feel like external circumstances have punched you and you feel like everything is out of control – like this pandemic, which has begun hitting more than once since we are now at our second Christmas in its company.
My mum’s philosophy about this kind of moment is:

“My dear when you’re down, there is no other way to go than up. So, therefore, chin up, shoulders down, relax and think how YOU can make it better for yourself. There is no point in thinking of what you could do with what you do not have. Think about what you can do with what you have”.

This phrase worked subconsciously probably all my life, if I take the time to think about it, and it also gave me the stubbornness to keep thinking of good things that happened this year, not despite, but due to the virus.

When the second lockdown came in 2020, another story with a similar philosophy came to my mind. It was coming from another mother to another daughter in an episode I helped create and which I have witnessed.

Some years ago, a friend of mine invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with her and her daughter. She was working late on Christmas Eve, and she asked me to help her with Christmas presents. She made a list for me and told me the exact shops I could buy.
On Christmas morning, when all of us sat around Christmas three and unpacked the presents, I saw how my friend’s daughter, a teenager at the time, was getting more confused with each package she would open. At some point, she became angry, and she shouted at her mum:

“What is this? Why am I getting the same things I got last year?”

I looked at my friend, and I saw that she was perfectly calm, watching her daughter’s reactions. Finally, she took off her glasses, and she said to her daughter:

Well, you didn’t use any of these things you got last year. They lay around until about February, and then you placed them in storage boxes under your bed. You didn’t even give them away to other kids that could have better use for them. Therefore, this year you get the same things, and I would appreciate using them. Or if not, at least you will give them away.

My friend’s daughter’ got even more confused, but she took her presents and went to her room. I didn’t understand what happened, and I asked my friend what her intention was.

Well, my dear, she needs to learn that life does not give you new gifts and new opportunities until you have used what you already have. Or at least see what you have, look at it, and decide if you keep it or give it away. It’s all about awareness and how conscious we are of what we have and how grateful we are for it.

My friend put back her glasses and continued with reading the massive pile of Christmas cards she had received that year and opened her presents.

This story came back to me again this year together with this new lockdown that we have at the end of 2021. And I started to wonder, what is it that I didn’t use. What do I have, and I am still not using, or don’t know how to use yet, and I need to learn how? What do I need to give away so I can make room for new things/events/people in my life?

What is it that we as humans do not see and are not aware that we have and need to learn how to use or give away?

How about you? Do you know what you have accomplished during 2021 despite or due to Corona, and do you know what you would like to do next year?

What is it that you have and you have not used yet? What more can you do with what you already have and what is it you have, and you can give away?

Let me know in comments underneath this article, or in private, by clicking on this link.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

sending money home – “COSETTE SYNDROME”

blur cash close up dollars

blur cash close up dollars
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

It is December, and the question of gifts for loved ones is more present everywhere around us. 

Consumerism has turned the Birth of Christ into a money carrousel, and many of us can feel guilty if we do not manage to buy something for people around us. In the collective memory, it has been implemented that we show love only if we give presents for Christmas. 

I disagree. Love can be shown all year round, not only by buying stuff but by doing considerate things for people around us, whether they are blood relatives or not. I disagree with the feeling of guilt inflicted upon people by commercial trends. A good book on showing love is “The five love languages” by Garry Chapman.

There are many gifts we can give, gifts which do not cost money, such as:

– Seeing when someone is upset and making that person smile, if possible. If they are willing, be there and listen to why they are upset. A hand to hold and an ear who listens is priceless. 

– If you are able, keep to yourself the story you heard. It is not yours to tell. If the person who needed to talk trusted you with the secret, then he/she considered you worthy of placing their story with you. Keep that worth. That is their gift to you. 

Spend some time with people around you. Do something nice for them. Small chores around the house or help them with something you know they’ve been struggling with for a while.

If you want to, and have money to spend, then spend them on experiences: theater/movie/concert tickets/SPA/travels and trips, or therapy/coaching sessions – even if I know it may not be easy telling someone they need to talk to someone else than family and friends. But if you know they are aware of it, and they wish it, it is possible. So give people something that would be an experience they won’t forget, something they need and something they would appreciate.

Yet, to do this, it means we need to know the people around us, it means we have listened to them enough so we can spot their wishes and what can make them feel good and appreciated. 

