Turkish Cypriot Women and their search for identity


In this dissertation the aim is to provide the reader with the opportunity to glimpse into the world and share the experiences of displaced Turkish-Cypriot women.  It includes the reflections of a participant, the author’s personal story and an interpretation of aspects of that story using selected documents/memories from their experiences. The dissertation will explore changes that have occurred in the author’s sense of identity and encompass a specific focus on the participant’s loss of identity.  My aim is to capture the participant’s and my experiences of the phenomena described, as so many stories are woven within the human identity, through the interpersonal relation. Life in general, is full of stories; writing this research is another form of ‘story’.

This study uses qualitative and interpretative methods in respect of stepping into the world of two Turkish-Cypriot Women.  These research methods generate some insight into the development of identity and the changes that occur over time to the concept of ‘self’ within the context of their life experiences and social-cultural backgrounds.  The dissertation concludes that the training in the counselling world would benefit from introducing a focus on the foundations of ethnicity, religion, culture, and identity, thereby to explore differences and similarities.  Doing so will prepare the trainee counsellor for the multi-cultural differences encountered on a daily basis. 


In the multi-cultural society of modern day England, counsellors experience increasing challenges in providing opportunities for ethnic minority clients.  The core conditions, solid ground work, to build upon the client’s self esteem and to increase the understanding of identity are undisputable and central concerns of the counselling world. They converge in the counsellor and client’s experiences of the loss of identity. This dissertation explores some of the main challenges faced by counsellors and clients in the counselling world.  Research of this kind is not new, as migration has been ongoing for Turkish-Cypriot women since the 1930s (www.vam.ac.uk/moc/childrens_lives).

This paper seeks to be unique and, unlike the few other researches on Turkish-Cypriot women, I present my findings using qualitative method.  Moreover, although there are numerous factors which could have been researched - for example, discrimination and forms of communication - three key issues have led me to focus my research on this topic: loss of identity, lack of understanding by others (indigenous people) and the lack of understanding in the counselling world.  Richard Nelson-Jones (2004: 67) suggests an accepting attitude involves respecting clients as separate human beings with rights to their own thoughts and feelings.

The key factors that led me to focus my dissertation on the lived experiences of Turkish Cypriot women were the difficulties I faced living as a Turkish-Cypriot Woman, an ethnic minority woman, and as a client during my studies as a trainee counsellor.  My aim is to explore the experiences of Turkish-Cypriot women and how their experience/s led them to lose their identity. 

To build on my knowledge and to provide a deeper understanding of the issues, I decided to explore case studies amongst a few of my clients within the Turkish-Cypriot community.  This enabled me to enhance my understanding of the lived experiences of Turkish-Cypriot women living in countries other than their native country, and their experiences when returning to their native country.  I have obtained the consent of a client to explore some of her reflections in this research.

This research paper is presented as a qualitative study.  I intend to offer the reader the opportunity to take a glimpse into the client’s and my world.  In addition, the research paper may empower the counselling world when working phenomenologically with Turkish-Cypriot clients, and as Van Manen (1990: 44) states, “a phenomenological question must not only be made clearly and understood, but also lived by the researcher”. 

This qualitative study is a process with which I have been personally involved: I have chosen to expose myself, not only to the reader, but also to myself.  This may seem strange to say, but I feel I have been in the dark about my sense of self and identity for many years.   Over the years, I have become aware of the differences within me, differences between the varied communities I have lived in, and differences between friends, colleagues, and myself.  It seemed to me that I thought and felt differently than others, and this led me to withdraw and isolate myself from those around me, as I did not feel safe.  Coleman, Lee and MacDonald, as cited in Savin-Williams (1990: 38) explain that this “process of ‘slowly surrendering’ to the deviant identity entails weighing the costs to one’s psychic self and one’s relations with others”.  Not only did I conceal myself, but my thoughts, feelings and emotions, which has impacted on my interactions with others.  I have spent a proportion of my adult life exploring the impact it had on me and how within the core of me, I knew I was worthy of being valued and understood for who I am.   I have moved on numerous occasions looking for a place where I could be safe; that I could feel that I was accepted, develop a sense of belonging, which would lead me to feel valued (Colin, F. and Horton, I. 2006).

The paper discusses change and growth, and my aim is to highlight and describe the changes that have taken place within me. The process of transition through explorations of self has enabled me, for the first time, to take an introspective, reflective look at who I am as an individual, in addition to finding my identity as a Turkish-Cypriot woman.  It is through my lived experiences that I feel motivated to work specifically within the Turkish-Cypriot women’s community.

The dissertation has given me the opportunity to explore, challenge, confront, and delve into my inner self, my self-doubt, confusion, anger, negative thoughts, and feelings.  This has forced me to dredge and confront from within, and has proved to be vitally important. As Bolton (2005:76) states: “… the process of writing [means] that reflection is not a cosy process of quiet contemplation.  It is an active, dynamic, often threatening process, which demands total involvement of self and a commitment to action.  In reflective practice there is nowhere to hide.”

