Excerpt from “Through My Parents Eyes: The Refugee As a Therapist”

What happens to a family nearly twenty years after the guns fall silent? The immediate consequences of war are obvious. They manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). The long-term consequences are not obvious. They manifest in substance abuse and dependence, clinical depression, and perhaps most importantly, dysfunction in family relationship dynamics and the parent-child relationship. The lack of focus on the impact of war on family relationship dynamics is problematic.

According to family systems theory, family members influence each other’s behaviors and emotions. Regardless of whether the father or mother has been diagnosed with PTSD, the entire family will be experience the symptoms of withdrawal, depression, anger, and loss of identity. Children in particular are at risk for developing secondary traumatization as a result of being exposed to parents diagnosed with psychiatric problems as a result of war. The general long-term consequences of secondary traumatization in children has been described extensively in research literature. As adults, these children tend to have dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, are unable to cope with external stressors, and use substances to numb feelings of emptiness.

The symptoms of secondary traumatization are not out of the ordinary. They are similar to the primary symptoms of PTSD. The difference, however, is in that these children have often not been directly exposed to traumatic events. They were not exposed to shelling, did not witness murder, and were not tortured. They lost their homes and identities, which is different from typical experiences associated with war, but nonetheless cataclysmic.

We arrived in the United States on a hot and humid July afternoon. I was in awe of the yellow taxis at the airport. It was how they were portrayed on television. We were greeted by a man who feign smile, had tumbleweed hair, gold rings on his fingers, and made many promises. I did not like him.

I knew that what was portrayed on television was fiction and nothing would ever be the same once we arrived at the new apartment. I have described the apartment for numerous years and grown tired of trying to illicit vivid images. It was a run-down red-brick multi-family apartment building located a few blocks from a police station. There were constant disturbances and the police was called nearly every day. The neighbors were drug addicts, homeless men and women, and squatters. These were all images representative of the low and unfortunate that had given up on life. I had not given up on life. I was not used to failure and even as a child, I knew that I did not belong in this run-down red-brick multi-family prison. I wish that I could say that everything changed at that moment and that I committed to a better life through the pursuit of education. It did not. I was torn between being a child and parent.

I remember my first day of school in the United States. It was early in the morning and my father was walking me to the bus stop as I nervously held onto a small plastic bound German to English dictionary. I spoke a little English but not enough to effectively communicate with others. I was excited to see the yellow school bus, which I had previously only seen on the television. I nervously stepped into the bus when it arrived. I could see different faces of children walking down the narrow isle of the bus when one suddenly exclaimed, “You are gay!” I shyly smiled, and embarrassingly replied, “Thank you.” I sat down alone in the back of the bus on the pleather seats, opened the small plastic bound dictionary, and turned to “g.” A tear began streaming down my face as I read the definition. The thoughts inside my head began to culminate and fear surrounded the possibility that living in the United States would not be different from living in Germany.

I was afraid that the stigma of immigrants and refugees, which I had been exposed to on a daily basis, was not different. It was perhaps the first time when I began to question the ideal of the “American Dream” and recognize that hatred is an international language.

The Refugee as a Therapist

In an effort to improve my writing, which is one of many things I am looking to improve, I have begun drafting a paper entitled: The Refugee as a Therapist. There is an enormous amount of literature on the clinical implications on working with immigrants and refugees but none that I have been able to find on the refugee as a therapist. This is an excerpt from what I have written thus far that is especially meaningful, to me that is.

“Whether in a romantic or professional relationship, I consistently replay difficult moments not with the intention to resolve them but with almost the consequence of punishing myself. Being a therapist does not make the matter easier because I am aware of what is happening on a conscious level but unable to stop it on a subconscious level. In other words, as a therapist I should be more accountable for my actions and thoughts than the layperson. This cycle of punishment is never ending but infused with brief moments of compassion and caring that wash away the anxiety of having to maintain a façade of perfection and solitude. The days pass like grains of sand in an hourglass of time, and while each is precious, I fail to take advantage of each opportunity presented. These opportunities are not professional. They are personal. The destructive cycle of indifference rears its ugly head once again and it becomes a never ending battle to subdue my subconscious voices of imperfection, solitude, and perhaps more importantly, desire.” 

