Culture shock

One thing we discussed in my session is how very fraught the situation at work seems for me. Instead of being a bit disappointed that it’s not working out as well as I’d hoped, or maybe thinking I don’t know that much yet about this boss or co-worker, I’m likely projecting a lot, to what I think they’re thinking, and I go right to wanting to jump off a bridge. I could take it easier. Ron didn’t say that exactly, but I think that. I’m going to extremes here.

Why is that. The situation must be triggering me into old feelings. One thing I thought of is how very isolated I was as a child. Especially as a teenager actually. I found high school very very rough. I had few social skills, and felt like an outcast. Then at home, my father had stopped speaking with me, and my family more or less colluded in this – they pretended it was not happening. I felt surrounded by people who would not talk to me as if I were a normal human being, who counted.

Writing this is scaring me a bit. In session, I said that basically, in my family, no one cared how I felt. I kind of didn’t know what that would be like, if someone actually cared. Once in a while, I’d experience bits of caring, mostly from women. Some aunts were kind to me, and treated me like someone with feelings. The nicer ones were in old European country though, so very far away. One of my mother’s friends was kind, but in an over-emotional kind of way I found difficult.

The consequence of this was, I didn’t really learn how to be kind, how to care, and what people were like. People just seemed dangerous to me, and I mostly pretended no one else was there. That seemed the only safe thing to do. Any feelings I had, I’d mostly try and pretend I didn’t have them.

So that was hard. Now I’m an adult, and things are different. I’ve changed – I’ve learned that people have feelings, that people might care about me and I about them. Even if I haven’t found a lot of friends, I know how to care and how to show some caring also.

So with the people at work being so very reserved, I must feel triggered back into that time when no one cared and when the only safe thing to do was to pretend no one else was there. That was so painful.

I don’t know if that is what the people at work are doing. I don’t understand Chinese culture and what things mean. Surely I’m not catching the subtleties. It is definitely a different culture, and I can’t expect people to act in a typically Western way.

Anyway, that’s why I want to jump off a bridge. It’s not so much what’s actually happening. That might feel strange and unusual, but it would not normally be devastating.


  1. leb105 said:

    “wouldn’t normally be devastating”

    ….you mean, if you were normal? Someone else, without your background? I’m sure you’re right that you’re filling in the blanks with what you know. I didn’t get the silent treatment in my family, and I had the same response when I worked with a bunch of men who didn’t make any effort to reach out – at least at first. I melted down. It’s easier for me to see when you do it, how you interpret “blanks” as hostile – like at the 12-step meeting, or with Ron. Any new situation would be challenging – it’s okay if you decide that this is too much!
    On the other hand, it seems as if I am learning that when I’m in reactive mode (in fear) the best thing to do is set my sights on what I want to accomplish and take action.

    “Any feelings I had, I’d mostly try and pretend I didn’t have them.”

    I wonder if this is what your mother does. Your emotions and needs made her uncomfortable, so she pretended them away. Maybe this was how she was raised, too? Did you know your grandparents?

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, it can always be a learning experience. I suppose.

      Of course, this is what my mother does. She can’t tolerate emotions in herself or others, so I had to push mine down. And sure, this stuff is handed down from generation to generation. To me, my grandmother was a kind person, but she and my mother had a tense relationship. She surely didn’t accept my mother as she was, either.


  2. This is good processing; going back to where it began. We all learn these coping skills and behaviors as children, based on what we know and learn. Your reactions are normal to childhood, but you are right in saying, you’ve come along way to learn new ways. I had to leave a job of all men who never acknowledged the work I did, but when I was leaving, they begged me to stay. All that was triggering from my younger years. I wasn’t very healthy when i left that job, but at the time it was hurting me more to stay.
    You are strong, and you’re right, it’s a different culture to work with. The questions I would ask myself in this situation is, “Am I going to be okay doing this everyday?, “Will I continue to spiral downward by staying here, hoping for something that isn’t going to happen?”
    Their behavior is NOT a reflection of you, whatsoever!

    • Ellen said:

      Interesting about your past job. I know bad work situations are not unusual at all. My last job I worked with all men, and that was a challenge in itself. I think your questions are good ones. I’m concerned I’m going so far down, it’s going to really damage me further. But I want to try and last a few months at least, give it a shot.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Hugs. Sorry you are in a similar situation as childhood. Congratulations on recognizing the connection to childhood experiences. Knowing the connection allows you to look at the present situation in a different way. Take care.

    • Ellen said:

      I’m going to try and keep all that in mind – it’s pretty easy to forget in the heat of the moment. Thanks Ruth

  4. I think there is something inherently very scary about feeling left out or unable to connect. Sometimes here there is this kind of blank stare I get from Country Xers who don’t know me, and it’s really very horrible. I really feel subhuman, or like an animal. I am sure it is more intense for you given the connections to the past, but I do think feeling like an outsider does just automatically make us assume “the other” is hostile. Take care. I hope the situation gets easier to manage.

    • Ellen said:

      I shudder at the thought of the ‘blank stare’. Yuck. It sounds very intense for you to tell the truth. I’m going to keep in mind that the cultural divide is on both sides. I keep wanting to make a comment about the Chinese culture and then I worry that I am being racist somehow. It’s something that is omnipresent where I work and yet it is impossible to talk about. I just want to realize emotionally that this situation is not really that personal – it’s inherent in the place I work. Despite the triggers to my own past. Thanks Ash.

      • It’s difficult. The thing about cultural difference is that it becomes very difficult to be attuned to one another. It’s hard to tease out where the meaning of behaviour is getting misinterpreted (on both sides) for cultural reasons and when it is actually what you think. Sometimes, it’s just miscommunication. Sometimes, you really are pissing them off. And it is hard to talk about.

  5. It is very wise and insightful to see the connections between your reactions to a a cold workplace and your childhood experiences. I’ve only recently started to be able to make those connections (sometimes), to help me understand why I might have especially intense reactions to something that maybe others wouldn’t be that freaked out about. I try to tell myself that it’s okay, I’m safe now, things are different, etc.

    But all of the positive self-talk in the world doesn’t make it a friendlier workplace for you. That must be hard, especially when there are cultural differences you aren’t sure how to read. Do you have a Chinese friend who is kind of bi-cultural and could help explain some things to you? That might be useful. I can imagine that when you understand what behavior means in that context, the workplace might feel better. And of course, you need a good support network outside of work. Or maybe I should say I need a good support network outside of work (and therefore am making assumptions about what you need). I don’t always put enough time into creating and sustaining that network because I put so much time into work. It’s something I would like to change.

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, it is helpful to understand the connections, up to a point.

      No, I don’t have a Chinese friend. But anyway, I have little interaction with the other people there. Mostly they are very reserved, and I have to tell myself that this doesn’t mean they don’t like me. And yes, a support network is always good. I don’t have one and don’t really know how to acquire one. I hope you find a support network. You seem quite a bit more functional than I am, to tell the truth. Working takes all my strength, even though I don’t work very hard. I have nothing left for socializing after.

      Thanks Q. Hope you are mending well.

  6. e.Nice said:

    Being unseen and unheard is devastating. I don’t know how you get that need met, especially in that kind of work environment. I don’t know about the people in your office, but even in a different culture that seems to be a basic human need. I lived in a part of china for a little over a year and it wasn’t like that.

    • Ellen said:

      Interesting you lived in China, and that’s good info to know. Yeah, it’s continuing really rough there for me. Thanks

  7. it must be hard working with people who are from another country and who have a different culture. I think I’d find that hard. Its ok to have feelings of wanting to die, at least your writing about them and not acting on them. I’m hoping writing helped you some. xxx

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