Psicóloga estuda mulheres de diplomatas

Será em Dezembro que Nicole Nasr, jovem psicóloga da Universidade de Londres, vai divulgar o resultado da sua investigação sobre a vida real das mulheres de diplomatas.  Apresentou já uma série de conclusões na XXXIV Conferência EUFASA em Tallin, na Estónia, em Maio.

Manuela Caramujo entrevistou-a em primeira mão para a AFDP:

“Nicole Nasr nasceu em Montreal, mas cresceu em Beirute. Apesar de não ser filha de diplomatas, cresceu no meio e em menina sonhava ser uma daquelas “glamorosas mulheres de diplomatas” que frequentavam a sua casa. Em adulta, apaixonou-se por um filho da estirpe e a futura sogra fez-lhe ver que a realidade não é assim tão cor-de-rosa. Resolveu estudar esta categoria especial de mulheres que somos. Leia aqui toda a entrevista:

Por Manuela Caramujo

1- Why do you choose the Wives of Diplomats (WOD) as your subject of research?

As a child, my father was friend with many diplomats and he would invite them over to our house quite often. I once asked my mother what was a diplomat and she explained that diplomats represented their country abroad and lived every four years in new countries. With this idea in mind, I would closely look at the WOD and think how lucky she is to travel everywhere, go to fancy dinners, speak so many language, organize events, etc. At some point even (9-10 years old!), when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say either become a diplomat or marry a diplomat haha, just because the lifestyle really attracted me!

At the age of 21, I met my boyfriend who is the son of a diplomat. I was really interested in his life and the lifestyle his parents had. One night, I was sitting with his mother and I shared with her my (very limited) views on diplomatic life. I remember her stopping me and saying ‘No, no, no, no, absolutely not! Yes, we do all of that, but being the wife of a diplomat was the most difficult thing I did’. She went on to explain how difficult it was for her to make sure that her children were always happy; how demanding it was to accompany her husband everywhere, even when she did not feel like it; how challenging it was to represent a country she had never been to, given that she is from a different nationality; and how demanding every move was on her, physically and mentally. I was completely shocked! Shocked by all the things she mentioned and I did not even consider. Shocked by the fact that as a woman, she had to carry all these burdens. Shocked by the fact that what I had thought and seen for all these years was only the façade and nothing more.

During that same year, I had graduated with a degree in psychology and worked with a psychiatrist for one year. Through my internship, we met many women that either worked in an embassy or were married to diplomats, and all had symptoms of burnouts and depression. These women made me realize that the diplomatic life can easily affect the mental health of the people involved, but that NO RESEARCH was available to support my hypothesis. As a result, when I decided to do my doctorate in psychology, I felt a need to give a voice to these women who sometimes suffered silently from the diplomatic life.

  1. All your interviewed were professional women before getting married and before being posted abroad. How do they feel about losing their position in our working society and how this impacted their relationship with their husbands?

I am thinking of five wives that I interviewed who were full-time financially independent working-women before marrying their husbands. Each had a different experience when it came to loosing their professional identity. One experienced it as very difficult as she had been in her work for more than 15 years. She described her leaving party as extremely sad and that it felt like her husband was ‘taking her away’ from the career she had built. Two other participants said that because they got married late, they had time to prove themselves in the society and felt like giving up their professional identity was ‘okay’ because they knew that they could do it. Two participants said that at their first postings were extremely difficult because of this reason. One explained that giving up her professional identity was so difficult because she was a very important professional in her country and people paid her for her professional opinions. She described losing this part of her identity as the trigger for boredom and deep depression. The other one said that she had so many aspirations for herself and that her first posting was very shocking because she realized that none of her dreams were going to happen and that she was ‘just a wife’.

The impact of this loss of professional identity on their relationship was similar with all five participants. They all described their husbands’ attitudes and understanding in regards to their needs as extremely crucial. Some said that their husband made it very easy with money, as becoming financially dependent was very challenging for some women. They said that their husband would give them a part of the salary, or would give them full access to their bank accounts, leading the WOD to feel a sense of agency. Others describe ‘working’ for the money, like instead of paying for the catering, the WOD will get paid as she will cook everything and host the guests.

Although none of my participants described major difficulties in their marriage, they all talked about wives they know in the diplomatic corps that have a very difficult time, given that their husbands do not give them any control over the finances. They said that these marriages tend to fail or the WOD tends to become very depressed, as her sense of dependency is very strong.

 Other participants were able to keep their job while being on postings and worked as freelancers. They described this experience as CRUCIAL to their experience because it left them with a strong sense of self. One of them explained the importance of working and keeping your professional identity, especially as a women in the 21st century.        