Cornell University Response to “Facebook Experiment”

After several hours of furiously writing an angry e-mail Cornell University, I received a reply.

I am not necessarily satisfied by the response but the institution, at this point, is doing damage control. They recognize that their involvement in this matter was detrimental to its long-held traditions and the utmost importance placed on human rights by various national and international organizations. In the end, I do not think that this conversation is over. It is just the beginning to a public relations nightmare.

Cornell University Logo

CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE

FOR RELEASE:  June 30, 2014

Media statement on Cornell University’s role in Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ research

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University Professor of Communication and Information Science Jeffrey Hancock and Jamie Guillory, a Cornell doctoral student at the time (now at University of California San Francisco) analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users. Professor Hancock and Dr. Guillory did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks,” published online June 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science-Social Science.

Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results – and not to any data at any time – Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks

The act of social science research with human subjects has long been a controversy for justifiable reasons. As history has shown in the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, 1971), the lack of protection for individuals has an adverse effect on their mental health. While the recent research study, entitled Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks, is important and provides insight into the role of social media on behavior, it does not follow national and international ethics on research with human subjects. This can have a cataclysmic impact on the socioemotional health of individuals unaware of their participation.

While Facebook, Inc. and Mr. Kramer do not have an institutional (i.e., institution of higher education) affiliation, they are nonetheless bound by federal regulations on human subjects research. Specifically, they are bound as “any research involving the collection of existing data, documents, records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources are publicly available or if the information is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified, directly or through identifiers to the subjects” (NIH). The co-investigators, Jamie Guillroy and Jeffrey Hancock, on the other hand, have institutional affiliations. As such, they are bound by federal regulations to “demonstrate that projects which are conducted by or subject to the approval of department or agency heads.”

According to the Federal Code of Regulations on Public Welfare, institutions must “prepare, and maintain adequate documentation of IRB activities,” “copies of all research proposals reviewed, scientific evaluations, if any, that accompany the proposals, approved sample consent documents, progress reports submitted by investigators, and reports of injuries to subjects,” and “copies of all correspondence between the IRB and the investigators.”

Besides the argument that blind data collection was justified, the investigators blatantly ignored the subsection on the general requirements for informed consent. That is, no investigator may involve a human being as a subject in research covered by this policy unless the investigator has obtained the legally effective informed consent of the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative.”

There is no doubt that Facebook, Inc. has overstepped its boundaries and opened the door to future unethical research with human participants. In order to prevent the reoccurrence of such careless and tragic research in the future, the public must be made aware of their rights. I have contacted Mr. Kramer and each institution separately requesting copies of all records related to the aforementioned study.

Guest Article by Midhat Dzihic

In light of World Refugee Day, which was on June 20, I asked friend and executive director, Midhad Dzihic, to write a brief article about Ljiljani Buducnosti. While the literal translation of liljan is fleur-de-lis, its symbolic meaning has been rooted in religion and politics throughout time. In the context of the humanitarian organization, its literal translation is fleur-de-lis of the future, and it is rooted in the effort to facilitate post-conflict and disaster recovery in Bosnia.

Damir S. Utrzan, M.S., MFT, AFTA, BHAAAS

A New Beginning

Ljiljani Buducnosti is a non-for-profit organization based in Minneapolis with the primary focus on facilitating post-conflict and disaster recovery in Bosnia. While recently founded and operating on a small scale, it provides assistance to civilians in terms of food, clothing, and any other supplies that are otherwise necessary for daily living.

