Culture provides guidelines for emotion expression. Cultural understanding shifts and flows as an individual experiences life. [Sometimes understanding gets stuck.] Culture is composed of family experiences; societal situations; and a view of humanity’s place in existence. It influences the words we select; the manner in which we voice; and whether we speak. As an individual develops across a lifespan, s/he determines which aspect(s) of life to encourage. My current choice is to encourage open, honest, and supportive communication. This is proving to be a bunch of work! I’m learning that “open and honest” means name-calling and labels to some people. Others consider it ignorant or an opportunity to take advantage. It takes visualization, deep breaths, and a focus on purpose to express myself to people who verbalize these opinions of my actions.
Right now it’s challenging for me to talk through hurt with one of my siblings. My brain wants to resort to name-calling and other angry-time speech options. We didn't develop conflict resolution skills between us in childhood, so now we're learning them as adults. We have a lot of unexpressed pain in my family. This pain is typically expressed through angry outbursts and/or withdrawal from communication. I want to be in a place where we allow ourselves to feel anger, directly express and discuss it in a healthy way, and fluidly continue with other topics. My sibling and I relate to each other around anger and hurt. We didn't talk much until the family moved overseas and our parents divorced. There was so much going on outside of our relationship’s world that we didn't focus much on our bond's needs. As a result, we related and yet did not relate. We talked about the chaos and related around the anger and hurt that surrounded us. Now, we want to talk with each other and neither one of us does it well. There isn't any chaos around which to relate. So, we either continue to create arguments so we can relate to that kind of pain, or we choose to build a new framework within which to relate. This one’s a lot of effort because some of the anger-argument creation is not completely conscious. It’s automatic sometimes.
I came across an interesting dissertation on culture and how it affects emotion expression, Cultural Orientation and Parent Emotion in the Chinese American Immigrant Family: Concurrent and Prospective Relations by Stephen Hanen Chen, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1n43s5tf. [Total disclosure: I skimmed parts of it and read other sections in depth. I imagine it’s a document I’ll read here and there at various times over time. I didn’t know that there’s a whole section of psychological research that focuses on immigrant family experiences and emotion expression. That wowed me. I wonder if there’s a section of psychology that focuses on bicultural individuals’ experiences of culture.] The author brings up some interesting points that I hadn’t considered. He writes,
“It is an active process that transforms the biological being into a social individual …with a set of context-contingent identities” (Markus & Hamedani, 2007, p. 5). Applied to the present study of immigrant parents, this conceptualization of culture and psychology suggests that individuals exposed to a new culture both shape, and are shaped by their patterns of engagement with their host and heritage cultures. Engagement in external cultural domains – e.g., the languages they acquire or maintain, or the social circles in which they engage - may shape the construction and expression of their internal, biologically-based processes.”
One of my sisters told me that normal is healthy and good for you. My thought after she said that to me was that she must live a fucking miserable existence. My belief is that normal is relative to each person's circumstances and psychological state. This means that normal for grew-up-in-chaos is different from normal that developed-in-stability. A warring nation's normal differs from a peaceful entity's normal.
This idea that normal is only that which is healthy and good is a very limiting belief. It's indicative of a closed thought process. After I felt angry with my sister for saying it, I felt concern for her thought methods. She's an adult and can care for herself. She's intelligent, witty, and nurturing. In addition, she thinks in black and white sometimes. Normal is good. Not normal is bad. That's black-and-white thinking. What concerns me is that this type of thinking extends to other parts of life.
For instance, she also touched on this idea that, deep down, everyone knows when a situation is shameful or disrespectful for involved parties. I told her that I disagree with this thought. I said, "In fact, that's victim blaming at its finest." Seriously? You're going to tell me that someone in an abusive situation knows deep down that it's disrespectful for the abuser to abuse him/her? So then it's his/her fault because he/she does not recognize the disrespect and leave the situation? Bullshit.
Some people grow up in situations that do not deliver self-esteem. Some people must develop their own confidence through many different situations. Telling a person it's his or her fault that he or she experiences abuse merely keeps the person down. It's completely disrespectful of what got the person to that abusive situation in the first place. Yes, ultimately, it is up to the person to leave the situation. And yes, ultimately, the person may realize that deep down he or she knew the situation wasn't healthy or respectful or good. That's information to pass along when the person is ready to understand and receive that message. Laying it out across the board -- before a person develops self-awareness or self-esteem or self-respect -- that's inconsiderate of natural human processes. Would you shove a two-year-old off a swing because he/she didn't swing fast enough? [I hope you wouldn't.] Shoving "you knew better" into someone's psyche is like pushing that kid from his or her swing with, "You knew to swing faster."
I went out to listen to music last night. A guy tried to chat me up. I told him that if he was looking for a sex partner, I wasn't that lady. He expressed offense and said he was looking for an interesting conversation. I went along with it even as I suspected that he was full of shit. We discussed a bit of the current political situation and then somehow the conversation turned to union. I mentioned that most major religions support this idea of a union between two people, and then I brought up Hinduism. [If you're a Hinduism expert and you disagree with my assessments, please let me know.] He said words about many gods and how that meant many partners. I said that I disagreed with his analysis. I said something about the conversation in the Bhagavad Gita and how it indicated union, and then I said something like, Ok, I'm ready for your explanation about how that book indicates many partners. Suddenly he had to go to the restroom! I watched him walk by a few minutes later.
He was looking for interesting conversation. Puh-lease. That man was looking for a conversation he could dominate. The instant I displayed more knowledge about a particular topic, he wasn't as interested in interesting conversation.
I felt offended for a few minutes. Like, wow, he played me. Then I thought, you know -- he didn't actually play me. I talked with him instead of saying, "I'm not interested." I entertained the notion that he could be interested in a real conversation. And then I discovered that my initial suspicion was correct.
Later, I retold the story to someone I trust. I said, "If I'd have practiced the same method in years past that I practiced tonight, I wouldn't have dated certain people. That's part of aging, I suppose -- learning these things."
Well hello there.