What learning about our history and culture teaches us about our mental health

Across cultures, the one-size-fits-all approach to mental and emotional well-being is inadequate.

Whether in the UK, Kuwait or another continent, people will require different methods and depths of understanding. 

In Episode 1 of Third Culture Therapy, Layla Al Ammar spoke about intergenerational trauma and how it shapes a collective Arab psyche – a wounded one.

When I think about my own emotions, I can sometimes feel pulled into darker and denser moments that aren’t necessarily my lived experience.

It belongs to another time and place and person, but I continue to carry some of its energy. 

My own family story has many displacements and ruptures within it – a story I am writing into a book that will trace my family’s repeated displacement across MENA and eventually to the UK. 

Listen to an audio version of this blog here

My father experienced the heartache and rupture from his birthplace in Haifa, Palestine, when he was made a refugee as a child in 1948.

Because before him, my grandfather was made a refugee from Libya by the Italian colonisation of his birthplace, I am certain I have carried a certain loneliness and loss not necessarily related to something I have been through. 

I didn’t live in Palestine, nor in Libya, which I have only visited a handful of times, and I don’t have organic daily memories that tie me to the place. 

But whether by genetics or by osmosis – or a little of both – I do feel like a certain part of my anxiety and fear of loss, particularly of my family, stems from a repeated family trauma of displacement. 

Of course, it didn’t help that my father’s involvement in the Libyan opposition movement abroad continued our family’s fate of exile – albeit more self-imposed this time. 

My deep connection to Syria was nourished over yearly summers in Damascus until well into my twenties, associated with an enormous amount of wondrous, magical memories. 

The consequence, though? 

It has made watching its descent into war so heart-breaking for me and perpetuated the sense of uprootedness and loss. 

Layla Al Ammar finds representation, inspiration and comfort in reading books, particularly by female Arab writers, and I can understand that solace. 

Listen here for the full episode ⬇️

Writing and reading can be a truly healing process for several reasons: the energetic flow from the feeling to the thinking to the actioning (through the writing) is soothing in the same way a stream of water is. 

There is movement; the thoughts, the feelings and the ideas are going somewhere and not just staying within you. 

There is also the sharing of my story, which means I am seen, and that my journey and the events and people and places and pains and joys that made me are seen and heard.

And there is a great amount of love and healing in that. 

Reading for me is also a great source of comfort for several reasons. 

It gets me out of my own head and into someone else’s, which, for the most part, is really good practise to limit the hours spent swimming in the dark depths of my mind. 

Reading gives me an external focus, and with that focus, there is an empathy and understanding that I’m also forced to engage in when reading about other people or places. 

I also learn a lot about people and what makes them tick – which, like Layla Al Ammar, I love to do. 

It helps when you come across beautiful writers like Layla, who elegantly relay the difficult truths of lives that have endured traumas, who can take you into a world you don’t know, maybe will hopefully never know, but that nonetheless exists. 

Maybe that will help us all be more understanding and loving to one another. 

As a woman of Middle Eastern Arab descent, I have a sense of pride and inspiration that the amazing female Arab writers Layla shared on the podcast are not only an integral and enlightening part of my heritage,

They’re also part of a cohort I hope to be joining soon.