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Culture Shock, Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse
Mr. K. beat his wife and inflicted severe physical injuries on her.
Mr. L. beat his teenage daughter and inflicted severe physical injuries on her.
Mr. M. killed his wife.
Mr. N raped a young woman he was dating.
None of these gentlemen were psychotic, psychopathic, or particularly violent in nature. So why did they commit such heinous crimes?
Violence against women can have many causes. In the cases of K., L., M and N., the crimes were related to culture shock.
Culture shock is a mental stress that a person experiences in an unfamiliar cultural environment. Typically, culture shock occurs after immigration from a traditional rural society to a modern urban society, but it can also appear after such processes as urbanization, industrialization and other changes in which a person no longer recognizes his social and ecological environment. In my study of culture shock, I use the term “loss of simplicity.” The world that man had known was once experienced as simple, but after the changes it became unbearably complex.
The concept of simplicity in this context includes the following sub-concepts:
Completeness – My culture allows me to process all the information I need to function perfectly in my social and ecological environment.
Resilience – My culture prevents me from processing information that is not relevant to functioning in my environment
Consistency – My culture does not allow me to process the information I need to function properly in ways that involve contradictions.
Believability – My culture allows me to interpret and understand what is happening in my environment in ways that my culture considers believable, in ways that are considered correct and understandable.
In situations of culture shock, at least some of these qualities of simplicity disappear. This causes considerable mental stress. People in a state of culture shock tend to simplify the new cultural information they encounter in order to make it more tolerable. Simplification often involves giving up one or more aspects of simplicity listed above in favor of another, such as giving up completeness and reliability for consistency. For example, if an immigrant does not get a job because he is not qualified according to the standards of the new country and the host country has a high unemployment rate and many candidates compete for the same job, he ignores all these facts (rejects completeness) and consistently interprets the rejection as prejudice expression towards the people of his community (refusal of credibility). It is easier for him to emotionally consistently convince himself that prejudice is the cause than to process all the complex information that would be a more reasonable explanation. Simplification often involves interpreting new cultural information using one’s original cultural worldview, such as interpreting a conversation with an older man in a friendly, informal tone as shockingly disrespectful.
Let’s see how these concepts relate to the cases of K., L., M. and N. Each of these men had immigrated with their families from a traditional society in a rural, pre-industrialized area to a large, modern one. city. Their original pre-immigration culture was optimally simple regarding the status of men and women. In early cultures, women were dominated by men. They had to obey their fathers and older brothers, and if they were married, their husband and mother-in-law. They should dress modestly, covering their body and head when in public. Unmarried women were not allowed to leave their homes without an escort. Married women were forbidden to leave their homes without their husbands. Physical contact between unmarried women and men was strictly prohibited. The marriage was arranged by the parents. Young men or women were not allowed to choose marriage partners. Schools were segregated by gender. Married women were not allowed to work outside the home or drive a car. Married women had to satisfy their husband’s sexual needs. Refusal was grounds for divorce, and the divorced woman was sent back to her parents’ home. A divorced woman had a bad reputation. The fact that the husband forced intercourse was not considered a violation.
None of these rules applied in the dominant culture of the city to which these men and their families immigrated. Encountering the new cultural environment involved a loss of simplicity, completeness and austerity, thereby leading these people into a state of culture shock.
In the big city, Mr. K, who was a potter in the village where he grew up, had to work in a factory. His wife also had to work outside the home because his salary was not enough to provide for the family. She found a job in a women’s clothing store, but she had to wear fashionable clothes. According to Mr. K., this situation involved a loss of wholeness and frugality, as a wife working outside the home and wearing fashionable clothes was unheard of in his native culture. Only prostitutes violated these rules. Although his rational mind understood why his wife should behave this way, emotionally he could not tolerate it. He lost consistency and credibility because, on the one hand, he accepted the need for his wife to work outside the home, but on the other hand, he could not accept it. And then his emotional state makes him prefer improbability for consistency. One evening, when his wife returned from work, dressed in fashionable clothes, he felt incredibly that she had become a loose woman. Viewing her through the lens of his native culture, he called her a “prostitute” and beat her.
Mr. L’s teenage daughter was influenced by her new cultural environment. She began to rebel against her father, refused to obey him, went out in the evenings with friends, a mixed company of girls and boys, and dressed in fashionable clothes. Again, L. it was a loss of comprehensiveness and parsimony. He had to face the facts of his daughter’s new values and behaviors that were unquestioned and irrelevant in his native culture. When he tried to force her to play by the rules of her native culture, she called him “primitive” and refused to obey him. But at home she behaved like a dutiful traditional daughter.
She herself lost the consistency of her traditional culture. But her father also lost consistency. On the one hand, he did not want to be considered “primitive” and tried to be liberal and tolerant towards his daughter. On the other hand, he could not emotionally tolerate her “transgression”. So he too renounced his inconsistency and chose to behave according to the parental rules of his native culture. One night, when she returned late from an evening out, he beat her.
Mr. M.’s wife saw that married women did not have to obey their husbands and mothers in their new environment. They wore fashionable clothes, took courses, built careers, went single and had men. She wanted to be like these women and started behaving like them. M. It was a complete loss of simplicity. All these new values and behaviors did not exist in his native culture. He tried unsuccessfully to force his wife to behave according to the laws of his native culture. He lost credibility because he misinterpreted the changes his wife was going through as deliberate attempts to humiliate and weaken her. They had violent rows. In one of them he lost control and killed her. Killing an adulterous wife was tolerated in his native culture.
N. was a young unmarried man. He was dazzled by the sexual freedom of young women in the new environment. Again, this was a loss of simplicity, as such sexual freedom was unheard of in his native culture. He took full advantage of the sexual freedom of the girls he met, but also lost credibility and interpreted their behavior as immoral. He also lost consistency because, on the one hand, he understood the concept of mutual consent, but on the other hand, he still followed the traditional principle that women should obey men and forcing a woman to have sex is not considered a violation. When a girl he was dating refused to have sex with him, his traditional mind won out over his modern mind and he raped her. He restored the lost consistency.
How to prevent such terrible symptoms of culture shock? Through culturally competent family therapy, in which specially trained therapists help the family, especially men, learn to restore emotional balance in a state of culture shock, as well as build bridges between traditional culture and modern culture. A model for such therapy can be found in my book Culturally Competent Family Therapy.
See my website http://www.enjoymychild.com for more details
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