Brief History

Yugoslavia was a region once admired for its ethnic and religious diversity (as Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Bosnian Muslims lived together peacefully. While subjective experiences and opposing historical accounts make it difficult to describe the events leading to war, I will start with the death of Josip Broz Tito. As leader of the Yugoslavian Partisans, Tito suppressed the voicing of ethnic and religious sentiments in an “icebox of communism” (Jones, 2013, p. 84). After Tito’s death in 1980, multiple leaders began to rotate in an unstable presidency selected by six republics and two autonomous regions. Instability in the region increased when Croatia and Slovenia proclaimed their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 with support from Germany. The United States and European Union followed by recognizing Bosnia as an independent entity.

The disintegration of previous nation states within the former Yugoslavia fueled Serb aggression. Violence in the region finally prompted the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone and deploy peacekeepers. In response to a Serb attack that killed 68 civilians, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization issued an ultimatum of tactical air strikes if the Serb military did not withdraw heavy weapons from United Nations monitored exclusion zones. In response to this preeminent warning, the Serb military brutishly executed 8,000 Bosnian Muslims (United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, n.d.) in the municipality of Srebrenica. A crude act of genocide, and clear violation of Geneva Convention wartime rules, this act prompted an intensive month-long bombing campaign of Serb territory. A cease-fire agreement eventually led to peace talks between leadership of the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. The Dayton Agreement, as it is known, was signed in 1995 and redefined the former Yugoslavia into the nine separate entities of today.

The Organization

As a recent high school graduate, I was determined to make a difference not only in the country where I was born but also where my, and others’, heritage remains. While initially unsure of how to help, one day I accidentally came across Istina TV or Truth TV, an organization in Bosnia. As a non-for-profit that is a bridge between local citizens and international humanitarian organizations, I reached out to see whether they would be interested in partnering. Unaware at a time, a partnership quickly flourished. In the past year, Ljiljani Buducnosti in collaboration with Istina TV, has been able to send approximately $2,000 USD to supply 25 families with basic living necessities.

Charity 2

While this has been a success, the need is ever more increasing. While a donation of $100 USD can provide a family meals and hygiene products for an entire month, anything and everything helps.

In an increasingly globalized society in which everyone is interconnected through relationships, human suffering is universal.

Donating

If you are able to donate, any amount, please visit the organization’s website at http://www.ljiljanibuducnosti.org or contact me directly at m.dzihic@ljiljanibuducnosti.org.

Midhat Dzihic

Child-Men fueled by Red Bull

Red Bull

What is happening with young men today?

It seems that no matter where you look, there are child-men everywhere. The difference between child-men and men is a cultural phenomenon in that the former still lives with his parents, is around teeny-five years of age, and generally avoids responsibility. Since some of the statistics related to the achievement of young men is inaccurate, I present recent and verified statistics below:

  • In 2012, 40% of men and 32% of women returned home to live with their parents (Fry, 2013).
  • In 2010, 78.9% of men and 21.1% of women in the United States died by suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, n.d.)
  • In 2010, 62% of associate’s degrees, 58% of bachelor’s degrees, and 60% of doctoral degrees were conferred to women (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).
  • In 2004, adolescent girls spent and average of 5 hours per week playing video games whereas their counterparts spent and average of 13 hours (Gentile, Lynch, Linger, and Walsh, 2004).

These are only a few shocking statistics that illustrate the demise of young men, or child-men, in the United States. While socioeconomic factors lead child-men to return home to their parents, the general lack of responsibility is not due to socioeconomic factors. The achievement gap between men and women, which relates to lack of responsibility or drive exhibited by child-men, is demonstrated by achievement in higher education. There is nothing inherently wrong with women improving their education. In fact, it is a hallmark of societal growth and improvement. However, a society that is knowledge driven (i.e., careers that require a bachelors degree or above) will continue to create a disparity between child-men and women. This is a problem because educational equality, which translates into earning potential, contributes to the long-term success of interpersonal relationships. While women are not necessarily concerned with out-earning their partner, because historically a woman’s value came from being a mother, daughter, and child, child-men will feel increasingly disparaged. Men’s value, on the other hand, has historically been tied to their career and achievement. This will inevitably lead to interpersonal relationship satisfaction. If the partners are not on par in terms of educational achievement or drive for that matter, they will not be able to communicate effectively.

