From identity-oppressed Kurdish girl to professional: my continuous journey of self-discovery
This article is being published anonymously due to sensitive content
I was born into a Kurdish family in a tiny village in Kurdistan. I am now a professional woman living in London with two children and a good future.
How I got here was through a long, painful, physical and psychological journey. This article will describe the journey I took and the psychological enlightenment that I learned about, which also helped me to self-actualise.
Kurdish people are an oppressed ethnic group who originated from Iran and South Eastern Turkey, although their culture is primarily Iranian. The majority of Kurdish people live in Kurdistan, on the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia, and many now live in the cities in Turkey. Some have now moved to Germany, the reason being that, since the modernisation of Turkey, many Kurds have been oppressed, slaughtered, and discriminated against, disallowed the expression of their culture, ostracised and denied the freedom to live in peace.
My parents were poor and we lived in a rural community. They had five children to look after. Ideas about parenting for self-worth were not understood in that community.
Growing up in Kurdistan during my formative years, I saw that my parents were unable to give me what I needed to develop into a “fully functional adult” (Thorne cited in Dryden, 1984, p.108). My father was violent towards my mother, something I witnessed often. I rarely saw my mother fight back, although she did have some strategies for saving herself. This had a big effect on me: I was frightened of men; I felt that women had to be submissive and quiet; and I felt I had no rights. Worse than that, my mother didn’t seem to love me. She did not give me the protection, holding, mirroring or security through containment that I needed (Winnicott, 1965; 1971). She had never had it herself, so did not have it to give it to me.
We moved to Izmir in Turkey during my early years, where I went to school. In Izmir, we were the ostracised ethnic group in the community. Consequently, I grew up unsure of who I was. I felt shame, frustration and rage with what was going on at home and in a society that did not recognise who I was – a minority, but still a person. I could not escape. My parents didn’t respond well to my emotional needs and wants so, while I idealised the dominant culture, I also had to learn to defend my identity.
At first, after our move, I pretended to be Turkish. I wanted to be accepted. For example, I remember when I was thirteen years, I went with my mother to see a flat to rent. The landlady asked me where I came from. I replied untruthfully in the hope of being successful in the rental. Later, the landlady found out that we were Kurdish. My mother was angry. When my mother challenged me about my untruthful approach, I remembered feeling defensive but, at the same time, correct – because they saw us as a lower class of people, and inferior. The truth is, I had abandoned my “true self” as a Kurdish person (Winnicott, 1971). At that time, I felt I had to remain incongruent or be hurt even more.
I lived in Turkey until I was twenty-four years old. I was living a fake life for all those years – in education, work and interactions with others. However, I knew and felt that I could not continue my life this way, as I was unhappy, frustrated and angry. I wanted to explore and express who I am. I now see how I was suffering internally, psychologically. Klein describes this condition as “splitting”, or the separation and obliteration of the self and denial of any aggression or responsibility (Hinshelwood, Robinson and Zarate, 1997, pp.125-132). I took on the behaviours of my parents as examples of correctness and I blamed the outside world, and felt helpless and weak against it, in a process of projective identification (Hinshelwood, Robinson and Zarate, 1997, p.126).
Politically, my ethnicity was at stake. I witnessed physical oppression by the authorities towards others who sought justice and rights for ethnic groups. Protesters were either caught and imprisoned, and many were persecuted and are still being persecuted. Many have joined an armed struggle demanding equal rights and Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. My father and brother were seen as both not acceptable and dangerous. This was frightening. I was terrified that I might lose my family or some people from it.
I now work with women who also feel like me – women who suffer domestic violence. Examining my own life has helped me understand how these women became trapped into a life of domestic violence which they found impossible to escape from. In my work, I try to help them find another way to live, to build up their self-confidence and provide some safety in a dangerous world.