My interest in this research came from me as a Turkish-Cypriot woman and as a counsellor who counsels Turkish-Cypriot women.  When my participant and I discussed the nature of the loss of identity of Turkish-Cypriot women, together we found the core of our innermost experience, which is where I found similarities and began to understand for the first time that I was not alone.


This chapter will explain and consider the various key concepts that form the foundation of this dissertation.  It will provide the background for the analysis and the interpretation of my autobiographical documents thereby adding valuable insight pertaining to the changes that may or may not occur in an individual’s development of sense of identity.  Moreover, re-reading and interpreting my journals has provided meaning and understanding, not only about my world but also about the world of displaced Turkish-Cypriot women and how they and I perceive our identities in relation to the world.  One of the challenges I have faced is to ‘interpret’ my own documents relating to the changes in the sense of my identity.

In preparation for this research I have read a number of books on the subject of ‘race’ and culture: amongst others, Ponterotto, J., et al (2001) Multi Cultural Counselling (2001); Eleftheriadou, Z (1994) Trans-cultural Counselling; Kareem, J., & Littlewood, R (1992) Intercultural Therapy; Tuckwell, G. (1991) White Counsellors and Therapists. Although I could make many connections with these writings, I still found there to be something missing for me, as a Turkish Cypriot woman.  One of the books that has resonated is the collection of essays, edited by Aisha Dupont Joshua’s, in Working Inter-Culturally in Counselling Settings (2003).  The text explores how racial issues can be recognized and worked with in the clinical setting, and how the counselling setting can influence both the working alliance and the therapeutic process.  Joshua, together with contributors from diverse cultural heritages, moves away from exclusive ‘white’ models of thought so as to adopt a worldview inclusive of cultural differences.

Another book that has influenced me is written by Humayun Ansari (2004:4). Ansari discusses the experience of migration and exile, and the impact this has had on constructing ethnic minorities’ new identities, as well as the specific circumstances of immigrant settlement experience in Britain.

I will continue to read further on ‘loss of identity’ to enable me to develop insight into the subject.  I believe that the knowledge gained will drive me forward and help find the solution to ‘recovering’ my identity and becoming a ‘whole me’, cognitively, physically and spiritually.  Having read the above-mentioned books they have opened my mind and I have become more reflective and aware of ‘self’. The literature works to support my research paper and I include my personal logs, experiences, articles, University web search engines, and readings from previous courses which I believe have assisted me to develop this research.  Stewart, Franz and Layton (1988: 42) state that “aspects of inner experience recorded on paper (letters, diaries, and autobiographies) are extremely difficult to simulate and recreate in artificial testing ways.  These naturally generated personal documents are often derived from deeply felt internal needs (e.g. to confess or communicate)”.  The ‘inner-self and internal needs’ will be the main topics for exploration in what follows.


Knapp & Vande Creek (2006:37) write that ethics is a way of thinking about becoming the best practitioner possible.  Positive ethics is an approach taken by practitioners who want to do their best for clients rather than simply meet the minimum standards required to stay out of trouble.  Prior to working with my participant, I explained to her the type of research that I wished to do and the emotional difficulty she might encounter; I also explained that all data collected would be treated with strict confidentiality, thus ensuring her anonymity.  I produced a consent form, which was duly signed by my participant, giving me permission to carry out my research. 

Furthermore, throughout my research, and in order to keep myself safe, I have maintained the support of my personal therapist and my clinical supervisor; doing so has provided the appropriate environment for my participant, too.  It is important to note as well that I work within the guidelines of The Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy of The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).  As John McLeod (2003: 168) states: “The ethical issues that arise through the conduct of the research are the same as those that occur in the context of counselling practice”. 

Methodology: phenomenology, narrative, history

Qualitative research is a process wherein the researcher is always present as it involves living with the topic consciously and unconsciously.  I have read and kept notes, diaries, and personal logs, and I have found myself reading through my notes and previous assignments many times in the search for new meanings, significant experiences and understanding.  Moreover, I found myself visiting and revisiting my past.  

Hofstede (1991:7) states that “cultural relativism does not imply normlessness for oneself, nor for one’s society.  It does call for suspending judgment when dealing with groups or societies different from one’s own … Information about the nature of the cultural differences between societies, their roots and their consequences should precede judgment and action”.  Whilst this does not remove the element of subjectivity from qualitative studies, it implies that people of different cultural backgrounds may have to suspend prior judgments in order to interpret their ‘findings’ accurately. In the sessions with my client I found that the similarities in our backgrounds helped me to reflect upon my own experiences – a process which complements what Van Manen (1990: 44) has argued in respect of qualitative research: “… a phenomenological question must not only be made clearly, understood, but also lived by the researcher”.