The disparaging statistics of young men in the United States must end. In order to promote healthy interpersonal relationship functioning, young men must be encouraged to explore their masculinity and, most importantly, to integrate the seemingly opposite dynamics of strong and compassionate. It is an unfortunate misnomer that men cannot be strong and compassionate at the same time.  While it may not seems important to address the aforementioned issues now, it is important to recognize that these issues will persist across future generations of men if not properly addressed.

Resources

Bly, R. (2004). Iron John: A book about men. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press.

Hymowitz, K.S. (2012). Manning up: How the rise of women has turned men into boys. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Moore, R. and Gillette, D. (1991). King, warrior, magician lover: Rediscovering the archetypes of the mature masculine. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.

References

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (n.d.). Suicide deaths. Retrieved on June 01, 2014.

Fry, R. (2013). A rising share of young adults live in their parents’ home. Retrieved on June 01, 2014.

Gentile, D.A., Lynch, P.J., Linder, J.R., & Walsh, D.A. (2004). The effects of violent video games on adolescent aggressive attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 5-22.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Degrees conferred by sex and race. Retrieved on June 01, 2014.

 

Infidelity

Will Our Love Last: A Couples Roadmap

“How does it happen, great love? While nobody knows, I can tell you that it happens in the blink of an eye. One moment you are enjoying your life and the next you are wondering how you ever lived without them.”

Hitch (2005)

Despite being a fictional love coach, Hitch is right because finding love is unpredictable. Being satisfied with our lives and not seeking a partner is a great time for doing just that. On the other hand, being dissatisfied with an intimate relationship opens the door to unpredictability in forming and maintaining it.

What does this mean?

It means that dissatisfaction in a relationship may unfortunately lead to infidelity. Infidelity, whether emotional, physical, or both, is a symptom of something missing. In other words, we do not reach outside of a relationship unless something is missing in it. If our partner is emotionally or physically unavailable, we seek out comfort and assurance from another individual. In contrast to the popular belief that such comfort is provided by one-night stands or casual encounters, which can certainty be the case, it is colleagues and close friends who are more likely to fulfill that need. As a result of novelty, pleasure, and excitement, this newly found comfort begins to resemble a fairytale. However, we tend to forget that happy endings are only characteristic of fairytales.

Why is it important?

Prince charming rescues the damsel in distress and their shared love is enough to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This is the romantic plot of nearly every fairytale but unfortunately does not reflect the complexity of relationships. I want to briefly note that infidelity is not dysfunctional. Instead, it is a symptom of something missing in the present relationship and should be treated as an opportunity to understand the situation and more importantly, oneself. Infidelity is difficult to understand because two individuals serve to fulfill a single need. The long-term partner typically provides a sense of security and stability while the lover provides excitement and novelty.

What can you do?

Before making decisions that may be impossible to reverse, it is important to take inventory of how you are feeling regardless what others may think. These questions are not exhaustive but provide a place to start:

  • What is it that I want?
  • Why am I reaching outside of my relationship?
    • What was the catalyst for reaching out of my relationship?
    • What are the problems in my relationship?
    • Are the problems in my relationship reconcilable?
    • What would it look like to date the lover?
    • What would it look like to end this relationship?
    • What would it look like to be alone?

Conclusion

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. If you choose to end your long-term relationship, do not immediately jump into a new relationship. This will only lead to disappointment and heartbreak as you attempt to form the foundation of this new relationship on sand. Instead, I suggest taking at least six months to better understand the situation and most importantly, yourself.

Resources

Hamburg, S.R. (2000). Will our love last: A couple’s road map. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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