In my last post, I talked about the fact that not all stress is bad. In fact, we enjoy stress. That’s why we like to read novels, go to movies, and listen to music. I also mentioned these three important points:
1. Cultural adjustment always involves stress.
2. As human beings we always try to find ways to “cope with,” or manage, that stress.
3. Some ways that we cope are good (beneficial) and some ways that we cope are bad (harmful).
Remember, we are talking about coping with the stress of adjusting to a new culture. Today we are going to talk about things we should not do to cope with stress and in my next post were going to talk about things we should do to cope with stress.
What makes some coping strategies good and other coping strategies bad? The main difference is this: good coping strategies change the situation and help us adjust better. Bad coping strategies just make us feel better (called “palliative.”) These are ways that help us emotionally to deal with the stress but don’t help us adapt to a new culture.
Keep one important thing in mind: in our lives there are times when we need coping strategies to make us feel better emotionally. At times of deep grief or loss we do need palliative coping strategies. Today were not talking about that. Were talking about cultural adjustment stress, and so we don’t just want to cover the emotional pain we need to actually change and adapt to a new culture.
Unfortunately, these bad coping strategies are quite common among expatriates. If you’ve adjusted to a new culture and are honest with yourself you probably have used some of these coping strategies from time to time.
Here are 5 of the most common emotional coping strategies used in cross-cultural adjustment.
1. Daydreaming. Mentally escaping by thinking about life at home in order to mask the pain of a culturally difficult situation.
2. Expatriate refuge. This is where you spend all of your time with people from your own country and culture. This is one of the most common types of poor coping strategies and you can see it all the time when you are overseas. Indians who spend all their free time with other Indians. Americans who spend all their time hanging out at the expatriate coffee bars or discos It may make us feel better, but it’s hurting our cultural adjustment.
3. Self-criticism. One way to emotionally feel better is to criticize yourself personally. That sounds a little backward but it is part of an emotional defense mechanism that is called “self handicapping.” It doesn’t help us adjust to a new culture.
4. Seeking emotional support. This can be seen in the expatriate who hangs out with other expatriates who are adjusting poorly. I have also seen some people living overseas adopt a pet and put all of their life and emotional experience into their dog or cat. Needless to say this is not helping their adjustment.
5. Acceptance. This involves coping with the stress of adjustment by just giving up. The person who says, “I’ll never understand Japanese culture!” or, “I’ll never be able to speak Chinese!” is helping himself or herself feel better, but this type of attitude will never help real cultural adjustment.
There you have it. Five ways that we can help feel better when we are having trouble in cross-cultural adjustment, but these are poor coping strategies because they don’t actually help us to adjust better.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some good coping strategies that will help us adjust better.
For discussion: In your cultural adjustment, have you ever seen yourself or a friend using one of these 5 poor coping strategies? Please post a comment.