The power of grief
I had to move away from Turkey, use my intelligence to be educated and to grow professionally. I could not do this in Turkey. By recognising my needs, I had to lose other things – I lost my home, my identity, my family and friends, but by doing so I understand, from Kleinian thought, that I have moved from the “paranoid-schizoid position” to the “depressive position”, integrating the good and bad parts of my life to enable me to make the best of what I have (Hinshelwood, Robinson and Zarate, 1997, pp.125-132). I wanted to move away from the environment that had oppressed me to the age of twenty-four.
I grieved my losses. I cried a lot and leant on anyone who would listen to me. I started to heal. When I moved away, I started feeling again. I began to feel angry and this anger gave me more energy. This is harder to live with, but I feel more authentic. Being authentic means for me to feel real, “to face the self” (Van Deurzen-Smith cited in Dryden, 1984, p.158).
I left Turkey for good in July 1993, with no English language and not much money either, to seek a new home in Europe. I believed that I would be more respected there than where I was.
When I arrived in the UK, I continued my personal development. I have taken education from basic levels to higher. I started learning English first of all. Then I finally achieved a bachelor’s degree in International Political Studies and English Language, studying part-time. I managed to fund my way through this with a bursary, while also doing freelance interpreting.
Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs, which shows what is needed by all individuals to achieve their best potential (McLeod, 2018). This, I felt, represented me and my needs from childhood to adulthood. First, I needed shelter, water and food. To some extent I had achieved this despite coming from a poor home. Second, I was rarely safe in Kurdistan and Turkey, but I feel now in London that I am. Third, socially, I was quite isolated in Turkey and my only social life was with my family. Today, I have a small number of friends and colleagues. This has been instrumental in developing my identity. Fourth, I arrived in the UK with a weak ego. I was not able to stand up for myself easily and was oppressed by my culture and as a woman. But with help and work, I healed and now I believe I am going through the process of self-actualising. This has taught me that, given all of these conditions, we, as humans, have the ability within us to overcome many difficulties and obstacles.
Working with abused and violated women has also been helpful. They have taught me so much. Learning about their lives and difficulties has highlighted my own uncomfortable, unconscious feelings. This has helped me to own and deal with them. Grieving with them has helped me grieve my own losses. They have been my teachers. Sometimes I feel that working with these women has been a therapy for me. Rowan and Jacobs (2002, p.113) report research literature suggesting that when there is congruence between the therapist and patient, the therapy is more effective. This was true for me and the women I work with.
There was another aspect of my life that was holding me back. I was married to an English man who, I felt, saw me as a weaker person than him. We had two sons together and had been together for sixteen years, but in that time, I had done most of the work for all three of them. By 2012, I found I had more time for myself, felt more energised and decided I didn’t need this man in my life anymore. I began divorce proceedings. I believe this allowed me to develop my potential and ambitions in my life with a clearer vision. I thought about what I wanted to do. I decided to study again and this time for a professional qualification.
Personal therapy and training helped me to understand my feelings around my life and relationships, as well as to consider ways and options for moving on, progressing. I started to feel very differently about everything around me, from interrelationships to others to being “present in the moment” (Thorne in Dryden, 1984).
When my ex-husband moved out locally, I stayed with the boys in our matrimonial home. The boys were able to see their father on a regular basis. This move was agreed with a consent order, but it made him very resentful towards me.
A ‘Secure Base’
After a year and half, my ex-husband told me that he was planning to leave the area for a cheaper one. I was upset by this news and felt certain it was the wrong outcome for the family. It meant that he would be moving out of the area after our older son had started university. Our children are very close to him and it would have been difficult to share and reach each other. This did not feel right and I was concerned for my children’s stability, which was paramount to my well-being, and the energy level in my life force. We needed to offer them a “secure base” (Bowlby, 1988). His distance from them would create a difficulty that could be avoided. I had to find a solution.
Intuitively, and without any doubt, I felt the right thing to do was to offer him our matrimonial home and for me to move into my sister’s flat, which was close by. He agreed enthusiastically and we reversed the previous consent order to fit our new arrangement. For me, this was ideal and it was my way of being a “good-enough” parent (Winnicott, 1965).
