Growing up in a cultural environment at home that is different from the cultural environment outside of the home has it’s benefits and challenges.
On the one hand, It is an enriching experience to be exposed to different languages, customs, rituals, and codes of behavioural conduct. Thinking back to your own upbringing you may be able to appreciate having learned a second language, travelled to the part of the world where you’re family is from, enjoyed your ethnic cuisine and participated in meaningful community events and functions.
On the other hand, If these cultural differences are in direct conflict with one another, you may be faced with difficulties making sense of the differences – and this can be very stressful.
Bicultural stress refers to stress caused by difficulties encountered while having to live in two cultural environments that are difficult to reconcile. Common difficulties include problems making sense of and integrating differences in dietary rules, dress, social behaviour, dating/marriage rules, and gender-roles. Feelings of confusion are common as you try to answer the question “Who am I” and “What is the right thing to do?”
Hiding aspects of oneself is a way of coping with differences between the home environment/culture and the dominant culture. Why? Because we all want to fit in and feel like we belong. We also don’t like to upset our families or risk being rejected and shunned by our communities. Ultimately, we want to be able to express all aspects of our identities without losing important ties.
At home, you may dress in a conservative way that pleases family and outside of the home you will wear clothing that matches your style. You may follow different dietary rules when at home or in your community than you do outside of that community. You may date and have a relationship outside the home, but keep your relationship a secret from those who wouldn’t approve. You may participate in activities outside of your home/community that you keep separate.
The amount of fear your feel is likely proportionate to how strict your family/community is and how open they are to seeing your point of view. If your family is very strict, you are likely hiding many aspects of yourself outside of the home in order to try to balance your need to be yourself with your need to maintain family and community ties. If your family is open to negotiating with you, you may not need to hide as much – Instead, you can speak to them, share your perspective, and come to a middle ground.
Living a double life may be a way to survive in an environment where not all of you is fully accepted. This may very well be the smartest and safest way to cope with a scenario of having strict parents and managing differing sets of value expectations at home and outside of it. Needless to say, this is not easy. Here are some of the consequences that can come with living a double life:
If you are experiencing any of the above difficulties, know that it is possible to make sense of the confusion and come to a place of wholeness.
Do you know anyone who might be struggling with living a double life? Share this information with your friends and family and come together to discuss ways in which your experiences overlap. It can be healing to know that others face the same struggles, hear about how others cope and to have a network to rely on. Come together and get creative about ways to celebrate and bring together all aspects of your identity. If you need additional support and feel ready to pursue the possibility of therapy, Contact Dr. Dina Buttu – You don’t have to do this alone.
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