Multi-methods and multi-definitional qualitative research employs various methods to collect data, including interviews, participant observation and visual approaches (Denzin and Lincoln, 1998). Additionally, qualitative research elicits rich data from participants (Van Manen, 1990). This means that the approach attempts to describe and interpret meanings in depth, and the data is ‘rich’ in that it is extracted from the first-order voices of the participants.  More broadly, the method used has drawn on the work of Van Manen (op.cit.) and Heidegger’s (1889-1976) hermeneutic phenomenology. Hermeneutics, as Van Manen (op.cit. 79) states is a theory and practice of interpretation.  Hermeneutics was a word derived from the Greek god Hermes.  His task was to communicate messages from Zeus and other gods to ordinary mortals. Schleiermacher (1977) suggests that the aim of hermeneutics is to understand another [voice] as how he or she understands him or her self. 

However, as in my opinion, owe can only understand another’s experience if owe can enter empathetically into their experience, interpretation, in the words of Gadamer, “is not an isolated activity of human beings, but the basic structure of our experience of life” (Gadamer, cited in Gallagher, 1992: 43).

In social science research there are two paradigms, defined as quantitative methods - the collection and interpretation of numerical data - in contrast to qualitative methods, which involves the interpretation of texts of various kinds (Punch, 2005).  Consequently, for the purposes of this study, I apply a qualitative paradigm because my study aims to focus on the lived experience of two Turkish Cypriot in relation to the loss of identity.  The use of qualitative research has been criticised by Gubrium and Holstein (2002: 11, cited in Hammersley (2003) as the “general voices of interviewees”; as such, the ‘voice’ cannot provide an empirical, authentic view of ‘the world’.  I disagree with this comment as the purpose of this research is to gain insight from the perspective of Turkish-Cypriot women.  It was as I lived the research project that it became apparent to me that a phenomenological approach would be most appropriate as, phenomenology “is a method of philosophical inquiry evolved by Husserl that takes the view that valid knowledge and understanding can be gained by exploring and describing the way things are experienced by people” (McLeod 1998: 163).

It would not have been possible to undertake even this small scale study without having had access to the lives of those living in England as displaced Turkish-Cypriot Women.  I invited a client who self-referred in order to establish the options that were available to her in accessing therapy.   For that reason, I refer to the participant taking part in the research as a ‘client’, not as a ‘subject’, because in the sense of ‘client’ explained by Oliver (2003: 6), the client is a co-researcher in asmuch as the method adopted does not seek to ‘do’ anything to her, or ‘measure’ the impact of various variables on her life (Ray, 2002).  Thus, since quantitative research “involves careful measurements of variables with the researchers taking a detached, objective role, [q]ualitative research by contrast, has as its aim the description and interpretation of what things mean to people.”  To achieve this aim, “the researcher must develop a relationship with informants or co-participants.” (McLeod, 2003: 457).  More generally, I have decided to use narrative inquiry because, in the words of Kvale (1996: 125),

I want to understand the world from your point of view.  I want to know what you know and how you know in the way you know it. I want to understand the meaning of your experience, to walk in your shoes, to feel things as you feel them, to explain things as you explain them ...”

Moreover, as narrative enquiry “is set in human stories of experience” and “provides researchers with a rich framework through which they can investigate the ways humans experience the world depicted through their stories” (Webster and Mertova, 2007: 1), it is best understood as a methodological framework.  People tell their experiences through ‘stories’, we share stories in everyday life, and clients tell their stories during therapeutic sessions as ways of making meaning of the self and the world. In qualitative research, many stories are narrated by the research participants to capture the experience of the phenomena described.  In this sense, many stories are woven within a human identity, and this research provides another form of a ’story’.  The following quotation brings out the phenomenological richness of using ‘story’ / narrative as method (Ephron 1983: 176-177)

Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”  So, I told her why: “Because if I tell the story, I control the version.  Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.  Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt so much.  Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

Paul Pedersen (2002) cites Arredondo et al’s (1993) advocacy of re-telling women’s stories as presented in literature such as The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan, 1989), La Chicana (Alfredo Mirande) and The Colour Purple (Alice Walker, 1982).  Pedersen views such narratives not simply as belonging to the genre of the modern novel, but as representing unique cultural background written from relatively non-stereotypical contexts.  Such narratives, moreover, are truer to women’s socialization and development than many other forms of literature (Pedersen, op. cit: 172).

As history is inseparable from a life story and how it is lived, I now sketch the history of Cyprus to assist in understanding the roots of two Turkish-Cypriot women.  Cyprus has experienced many civilizations, amongst them Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Byzantium, Moorish, Venetian, and the Ottoman. The British assumed administration of Cyprus under an agreement with the Ottoman Empire; however, after the First World War and due to the fact that Turkey participated in the war on the side of Germany, Cyprus was declared a Crown Colony.   As the British considered the island to be vital to its interests in strategic terms, they were not prepared to give the country independent status.  An armed liberation struggle, after all means of settling the dispute had been exhausted, broke out in 1955 and lasted until 1959.

