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The hidden ‘politics’ of my PhD topic…holding my ancestors/family tears

Friday, March 21st, 2008 @ 7:33 pm
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Posted in  General, Personal Process

It is Good Friday today (at least for the Catholic parts of the world…the Greek/Orthodox fellows will celebrate Jesus victory over death about a month later…) and it has been a quite emotional week, in terms of being encountered by ‘synchronistic’ incidents and conversations that reveal the underlying ‘political’ dimension of my PhD topic. As i am talking about cultures and mobility, i see that there is so much we carry from our histories, some of whihc still present, and they operate at an unconscious level at least very powerfully. And as my supervisor puts it in one of his writings: “I do know from my psychodynamics in families that some children do carry unresolved psychological material from their families and end up wrestling with problems that don’t really belong to them” (West, 2006 – The Friend’s Quarterly). This statement seems to expand to national and collective dimensions aslo, especially when certain countries have suffered a lot of violation and trauma that appears to be carried through from generation to generation, often in very subtle ways. And of course, where all this eventually ‘belongs to’ is a whole different story, as in my eyes at least, we are all connected. And even when a specific experience is not directly lived by an individual, when it comes to national collective experience with huge impact, the psychological echoes can be very strong
To give an example: about a week ago i went to a Turkish restaurant in Manchester together with another Greek female friend (whose family holds connections with Asia Minor – Turkish West coast today- where the Greek Genocide took place between 1914-1923). At some point, we found ourselves being ‘harassed’ by the Albanian waiter in there (there is history of conflict between Greece and Albania with regards of Greece defending north-west parts of its territory) and the Turkish-Cypriot lady owner of the restaurant who opened up discussion, rather aggressively about the Greek-Turkish relations. I will not go too far into this event, all i wish to draw attention to in here is that such stories can be very challenging when it comes to the therapeutic relationship and cultural identity, not necessary directly but in terms of POWER positions in the counselling room. For example, i can confirm that as a Greek, i carry in my unconscious feelings of ‘victimhood’ due to my nations long-standing and repetitive invasions that, when i am in a vulnerable position and my sense pf belonging is questioned, those can bring challenging dynamics, depending on who is the other party, in terms of what they carry in their own script in terms of exercise of power. Additionally, i find myself being very sensitive and empathic to issues of race and human rights when practising as a counsellor, probably due to my own background, i can easily connect to this collective unconscious ‘arena’ and feel the hidden agendas that are usually silenced and avoided. For example, when working in the UK, i have often felt very close to Black clients’ experiences, although i am not black myself. I do not suggest that a therapist shall have sameness or similar experiences to a clinet to be effective….what am saying though is that when it comes to sense of self that is so much related to culture (however we define it here), there is a global dynamic that operates unconsciously that goes beyond the therapeutic dyad and requires some sensitive attention, in my view

Another incident related to the above: there has been a fellow student in my PhD group of Turkish-Cypriot background. We love each other dearly, regardless of the conflict in our divided island (me coming from the Greek part of Cyprus vi amy dad, her coming from the Turkish part via her mum). However, we did have on certain occasions some ‘difficult’ discussions about what happened/happens there that brought up a lot of tears for both…If it was to be in a therapeutic relationship between us, all these stories of ours would inevitably be in the counselling room somewhere and the questions arousing would be potentially related to the fact that yes, we can ‘meet’ between us as people in the here and now but can we really handle the transgenerational tears and power dimensions safely enough? Our dear research supervisor wrote this poem for us:

Cyprus poem

“You came to me
from a war torn land
from different sides
of a bloody and awful conflict

You had stories of horrors to tell me
But struggled to hear one another

I loved you both
But I couldn’t reconcile you

if you could not live in truth and peace and love
What hope was there for your divided country?”

Its true that TRUTH and PEACE and LOVE are the universal, humanitarian values that unite peoples. The question though around Truth seems to lie with WHO is the narrator, and i see that this is where the psychological states of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ get activated in so much subtle ways. It also seems to me that there is a ‘gender’ issue related to War…historicaly it has been Men that went to War during which women suffered a lot of rape etc etc. I can see that with my Turkish-Cypriot fellow, we connect between us lovingly as women and friends….but our men did kill each other in the past and the whole matter in Cyprus is still ‘open’, sth that brings a lot of emotional response for me here and i d better leave it aside

I was also moved this week by a paper that my supervisor gave me about his father’s second world war stories. He describes in there that his father went to Salonica in Greece during the war and when desperate women at the port where offering sex in order to get some food for their starved families, he refused and gave money to one of them. Her answer to him was then “I will pray for you”

………i am often lest speechless and immobilised by the feelings that all those matters raise for me. It is as if my whole psychic and inner cultural space gets stired up to find some resolution, to voice some of what is silenced, to maybe express some of the stored collective tears and bring some gateway of all that in terms of how it may operate in the counselling relationship and human relationship in general.

I am aware that i need to be very careful here also…during the last group supervision meeting where i shared some of that and tears came out, i found myself saying that i feel a bit like ‘Atlas with the world on his shoulders’…again, am not implying that i can resuce anything here, i am not any hero…what i think i connect with is that collective weight that, maybe today more than anytime, asks for some release’and settling, or at least ACKNOWLEDGEMENT and RESPECT, especially in so called ‘caring circles’ like that of therapy

May i finish this post with my own poem, as it rambles up now:

Whose is this voice?

“i speak and statter

i cry and scream

i lie down in silence

i breathe

i am breathless

Who is trying to speak through me?

Is it Socrates and Aristotle?

Is it the mother who lost her sons in my torn land?

Is it my enemy’s own wife who was widowed?

When will the real stories be allowed?

Stories of attack, Stories of defense

Human stories

of you and me

May God help us

I will pray for you,

and me”

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