When we live abroad, we feel like we do not have that time to spend or talk with those people we consider dear. And many immigrants and expats are traveling to another country to earn more money. It is a chase after a better quality of life that people think they can buy with cash. A better material world. People often believe that if they could buy more things, bigger houses, expensive cars, the latest of the latest gadgets or brand clothing, that will make them happier. 

If that is so, why are there so many celebrities, who have all these material comforts, depressed and unhappy? On the other hand, it is better to be depressed in a Tesla than in the middle of the street, and with no roof over your head. But from living comfortably to exaggerating when it comes to spending money on unnecessary things, it is a big difference.

Therefore, many people travel for work to provide a roof over their families in their birth country. There would not be so many websites helping people transfer money abroad if this social and economic phenomenon would not happen. 

What is it really that makes people feel the urge to take such a big step in their lives, such a bold and radical decision as moving abroad to work and earn more money so they could help the families in the countries of origin? Why don’t they just do this simply for themselves, because they want a better life for themselves?

With a background in my experience as a human, and as an immigrant, my training, and practice, I would say that first of all can be the feeling of not being enough – not feeling of being enough as people and not feeling that actions are enough either. This feeling makes people believe that they alone do not deserve a better life, except if they also send money to their families and friends in their birth countries. Or that they need to pay something so they can be considered worthy of attention. For some people, the saying “Those who say that money does not bring happiness, do not know where to shop” is very true. Money can buy many things and feelings.

The feeling of not being enough usually comes from childhood, and the dynamic children felt happened between their parents. If the parents struggled and put pressure on each other for various reasons, children would think that whatever was happening was their own fault and try to save one of the parents or both. If the struggles parents had were material struggles; in other words, they were having difficulties making ends meet, then the children would grow feeling guilty for all the efforts and sacrifices parents went through to provide for their material comfort. As adults, they feel the need to pay back; therefore, they get well-paid jobs and return the favor. Some of them are willing to move abroad to make that happen. 

There are many societies where children are born as an investment for old age: someone to take care of the parents when they get old. Children and the later adults are considered labor force. Of course, this is also allowed by the political and economic systems, which do not have a social welfare system that provides care for the elderly. Therefore, children grow and travel abroad to earn money to send to their parents, eventually younger siblings. Norway, the country I live in, does not have this system. I explain more about it in this article. The state social welfare also helps, and parents do not want to burden their children. In this country, I have also seen how parents are very willing of seeing their children out of their houses as soon as possible, which means 16 to 18 years old. In opposition to many other societies where children live at home by the time they are 40 or more. Another choice of words would be that in a country with a bad economical system, the parents are kind and they are helping their children by letting them stay in the same house.

It is true that in societies with good economical systems and where the state provides with student loan opportunities for youth, it is easier for young people to go out of their parents homes and experience life on their own. It is not the same thing in countries where there is no such thing, like the one I grew up in. I was dependent on my family my first year at university. I hated it. Second year I’ve got a job, and have provided for myself ever since.

In other societies, people have children just because everyone else does, without thinking if they can afford to raise them or not. I know, this choice of words sounds harsh, at the same time I wonder how many people really, think when they decide to have children. There is contraception these days, and it is possible to plan, and there are many reasons people decide to have children:

to perpetuate the family blood and name

to have something to live for

pure love

one night stand

drunk/drug sex

rape (unfortunately this things happen both inside and outside a relationship)

family and society pressure after two people get married

to have someone to inherit the family business.

to save a relationship – give the couple a common reason to stay together, etc

The country’s economy is not good and parents are left without jobs and decide to travel abroad to provide for their children. The kids are placed in the care of grandparents, siblings, or other family members. In extreme cases, they are also left with strangers who are receiving money for the service of taking care of a child. I like to call it the “Cosette syndrome” (see “Les miserable” by Victor Hugo). 

Like Cosette’s mother, parents who travel and work abroad want to compensate for their absence by sending money home. Some would argue that there is no difference between leaving your child at the daycare with strangers, and leaving them with strangers because one goes abroad to work. I would say that it is not quite the same thing when the children know they will have at least some time every day with their parents, and not seeing them for months. There is a good psychologist talking about it, Alice Miller, and her books are available here.

These parents who are away for months, abroad, because they love their children and want to do their best to raise them, also get a different idea about money, and they lose somehow the value of the currency in their birth countries. 