According to the Zurich-London Treaty, Cyprus became an independent republic on the 16th of August 1960.  The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable in many of its provisions, however.  In July 1974, a coup against the government of President Makarios was staged by the military junta, then in power in Athens.  On 20th of July 1974, Turkey occupied the north of the island, with the effect that, following the war, people have been displaced: thousands of Greek Cypriots living in the north moved to the south of the island, and thousands of Turkish Cypriots moved from the south to the north. This military and political background assists in understanding the island’s history and the trauma Turkish Cypriot people have experienced. Turkish women lost husbands, fathers, brothers, their homes and land in the war; they were displaced within their country and thousands have migrated to Britain as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was established in 1983 but was not recognized by other states (www.agiasofia.com/cyprus.html)

In addition, Turkish-Cypriot Women were brought up to ‘serve’ their fathers, brothers and husbands.  They were not valued as equals in relationships and expected to undertake traditional roles (child rearing, household duties).  This socialization is rooted in generations of Turkish-Cypriot women and has been passed down from mother to daughter over the years, although we are generations removed from the experience of our ancestors (http://www.cypnet.co.uk/ncyprus/people/cypturks/index.html).  Ackbar states (1984:36) that “[p]sychologists and sociologists have failed to attend to the persistence of the problems in our psychological and social lives, which are rooted in our shared history.   Only historians have given proper attention to such shattering realities - something not reflected in the counselling world (1984: 36). 

More broadly, speaking from the position of oppression often puts people’s backs up in psychological forums (Thomas, 1996).  Such voices intrude on the white therapist’s persona with its legacy of guilt, and other therapists may be reminded of the fear and loss associated with the pain and degradation of white supremacy.  Perhaps that is why, as (Ackbar, op.cit:3) has suggested, historical forms of oppression have not been sufficiently attended to in psychotherapy and counselling training.  There has also been a lack of theoretical models focusing on such experience (See Colin Lago, 2006).

To understand Turkish-Cypriot women’s life experience, therefore, it is important to emphasise that the loss of identity, rooted in each generation, is magnified when migrating to other countries.  This circumstance has impacted not only upon me as a Turkish-Cypriot woman, but on the people living within the community wherein women did what the community expected them to do – by engaging in a general denial of their identity.  Historically, it has been assumed that the development of Turkish-Cypriot women’s intellectual potential would develop their confidence and self-esteem, and lead them to rebel against oppressive male practices.  However, this has not happened; Turkish Cypriot women still contend with ‘knowing their place’ and find it extremely difficult to resist the patriarchal norms of their communities in exile.  Here, what Mulhauser (http://counsellingresource.com/types/person-centred/) has written of Rogers’ work in terms of conditions of acceptance in relation to self-worth is relevant:

One reason this [i.e. acceptance of oppressive practices] may occur is that individuals often cope with the conditional acceptance offered to them by others by gradually coming to incorporate these conditions into their own views about themselves. They may form a self-concept which includes views of themselves like, "I am the sort of person who must never be late", or “I am the sort of person who always respects others”, or “I am the sort of person who always keeps the house clean”. Because of a fundamental need for positive regard from others, it is easier to ‘be’ this sort of person - and to receive positive regard from others as a result - than it is to ‘be’ anything else and risk losing that positive regard. Over time, their intrinsic sense of their own identity and their own evaluations of experience and attributions of value may be replaced by creations partly or even entirely due to the pressures felt from other people. That is, the individual displaces personal judgements and meanings with those of others.

Many Turkish Cypriots have migrated from northern Cyprus because their country has not being recognized as a sovereign state in its own right (http://www.rivierahotel-northcyprus.com/cyprus_history/Historical.htm). This has

had a serious economic impact as surrounding countries have not permitted trading.  Consequently, Turkish Cypriots have come to view countries like Australia and Britain as secure, with opportunities for education and employment, for example, all of which fills the hearts of Turkish-Cypriot women with hope for a better future for their children and for re-finding their own identities and security.   However, leaving a country has many negative implications as families are divided and insecurity and loss are heightened – a ‘gap’ which a commentator on Rogers’ work describes in terms of the ‘gap’ between the real and ideal self: “[t]his gap between the real self and the ideal self, the ‘I am’ and the ‘I should’, is called incongruity.  The greater the gap, the more incongruity.  The more incongruity, the more suffering.  In fact, incongruity is essentially what Rogers means by neurosis, being out of synch with your own self” (webspace.ship.edu/cgboer.rogers.html).  In Rogerian terms, therefore, the experience of migration can be understood as often giving rise to ‘neurotic’ anguish; the migrant, exiled from her homeland, often feels like a stranger in her adopted home, irrespective of how the ‘host’ community receives her.  She suffers from the ‘incongruity’ between the new ‘real’ self experienced in exile and the ‘ideal self’ left behind (Kareem and Littlewood, 199X; Eleftheriadou, 199X). 


It is my intention to promote insight into the issue of displaced Turkish Cypriot women and to identify any previous researchers’ findings, with the intention of ascertaining where additional work is required so as to develop my research in the future.  Additionally, doing so will assist in the development of my understanding of ‘self’ and strengthen my thesis, in that I am not just another Turkish-Cypriot who may be deemed an insignificant woman with a ‘chip’ on her shoulder.  As Carl Rogers (In Etherington 2004: 124) put it, “[w]hen we experience empathic understanding of our frame of reference, this can lead to growth and change”.