In 2015, I even decided to learn to use a motorbike. I had always wanted to do this since I was a young woman. After some difficulties along the way, I learned new skills and bought my own bike. This gives me further freedom and confidence.
With this new confidence, in May 2015 I also applied for another job, and am now successfully employed with better terms and conditions. I manage a project working with women and girls who fled ‘honour’-based violence, forced marriages, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence. The refuge provides practical and emotional support until these women feel confident and safe enough to rebuild their lives free from violence and abuse from multiple perpetrators.
In 2016, I started studying for a certificate in counselling. This was a turning point for me. The course has given me a wider perspective and deeper understanding of myself, that chance to explore my feelings, my past and what determined my thinking and my behaviour. I found out how much I suppressed, and learned about my attachment style. Because of the difficulties of my early years, I may have had a disorganised attachment style. I was frightened of upsetting my family and became passive and subservient. I avoided intimacy, mistrusted my partners and was unable to express my feelings to them. This has changed. I am now more securely attached, more self-reliant, more assertive and less anxious. Moreover, I can now learn more easily than when I was an anxious outcast in a Turkish school.
I continue to study counselling to a higher level. My plans are to continue to research to a deeper level the universal collective consciousness in different approaches, such as Transpersonal Psychology. I would like to expand my work and research rather than confine my work entirely to domestic violence.
It has been interesting to track my own path and to understand where I came from. What is more exciting is that I often compare my own experiences with those of the people I work with. This gives me some extra insight into their internal worlds. Understanding my own path in life has given me a specific view of how others may also suffer (Rowan and Jacobs, 2002) . I was trapped as a young person in a limited, constrained life where ethnic minorities, and women within those minorities, suffered terrible oppression and danger. There was a pecking order which I realised stemmed from the frustrations and lack of freedom from those more powerful. They took this frustration out on the women, and the women on the children. How I understand domestic violence can be overcome is through a psychological intervention. The cycle of violence has to be stopped. The critical voice that causes it in the minds of the perpetrators needs addressing. And the victims of the violence need protection and support.
There are other interventions too – the lack of access to education being one. I was hampered in my life choices before I took the opportunity to get an education. In many cultures this is undervalued and it is often thought of as unimportant for women to be educated; a waste of money. For me an education has led to more freedom and opportunities. In my work with oppressed women, I recommend this. If they have the possibility to educate themselves, this could mean more financial independence, a new social life and a structure in their lives.
But what is paramount in my studies is having a greater understanding of the human mind and behaviour, how we develop as infants within our relationships and environment, and how our origins may impact our futures. Rowan and Jacobs (2001, p.6) write: ‘in the authentic way of being, personal involvement is much more acceptable, with the therapist much more closely identified with the client and more openly concerned to explore the therapeutic relationship.’
The author is a trainee integrative counsellor and works for a women’s organisation. She will complete her studies in 2019 and plans eventually to become a full-time psychotherapist.
Bowlby, J. 1988. A Secure Base. London: Routledge
Dryden, W. ed. 1984. Individual Therapy in Britain. London: Harper and Row
Hinshelwood, R., Robinson, S. and Zarate, O. 2006. Introducing Melanie Klein. London: Icon Books
McLeod, S. 2018. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology. Available at https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 1 November 2018]
Murray Parkes, C. 1972. Bereavement: Studies in Grief in Adult Life. London: Penguin
Page, K. 2013. The power of the gifts we hide: our true self and our false self. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/finding-love/201312/the-power-the-gifts-we-hide [Accessed 1 November 2018]
Rowan, J. and Jacobs, M. 2002. The Therapist’s Use of Self. London: Open University Press
Wedge, M. 2016. What Is a “Good Enough Mother”? [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/suffer-the-children/201605/what-is-good-enough-mother [Accessed 1 November 2018]
Winnicott, D. W. 1965. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Karnac Books
Winnicott, D. W. 1971. Playing and Reality. 2nd ed. London: Routledge