In enough cases, the family or caretakers in the birth country is well restored economically and can support themselves. However, people left behind start to feel like they deserve to be sent money and stop working themselves. They believe that it is very easy for their family members abroad to get money, and they start asking for more and more, without regard. They have no idea or experience over how is it to work abroad and how much effort it implies for their children or siblings. Some can start to take the help they are getting for granted and, even worse, to consider people sending the money stupid. It is a common thing in many cultures to mistake kindness with stupidity (I keep promising to write an article about this issue, and I will)

There is also a kind of emotional blackmail involved. People working abroad feel guilty for leaving family behind, for not being present, for missing out on the events in the life of people left behind. Some tend not to protest when they are asked for more money or simply send them willingly, hoping that they would put a plaster on the emotional wound created by the separation. 

In my therapy room, I often encounter feelings of great disappointment from people who send money to their families. They suddenly discover trades in their family’s behavior that they did not know existed. In some cases, when they stop sending the usual amount every month, they get protests, and they are shouted out and called names because suddenly they refuse to be the income source. 

It is a confrontation that is part of cutting the “umbilical cord” that keeps these people still in a sort of limbo state. They can either put effort into ultimately settling in the new country, and they can either go back to their birth countries because, in time, they feel they do not belong there anymore. They have got used to civilization and the working schedule, the rules which are respected, and the fair treatment they get as human beings in the new country. However, their hearts are split, and it takes some time to figure out what to do and what is significant for them.

If you send money to your family and friends in your birth country, how is that working for you? Have you ever thought about how it would feel if you kept that money to yourself and what could you do with them if you kept them? 

If you decide to give yourself or someone you know a gift in the form of a therapy/coaching session, click here to get my offer. 

I wish you to receive the gifts you need and to give gifts that will be appreciated.

Best

Where is HOME for immigrants/EXPATS?

black home area rug
black home area rug
Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

Home is a word that means a lot for many people. The dictionary says that home is “the house or flat you live in, especially with your family.”

In other words, we live in a shelter with or without a family.

When we are immigrants, I see this word associated with the country of origin, even if it does not fit the definition. This is because immigrants or expats, whatever they choose to call themselves, do not live in the country they grew up in anymore. They do not have a shelter there, except if they are guests in other people’s houses. When I say other people’s houses, they can be family members, friends, rented houses, or hotels because they are visiting. They do not live there anymore.
At the same time, when we are immigrants, we are asked whether we are traveling home or not at least three times a year: Easter, summer holiday, and Christmas.

It may be a natural question to ask, at the same time, I find it to be tiring, especially after you’ve been living in another country for quite many years (nearly 20 in my case), and this question still pops up. I travel home every day, as far as I know. And I can choose to travel to my country of birth to visit family and friends at certain times of the year. I do this primarily for myself because I need to contact the old me who used to live there and see how I’ve changed since I left. Seeing my family and friends, it’s a bonus. If they also have the need to see me and see how we all changed in the years we’ve been apart, they are welcome to visit.

Recently, David Nikel has interviewed me for his Life in Norway Podcast. He asked if people could have two homes. One in the country they have left behind and one in the new country of residence. The episode is out, and you can listen to it on this link.

My thought would be that it is possible to have many homes. But, at the same time, the feeling of being home is very personal. Each individual perceives “home” in a particular way, and it has to do with people’s values.

From the pyramid of Maslow, we know that vital needs are on the first level: air, water, food, and shelter. Here would also be the definition from the dictionary for home: “a house you live in”. Yet, having a house to live in does not necessarily mean home for people who are higher on the pyramids’ levels.
For them, home can mean the place where they have family and/or friends and/or a job that gives them status and social recognition.

For other people, none of those means home. Home means a place where they can feel that they can contribute and feel they are helpful. Contribution is the top of the pyramid, and it is a need Maslow has discovered towards the end of his career. Therefore, it is not as known as all the other needs.

And there is another category of people for which home is a particular context they choose: organized seminars, events, or retreats where they meet like-minded people interested in the same things and have the same values.
Those environments are closer to their hearts. Therefore they can say they have “come home”, not because of the material shelter where everything is happening, but because of the atmosphere and the subjects discussed.

Home is where each person feels a connection to the place and/or to the people around. We can have air, water, food, and shelter, yet that doesn’t necessarily feel like home. Therefore I would say that home is more of a feeling than a place.

As you see, home can mean many things for many people. What does it mean to you, who lives in another country than your own?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or let me know in confidence by signing up on this link.

Best to you from

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.

Awarness

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!

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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!