Living in a late-modern world which is being shaped and reshaped by the migration of many peoples’ has been providing some counselling and psychotherapy practices with knowledge of diverse ways of life.  There are many reasons for migration - educational needs; employment opportunities; to live with relatives who had migrated to the UK earlier; to escape persecution, and to relocate after the occurrence of catastrophic events, including terrorism, natural disasters and war (See Bhugra D.2004). Although individuals bring with them the rich differences of their cultural backgrounds to countries such as England, nevertheless they often experience multiple stresses that impact on their wellbeing - for example, the loss of previously important cultural norms, of the centrality of religious belief to ways of life, and of social support systems, coupled with the loss of identity and concepts of self. 

The loss of identity upon migration has enhanced my ability to reflect upon my lived experience.  On a vital occasion when I asked myself, am I just a question mark? Where is my home? Where do I fit in here as a Turkish-Cypriot woman? (Taken from my personal journal), I realised that I have been a wanderer searching in many countries for who I ‘really’ am (See Lago, 2006).  And this process of self-questioning, of painful self-reflection, has, I now realise, obstructed my understanding of my ‘inner’ self, not least because I felt obliged to ‘fit in’ with ways of life not my own.  Consequently, prior to this research and entering the counselling world, I continued to laugh and be jovial when asked about my experience: “I am a happy wanderer”, I said – or words to that effect.  It had not occurred to me that my wandering had acted to divorce me from the continual experience of not belonging anywhere.  Nor had I understood that, because such a ‘divorce’ so often has a great deal to do with power, with cultural backgrounds held to be ‘dominant’ and ‘subordinate’, it is crucial in person centred therapy, as Merry and Lusty (1993: 48) have argued, “to be able to deal with issues of power … it is crucial that the therapist confronts and deals with their own issues.” In short, I have moved on several occasions, looking for a place wherein I would be safe, feel that I was accepted, and develop a sense of belonging, which would in turn generate a sense of validation (See Colin & Horton, 2006).  

One day, during my counselling training, we were asked by the trainer to draw what we felt to be the home to which we belonged.  Many fellow trainees found the task easy enough.  Becoming ‘stuck’ and confused, I, however, experienced the emptiness of not belonging – an inner feeling struggling with my outer, apparently well-adapted, self.  As I think of this transformational experience now, an internal dialogue occurred, a conversation between two parts of me, in which one voice said: “I do not want to draw where I belong”.  To which the other voice responded, “it’s simple, play along.”  “No, I cannot do that”, said the first voice; “I do not know where I belong, am empty and lonely”. “Lonely?” inquired the second voice: “that sounds sad, very sad.”  As a result, all I could draw was ?  I had become my own question mark.

That appalling moment has stayed with me for several years now - a moment which has added to my identification with displaced Turkish-Cypriot Women whose story is of exile, devaluation and not-belonging; a story of being so lost that we cannot say who we ‘really’ are.  And, in saying so, I am aware that my writing in such terms could be read as self-indulgent, as playing some victim’s ‘race card’, even as ‘narcissistic’.  I dispute any such reading.  Remember what Gadamer has written in Truth and Method (2004) of interpretation: far from just one amongst others, interpretation, for phenomenology, “is not an isolated activity of human beings, but the basic structure of our experience of life” (Gadamer, cited in Gallagher, 1992: 43; emphases added).  As there can be no ‘truth’ except for an experiencing human subject, worries about so-called ‘objectivity’, positivist or otherwise, are irrelevant.  If, therefore, my experience as a Turkish Cypriot woman training as a counsellor in England is to be understood, what Rogers has called the experience of ‘incongruity’ must be placed at the forefront of research in the social sciences; more specifically, when we inquire into the practices of late-modern counselling and psychotherapy.  Thus I support what Etherington (op.cit: 19) has said of her research practice:

I was less concerned about the judgments of the ‘academy’ and more concerned with producing a book that was readable, engaging and informative; with the process of creating it; and in using methods that were in tune with my personal philosophy, worldview and ways of knowing, and which satisfied my ethical beliefs about conducting research.

5. 1) Incongruity and identity

In order to give a wider perspective to the reader of the lived experience of Turkish-Cypriot women, below I present the story of my client, taken from recordings of our sessions together,  who is female, 33 years old, currently studying at a university in Britain and has been living in the UK for the last 10 years.  She is married with one son, aged 10.  The client self-referred with low self-esteem, depression and what she called ‘feeling lost’.

I am a Turkish-Cypriot Woman and this is my life so far … I was born in Britain 33 years ago.  I have two brothers, one born in Cyprus and my younger brother was born here in Britain.  I have a Mum and Dad who are very traditional; they always feared that their children would lose their cultural backgrounds living in Britain.  Family is very important – always something going on – birthdays, weddings, etc. The family sometimes gathered together, just for the sake of having a party.  There was, and still is, always something to celebrate.  Living in each other’s pocket brings arguments, of course, as too many people know each other’s business, but regardless of that, my family is warm and close.

