Over two decades, we Iranian have lived outside the geographical borders of our homeland; Iran. Being a woman activist, I have been interested in the life situations, struggles and dreams of marginalized women who get stuck in between two or more cultures, two or more styles of life and two or more homelands.
My experiences of immigration and living with the notion of losing identity and losing “thyself”are written all over Iranian life stories. No one is exception, no one has made it easy, and we all have lost something, most of all; our selves. Our Iranian women, who initially were oppressed and doomed to obey men constructed laws, have a chance to learn here in the new societies they come to. No one has ever spoken about the level of trauma many Iranian families live with.
We know little about how to handle trauma, psychological suffering and depression. We blame ourselves, our husbands, our life and our god or whoever else for the destiny we have found ourselves in.
We cry by ourselves and do misinterpret the pain in our chest which is about the stress and pressure of migration. Our young children do raise the question time by time; who am I? or where do I belong to? Yet, the answer to this question is a real struggle.
Starting from noting is hard, we need a base, we need more than information, and we need to have the willingness to learn and to listen. We have to rise beyond our biases to do whatever it takes to find personal growth. This is something we have been prohibited to do for centuries.
It is important to (re)gain the required confidence and knowledge to succeed in the new society we live in. It takes time, effort and support to overcome that identity crisis and divided spirit. The feeling of inferiority as newcomers, who initially have to overcome internal and external barriers, would many times cause neurosis and mental health problem. At the same time as it has always been, any issue of mental health characters and individuals involved, are deeply stigmatized and disregarded within the Iranian culture, why many women and families suffer alone and do not seek proper help.
Our Iranian women and their families leave Iran with a belief that anywhere else in the world, would be a good place to find the peace and happiness they missed back home. Migration has its own process and we Iranian have little knowledge about how to deal with the burning pain of losing home, losing contacts and losing jobs. Parin Dossa, a professor of Simon Fraser University who has for several years researched Iranian immigrants here in BC, uses a concept as social suffering (Dossa, P, 2004). This notion of social suffering is exactly what this writer likes to talk about and explore it.
Charles Westin, professor of Migration and Ethnicity studies at Stockholm University has published many books about the stages of migration and the dynamic in the person,s life.
A summary of those 4 stages are:
Honeymoon/ introduction, where families or individual finds the new society they entered in interesting, fun, and filled with opportunities. It could also be a period of checking things out, studying, making connections and learning about the possible ways to form the new life.
Comparisons; either looking back and exaggerating the life back home or the original place of residence or making constant comparisons between here and there.
New look; either finding a way to accept the new society or having a distorted view on the new life with nostalgia for the past.
Integration or dissociation; here at this stage, which might take decades or years, in one way or another individuals live their life. Depending on the level of involvement with the new society, individuals either is integrated with a realistic notion of new and old place of residence, or life is dark and noting is possible.
Based on those definitions, the four stages, it is possible to see where some women and men get stuck. In either of these stages, individuals may develop mental health issues such as depression, lack of interest, loneliness, dissociation, negative attitudes toward the world and the self. Now level of education, background, family support, realistic view of life and self are all important and defining concepts that impact the style of life and the quality of life.
Do we remember, times in our childhood, whenever we asked any questions, we were hushed, meaning be quite. How many times we were told that children do not understand, teenagers are raw, and seniors have lost their mind.
Lack of communication, lack of support, and absence of good reasoning play important roles in how we deal with life in our adult life. Now, adding the social suffering of the immigration and isolation in the new society, being depressed or isolated is not a very hard concept to understand.
Iranian woman, who struggles due to mental health issues caused by migration and experiences hardship to make a new home, suffers multiplied, compare to other citizens with the same mental health problems. Carrying the pain of previous trauma back home due to injustice, sexism and gender apartheid, she would need a huge amount of support to make a new home and find integration in the new society she enters. We need to talk more about these concepts, we need to explore our burning pain in groups and learn to differentiate between physical and psychological pain. We do not need to suffer, help is out there, if we just let go of the socially constructed barriers we still carry here. If you like to talk more about these subjects, this write would be more than happy to attend groups and even talk on individual basis.
Poran Poregbal, RSW, Victim Services, Master student in Counselling Psychology, Adler School of Professional Psychology
This article was published in Goonagoon, a biweekly newspaper in Vancouver, April 13, 2007.
April 23, 2007