We have often heard that the meaning gets lost in translation. The intensity of an experience can definitely get diluted in the balancing act of living a bi-cultural life. In honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to offer some culture-specific examples that may help with understanding the importance/impact of these experiences.
I would like to start with clearly stating that abuse is abuse and by making the examples more specific to common South Asian experiences, I am only choosing to honor my heritage and encourage mental health dialogue in minorities.
I believe that the south Asian culture is a bit more subtle, in some senses, when it comes to the art of abuse. Respect and position continue to be a huge part of the culture and are given the highest priority when it comes to raising children to become “successful” adults. I believe the trend is changing a bit; with the newer generation, the definition of success is changing. More people are focused on living an overall healthy and happy life but there are still childhood experiences that still continue to be part of the norm that impacts us daily.
Physical abuse is not necessarily limited to beatings from parents; coming home from school with marks from a ruler is fairly common and many times accepted as discipline appropriate from a teacher. In the United States, per guidelines, throwing objects (phone, lamps, whatever is around you) toward another person is considered to be abusive but it is a common practice overseas. Sometimes the assault may be from extended family members; as you are part of the family, the individual may feel somewhat responsible for your upbringing as well.
Though more individuals are opening up regarding sexual abuse and demanding changes for the future generations, this is an extremely common safety issue for women of any age. Unwanted sexual advances are almost part of the daily routine and if the abuser is associated with the family, in many parts of the developing countries, it is encouraged to not discuss it. Men are victims of sexual assaults and abuse as well but there are still areas in these developing countries where female feticide, sex labor, and/or gang rapes are occurring daily and the victim may even be encouraged to remain quiet.
Anyone who has experienced abuse will tell you that emotional abuse leaves the deepest wounds. The most common weapon of emotional abuse, I believe, are the words “being strong.” Everyone is encouraged to ‘be strong’ and move forward in life; the concept is beautiful but people forget that nurturing your wound does not make you weak.
Another common form is neglect. I do want to clarify that only showing love or encouraging your child when they are behaving your way is something I consider as part of neglect. Because so much importance is given to being “successful”, often times the love is shown based on the achievement of the child.
I would like to reiterate here that society is changing. It is changing because with each generation, we are becoming stronger in our beliefs and implementing steps that are overall healthy. You and I are both part of this. Mental health continues to be part of a difficult conversation and it requires us to connect through our vulnerabilities. I encourage you to seek ways to leave a positive change for the upcoming generation- continue moving toward a healthy and happy future!