I didn’t realize I was different from others – I remember coming home from school saying to my Mum, “they are calling me ‘Turkey’ … my friend said they will cook me at Christmas.”  It was during that year my Mum and Dad decided to immigrate to Cyprus – I was 9 years old.  It was hard for me to move there as I didn’t want to leave my friends behind – even if they did want to cook me!  I can recall having mixed feelings - excited, anxious, a fear of the unknown – how was I to make friends in a community where I did not know how to speak the language? Mum assured me all would be okay because everyone would accept me as we would all be of the same culture … but that was not the case.   For instance, I was at school in the middle of a circle of boys and girls who I did not know, and I did not want to know.  They seemed strange, as I could not understand them.  They started chanting Londrali (Londoner) and pushed me, which was scary.

I became a loner not wanting to speak to anyone.  When I was in Britain they wanted to ‘cook me’ … when I was in Cyprus they wanted to beat me, abuse me.  I found comfort in food as when I ate I felt good and happy. I didn’t need to know English or Turkish, I just could be me – neither Turkish nor English, just happy eating. 

Whilst I listened to the recording for the purposes of this research, an article came to mind that I had read of an Indian man who had said:

I have lived thirty years of my thirty three years in England.  I returned to India for a holiday.  My eight-year old son found himself in an environment, which he did not fully comprehend.  He spoke a little Punjabi and no Hindu and after the first few days he was missing his Big Mac and bacon sandwiches.  He was bored.  Some of my relatives began calling him Angrez, ‘the Englishman’.  In my son I am witnessing an amplification of my Englishness and a reduction of my Indianness.  But here lies the dilemma.  In England he’s seen as an outsider, an Indian, but in India he is seen as an outsider also, so where does his ethnicity lie? Leung and Harris-Rampton, (In Duranti, 2009:139)

This man’s experience and that of his son resonated with what my client had said: “I was sick and tired of being put down and not recognized”, she said, “and it hurt to hear people say “go back to your country (London) where you belong”.  I wanted my accent to disappear …You see it would have been easier that way.  If my accent had been the same as theirs, then I would have felt like I belonged … I would have felt I was a part of their life / community and I would have been accepted.  Once again, I felt I did not ‘fit in’.”

Hearing these words made me reflect upon myself and where I really belong.  I feel there has not been a place where I have been wholly accepted as ‘me’.  Hence, calling myself a ‘British citizen’ is at issue as the important question is: am I perceived as a British citizen?  And if I am, as I am often told I am, why am I called names, and, moreover, on occasion told that I should go home?  I may see myself as a British citizen and hold a British passport, but I am not accepted as such by people? 

There have been times in my life when I have discussed Turkish-Cypriot people in general with cultural traditionalists.  Finding myself judging and devaluing them, I wondered what I meant by doing so.  What was I trying to convey, and why?  I reflected on the matter, reaching the conclusion that I have learned to devalue my ethnicity, which has led to devaluation of self.  In retrospect, I can now see that I worked very hard to ignore, not see, my roots and avoid any discussion relating to ethnicity.  It seemed that I had developed a belief that if I denied my origins, others would not be able to see me for who I am - a Turkish-Cypriot woman.  According to Merry and Lusty (1993:61): We can “learn from experience that [we] are only acceptable as long as [we] think, feel and behave in ways that are positively valued by others”.

Returning to my client, she continued: “I feel so devalued.  In Cyprus I was not accepted for who I am as I was seen as a Londoner.  I think if anything, I feel really angry today and no, no … frustrated.  Yes today, I feel frustrated.  I am frustrated with my parents because they led me to believe that all would be okay when we got to Cyprus....  Thinking about it now, I feel more frustrated that they came to the UK in the first place.  Why did they not stay in Cyprus? If they had, then I would not be so confused about who I am and where I belong … here, there, or where? And as it is at the moment, I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.  I don’t know who I am.  I don’t know who I want to be and I don’t know if I should be anything or anyone.  I just don’t know.  Who do I need to be, in order to be accepted?” 

Given such experiences, it is understandable that migrants are more likely to be depressed because of the losses they have suffered.  Furnham and Bochner (1986) have identified eight constructs in respect of adjustment and loss – namely, fatalism, selective migration, expectations, negative life events, social support, social skills deficit and clash of values. In these terms, my client was certainly fatalistic, her expectations were negative, she had little social support, and the clash of values she had experienced, and continued to experience, had impacted on her self esteem to such an extent that she had become depressed.  Another way of understanding her experience is to think of it in the terms identified by Dalal: “The boundary between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ is created and maintained by continually splitting off and projecting negative attributes from ‘us’ onto and into ‘them’; for example, “we are pure, they are dirty, we are civilized, they are savage, etc” (1999: 67).   As counsellors and psycho-therapists, therefore, we need to be aware of the various masks that a Turkish-Cypriot woman can wear.  In order to survive, escape and avoid stereotypical projections, one can tend to internalize negative attributes.  The negative attributes are learned from the experiences of daily life and how one perceives them.   For example, in order to escape from stereotypical comments, my client had developed several masks, one of which was the happy, jovial, ‘yes’ person.  In ‘The meaning of boundaries and barriers in the development of cultural identity and between cultures’, Dalal (1999: 168) gives the example of a young girl who was asked in a group whether she felt Italian or Scottish.  She replied that when in Italy she felt Scottish, and when in Scotland she felt Italian.  As Dalal implies, the girl had at least two identities, with neither of which she felt at home.

