Identity and belonging is something many of us struggle with, especially those who are either displaced or choose to move away from where they grew up. Others have lived or travelled abroad for long periods. This can also be felt by those who live within their culture of origin, either through social oppression or a sense of ‘being different’ or ‘not fitting in’.
I used to think that the therapeutic journey was partially about finding ways of nourishing and loving oneself and strengthening one’s ‘core’, so that external factors have less of an impact on one’s sense of self. Whilst this is true, I also believe in the importance of nourishing various aspects of ourselves through meeting others who are like-minded; whilst also being aware that no one group or one person will ever encompass and be able to relate to all of these parts.
There is something wonderful about relating to the diversity in others and yet a longing remains to find places and people with whom we feel accepted and ‘at home’, through similarities in cultural background, profession, age, gender, sexuality, lifestyle and worldview.
Having lived in different countries, my inclination has been to absorb the culture I lived in, thereby loosing a sense of connection to my cultural roots in order to belong and ‘fit in’. For those living in a different culture, it can leave us feeling that something has been lost, and that we no longer know who we are. Whilst I still believe that it is important to integrate into the culture we live in, my experience is that it is equally important to stay true to who you are and seek those who are positively affirming of you.
Coming from South America, I have experienced my culture at times as oppressive, violent, backward, etc. and embraced the positive aspects of immigration. Yet, I have also deeply missed the familiar and positive aspects of my cultural and childhood home, such as speaking my first language, the natural environment, food, literature, etc.
Psychotherapy can be used as a process of understanding of where we come from and who we are now; an integration of cultures and the unique blend that we have ultimately become.
Sam Jahara is a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist and co-founder of Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy. She enjoys working with individuals and couples from diverse cultural backgrounds and those wanting to explore issues around identity and belonging.