We are going deep in this article. I am excited, because if I succeed in sharing what I have come to understand about this topic, it may save you years of painful, useless and dangerous stagnation in your growth as an Immigrant, allowing you to take off towards your dream life like a rocket ship!
About the word “perception”, I have summarized here the two definitions that I found in the dictionary:
• The ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses.
• A way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
The first definition describes the simple, physical phase of detecting something through our senses; the second definition goes deeper, and I have purposely highlighted the words “interpreting” and “mental impression”.
When we see, hear, touch, smell or taste something, we are using our senses to get the information in and carry it to our brain; but when we are interpreting the information from our senses and so form a mental impression, we use something else, we use our conditioning, the hidden contents of our subconscious mind.
Why is this so important for us Immigrants?
It is not just important, it is vital that as newcomers we understand that everything we perceive when we hit the cultural wall of our new country is most likely seen through the eyes of our cultural conditioning from our native land.
I could tell you many stories (some seem funny now) of situations that compromised my serenity at the very beginning of my immigration experience, and compromised my judgment during the years immediately afterward, all caused by distorted perceptions.
After 17 years as an Immigrant, the way I perceive what happens around me now is almost always independent of my old cultural conditioning – “almost” means that a few times, when my guard is down, I still interpret what happens around me in a totally erroneous way. Thankfully, I usually catch myself doing this early enough and adjust it before building a wrong mental impression, or even worse, an entire, unreal movie in my mind.
I will tell you a funny story about something that happened to my wife Daniela and me simultaneously, but which we experienced separately, during our first few months in Canada.
As I have mentioned in prior articles, I was lucky enough to have an extended family here in Canada that certainly made my experience “warmer”, from one point of view.
While we were taking our first small steps towards our initial milestones, as most people do, we started sharing our progress with our cousins and uncles and with our new Canadian friends, with the intent of winning a much-needed “pat on the back”…
I remember sharing with my cousin Lenny how excited I was at buying my first car as a Canadian driver: it was a modest 1991 Plymouth Sundance, but it was a big deal for me. His answer was a grinning, “Good for you!” I didn’t give his answer too much attention at the time, but later on something was bothering me – I couldn’t stop hearing that phrase in my head, over and over again. It then seemed to me that he really didn’t care, or that he was almost jealous that we were making this small headway! Was it possible? He was always kind and willing to help, and had never showed signs of such feelings towards anybody before. I just put that thought out of my mind and moved on…
It must have been weeks or months later when I found myself talking to another cousin, Vito. I had stopped at their family´s Auto Collision Center where he was working, just to say “Hi”. At that time, I was working for a window company. When he asked me about my job, I rushed into an excited answer that I couldn’t wait to share with someone: I had just gotten a promotion! I explained that the management decided to give me the most highly paid position of any worker in the plant. I was going to build custom-shaped windows from scratch, working on my own workbench with my own tools outside the assembly line, and my wages were going to increase substantially!
His answer was exactly like that of my other cousin: “Good for you… good for you…!”
Well, now I was irritated, but I still couldn’t understand why? I waited a few minutes while we talked about other things, but finally I couldn’t wait anymore and, probably with a suspicious tone in my voice, I asked him, “What did you mean when you said ‘Good for you!’?”
He seemed irritated, and he impatiently explained that he was just happy for me. My answer was a cold “ok”, and after making up some excuse, I left.
For a long time, I ended up not sharing any more of my small victories with my cousins or friends. I was convinced that their “Good for you!” was a sarcastic comment, and I was convincing myself that they were jealous!
Then the craziest thing happened when I accidentally shared these incidents with my wife Daniela… Talk about “misery loves company…”! She got all excited and started telling me about her best friend/colleague at work who had this habit of saying “Good for you!” to every positive thing Daniela would share with her, and she confessed to me that now she was doubting her friend´s sincerity because of this comment! We really went for an intense mental trip, full of fears and negative ideas that had no foundation! Everything was in our heads, and only in our heads! Nothing of the movie that we played in our minds was real!
I am sorry for using so many exclamation marks, but I am really raising my voice now; we had stopped sharing our joys with our family and friends for a long time because their sincere caring was perceived as a danger, a threat to our well-being.
I honestly don’t recall if someone explained to us that we were perceiving this particular thing all wrong, and that surely those people were trying to support us, or if with time we just realized on our own that we were misperceiving.
Please, my friends, newcomers to the lands where you live now, don’t let your perception of things work against you, causing so much pain, fear and disconnection from the people around you who may have all the best intentions of supporting you: many times, they even look at you with admiration for being so brave!
This “Good for you!” incident was very light: it was not a momentous case that caused me to make a serious misevaluation of that could have ruined an important decision. If seen from a different angle and with a light spin to it, it actually seems to be a pretty funny incident.
In my native culture, in a small town in southern Italy, when someone says, “Good for you!” there is no way that he or she means it!
We were perceiving an expression of encouragement, a manifestation of someone´s pride in us, as a negative feeling! Why?
Because we were processing it through the filter of our native culture and not through our hearts. We were totally unconscious; our Italian programming was malfunctioning and misleading us because we were applying it to an incompatible reality.
The Immigrant’s Perception, the way of listening to your heart to know what is the truth in a given situation, will most likely not be at your service in the initial phase of your immigration experience, because you´re still operating in homeland mode, without being open to the moment.
Just knowing that this habit exists will allow you to catch it when it is not serving you, and slowly your perception will adjust to read the circumstances and people of your new country properly.
Perceiving your reality with your old conditioning will prevent you from finding your dream job, growing your own business, raising a happy family and being an overall self-actualized human being…