As for my experience, so for my client’s: for many years we had been at the receiving end of projective processes unconsciously launched by the ‘in group’ (the so-called host culture), and to such an extent that ‘incongruity’, in Rogers’ sense of the term, was the result; in other words, a profound loss of ‘self’ and identity.  Or, as McLeod (1997: 93) has put it in respect of power: “[b]eing powerful requires the willingness of other people to listen, to hear, to be influenced by what that voice has to say; there are many people in the world who posses little power of this kind, who effectively ‘silenced’.  Or again, when my client said that she had set about being over-friendly, over-generous, always helping and putting other people before herself, presenting herself as happy, joking and funny, as a ‘yes’ person, she had fashioned a mask, in Jungian terms a persona, behind which lay her depressed, sad self, ready to give up. 

My client had experienced a great deal of emotional pain which, over a period of many years, had left her with wounding feelings of being devalued, excluded and worthless.  How, then, was I to help her?  As Assagioli (1965:21) states:  “We have to recognise that in order to really know ourselves, it is not enough to make inventory of the elements that form our conscious being.  An extensive exploration of the vast regions of our unconscious must also be undertaken.  We first have to penetrate courageously into the pit of our lower unconscious in order to discover dark forces that ensnare and menace us, the phantasms, ancestral or childish images that obsess or silently dominate us, the fears that paralyze us, the conflicts that waste our energies” – a matter to which I will return in the conclusion. 

The story above, as taken from our recorded sessions, provides a small fragment of the lived experience of a Turkish-Cypriot woman, as reported by her.  Offering this story to you as the reader will hopefully provide a snapshot of her lived experience, and insight into what a Turkish Cypriot woman internalises in consequence of the trauma evoked whilst trying to accustom herself to living in a ‘developed’ democratic society alien to her.  ‘Trauma’ is the correct term to use, in this context, not least because the experience of migration so often presents the individual with feelings and thoughts they cannot contain.  Kauffman and New (2004: 146) write that healing “from mistreatment is not easy work. Many of us resist it, even though without this healing, the rage, grief, and terror from the past continue to affect us. We may feel that we have been able to persist in life only by numbing ourselves and holding inside how we were hurt.  It may seem unbearable to look at and feel those hurts again - perhaps because for so long most of us had no opportunity to tell our stories.”  As Storr (1983: 94) writes of Jung’s notion of the persona, it “is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”  In other words, the persona is a way to handle our fears of rejection and other painful feelings.  It is a human response unconsciously designed to protect the self, to keep the self-image intact, yet a façade which can take over such that we can feel we have little control over our lives.  Moreover, whereas our ancestors believed that one’s religious or magical power is released by changing identity and becoming another being, we lose our power when we allow our mask or false self to take over our - for example, by denying one’s values, beliefs and needs, and believing that one is ‘dirty’, ‘savage’ or ‘bad’.

Although all humans, according to Jung, use a ‘mask’ as an image or façade to present to others, we must distinguish between personae designed to fulfill our social roles and masks which, in Winnicottian terms, become ‘false selves’ developed for the purpose of protecting the ‘true self’ from unsafe, impinging environments (Winnicott, 1965).  That is, the mask is used for varying reasons: to protect ourselves from getting hurt or rejected by others, and to carry out our social roles.  Thereby the mask portrays ‘self’ to others, in order to be accepted by ‘them’.  On the other hand, by wearing a mask one can find oneself becoming what ‘they’ want one to be.  As a result, we become lost, in effect adopt a ‘false’ identity, and come to depend on others to provide the love and validation we need.  At one time, I wore a mask, in this way, as I had learned to devalue my culture, ethnicity and religion.  Upon reflection, I had turned inwards and attacked the ‘self’ by starving myself of self-esteem and validation, which, in turn, led to fear, pain and confusion manifesting as aggressive behaviour towards friends and family. In this sense, a mask / persona can, as Kakar (1988: 59) has argued, serve to cover our fright and terror, by converting “rage into self-deprecation”.

6. Conclusion

Come again, please, come again,
whoever you are,
 religious, infidel, heretic or pagan.
 Even if you promised a hundred times and a hundred times you broke your promise,
this door is not the door of hopelessness and frustration.
This door is open for everybody.
Come, come as you are. (Rumi)

Working with my client has reinforced what I learnt from personal therapy in relation to migration and my identity as a Turkish-Cypriot woman.  I can now empathize with an individual who is experiencing ‘not belonging’ and being an outsider.  My experience with her has given me an opportunity to look at the world in a different way, has taught me not to judge, and of the importance of seeking to understand the unique life experiences of those who come to counselling. Here, listening does not only involve listening skills; a counsellor needs to listen with her whole heart and soul.  According to Corney and Jenkins (1993:22), the “counsellor structures the process to allow the client time and freedom to explore thoughts, feelings in an atmosphere of trust and respect”.   

I believe, moreover, that living in different countries has given me a different, richer perspective, one of value to the counselling process. I do not judge people and try to understand who they are; have read, learned and now understand something of different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs.  However, this sort of knowledge does not inform me in such a way that I make generalizations, as people are individuals, shaped by their own experiences and so do not conform to the characteristics of any one culture, religion or ethnicity.  As Ridley (2005: 85) has said, “[e]ven clients of similar backgrounds are different from each other.  Although they may have much in common, in the context of counselling their differences outweigh their similarities.  When clients arrive for counselling, they bring their personal stories, and each has a different story to tell, because each client is unique”. 

More broadly, during this process and with the help of personal therapy, I have learnt to voice my feelings and, more importantly, learned to recognize them. This has increased my autonomy and, since doing so, I have been able to challenge situations.  However, this was achieved after experiencing different counsellors; it was not until I found one who had insight and understanding of displaced women that the true healing work could begin.  As a trainee counsellor, I found it difficult to find a qualified therapist who could reflect some of my difficulties and understand the struggles and challenges I faced. As Dryden (2002: 140) has put it, “[f]or people who are trapped by a negative self concept and by behaviour which tends to demonstrate and even reinforce the validity of such a self-assessment, there is little hope of positive change unless there is movement in the psychological environment which surrounds them”.  Self-development has brought me to the point where I am today, in a position to acknowledge my experience of loss identity.

My former training, as well as this research, has given me the opportunity to reflect and understand that it is me, and only me, who can develop into a ‘true self’ secure in a multi-perspectival identity.  And it is for me to be who I am, and want to be, in order to accept myself.  By accepting myself I can then project to others that I am a ‘whole’ person, one available to help others in their search for identity.  According to Dryden (op. cit: 139), it “follows from the person-centered view of psychological disturbance that it will be perpetuated if an individual continues to be dependent to a high degree on the judgment of others for a sense of self-worth.  Such persons will be at pains to preserve and defend at all costs the self-concept which wins approval and esteem and will be thrown into anxiety and confusion”.  To this I would add that, as an integrative practitioner, when we work in a humanistic and psychodynamic way, we can bring the conceptual resources of both traditions to bear on the search for the true selves of our clients.   

More generally, my belief that we respond to the world, not as it ‘really’ is, but to the way in which we perceive it to be, which is partly a question of cultural background and expectation, has been reinforced by the valuable experience of working with my client.  Such perception can lead us and our clients to spiral out of control, beyond the grasp of a secure, if changing, self-identity.  However, providing the therapeutic space to reflect on what is possible and what is positive, rather than fearing or assuming the worst, greatly aids the healing process. And identifying and investing in our own strengths not only helps cognition but promotes a sense of identity and self-acceptance.

As counsellors / psychotherapists it is beneficial to recognise the client’s ‘reality’ and the differences between their internal and external worlds, as doing so aids the understanding of their physiological needs.  Turkish Cypriot women need to adjust to the conflicting values, ideas and traditions that have never been explored above; for example, the different paths that the individual has chosen often ensnare, menace or silently dominate them.  Thus, working slowly and sensitively, with the aim of gradually strengthening the ego is imperative if Turkish Cypriot women are to be empowered to explore their ‘true selves’.  And, as Eleftheriadou (1999:128) has noted:

It becomes essential that the counsellor becomes familiar with the sociopolitical reality of the clients they are going to be working with, in order to understand the impact on their psycho–racial / cultural identity.  Through counselling the counsellor can facilitate the client’s psychological exploration of their cultural or ancestral heritage and how it can be kept alive and integrated into the new experiences.

When I embarked on the journey of research into displaced Turkish-Cypriot women, I believed that doing so would enhance my professional and personal development.  Loss of identity is a subject that is very important to me.  Developing my knowledge in this subject will assist me and the clients with whom I shall work in the future, as well as hopefully enlightening the reader. 

Finally, one of the areas that I feel may benefit from further research within the training counselling world is to focus far more on ethnicity, religion, and diverse cultural backgrounds.  Doing so will, I believe, prepare trainee counsellors respectfully to meet the differences experienced practitioners come across everyday in their practice.  As Jones (2002: 296) has written, understanding “the worldview of the culturally different clients’ beliefs and attitudes for culturally skilled counsellors includes being aware of their negative emotional reactions and of the stereotypes and preconceived notions that they may hold towards culturally and racially different groups”.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Eltham SE9 & London N1
Written by Munise Sabri, MA-SNR Accre Counsellor/Psychotherapist/Supervisor- MBACP
Eltham SE9 & London N1

The wound is the place where the light enters. -Rumi I am here to receive and listen. If you need a place to express what you are feeling and  need a place to make sense and need support  I am here. "The wound is the place where the light enters you." -Rumi Life can put you in a lonely pla...

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