  1. Do these WOD considered themselves, at some point of their lives, as a shadow of their husbands?

All of my participants understood that this was their husbands’ job, not theirs. They all acknowledged that during the protocol and official duties they were in their husband’s shadow, but that it was okay because this is what they had signed-up for.

However, all also talked about having their own projects on the side, such as being president of associations, promoting their country, developing schools for their community, writing books, articles or blogs, and even being part of bridge competitions. The fact that each had her own project on the side and was being successful at it, allowed them to be ‘okay’ with being in the shadow while on official duties.  

  1. How does the experience of being a WOD shapes how a woman feels about herself?

Haha, this is my BIG question. I am not done with my research yet, so I am not able to fully answer this question. But I can say that the way a WOD feels about herself in diplomatic assignments depends on many factors such as the quality of her marriage, her sense of self and the role she occupies during diplomatic assignments.

However, I would be glad to answer this question in more details once I am done with my thesis!

  1. Some of us lived traumatic experiences, especially the ones posted in hardship posts (civil wars, strange local diseases, etc), how can a relationship resist to situations like that?

With my research, I realized the importance of a good and healthy marriage/relationship. Now, one can argue that the quality of a marriage is very important, regardless of the fact of being a diplomat and a spouse of diplomat. However, as you said, diplomatic couples are more prone to experience constant changes and be present in countries where traumatic experiences are more susceptible. When living a traumatic experience as a couple and a family, the best way to overcome it is to stay united and remember that this is only an obstacle. Communication, understanding, empathy and compassion are the most important elements if one wants to overcome a major obstacle. I personally think that the biggest elements of traumatic experiences are blame and guilt and it is important to be aware of them as some can fall into a destructive cycle. As a result, when diplomatic families are involved in traumatic experiences, it is for the home country to ensure that the right imperative support is provided to all members of the family, such as individual and family/couple therapy. Other kinds of support can be an oxygenation period or a break from diplomatic postings.      

  1. For those who became a mother, the children become the center of their life and they were lucky to dedicate them more time than a mother that must work 8h a day. Nevertheless, you say that they experience some kind of “double-bind guilt”. Could you elaborate?

Yes, absolutely, I think mothers on postings are lucky to be able to dedicate themselves fully to their children. However, in my research, I was able to identify a big theme, which is the double-bind guilt. What I mean by double-bind is that no choice is the perfect choice. Mothers experienced being torn apart between being with their children or being present with their husband. These were mainly experienced at the beginning of new postings when both children and diplomatic duties need a lot of attention. In fact, children need their parent’s full attention to help them accommodate (to the change they imposed on them), and diplomatic duties are very demanding when you just start a new posting. This double-bind (for example: do I stay at home with the children and spent the night with them, or do I accompany my husband on this event?) is mainly associated with guilt as no choice is ‘the right’ choice.

Many WOD also talked about the guilt of ‘imposing’ this life on their children. Moving countries has been found to be one of the most stressful life events one can experience and children are asked to do it, even though it might not be what they want. Also, my study found that when children are younger, moves are easier on the parents, but the older they get, the more guilt WOD tend to feel, as a result of the children’s reactions.     

  1. For your research, you interviewed woman from very different geographic origins. Do you believe their cultural backgrounds determined the way they accept and lived their diplomatic life?

My research did not focus too much on the cultural background of each of my participants. Also, most of my participants shared a similar philosophy of life and a common perception of 21st century women. However, the biggest element that determined the way they accepted and lived their diplomatic life was the country they were representing and the support they offered them. For example, one of my participants comes from a European country in which spouses of diplomats have many rights, and great financial support is offered both to spouses and children. Her experience of diplomatic assignments was completely different from four of the participants who come from Middle Eastern Countries, in which the spouse has absolutely no right and no support. Their dependency on their husband, their inability to work and their lack of acknowledgment and recognition from their home country greatly affected the way they accepted their lives.

Also, one of my participants who comes from south east Asia was offered a training in her home country, for both herself and her husband. In this training, she was told what her role and duties were, how to cook, dress, what topics to talk about and which one she shouldn’t. She participated also in sessions with her husband where both expressed their worries and how they could overcome certain obstacles. She explained that these trainings truly affected her experience as she knew what to expect! She knew what her role was (theoretically) and learned about the diplomatic life before starting her journey. Two other participants traveled and lived in many countries as children. They explained that their personal experiences helped them accept their life because they were used to it from before, and this sense of constant change was not new to them. Also, both women represent countries that truly support them and are entitled to work as freelancers in their host countries.

 As a result, I really believe that the country you are representing will determine a big part of your quality of life and your acceptance of this new life.    

  1. You concluded that these WOD live a very self-centered life. Centered in their husband, in the children – when they exist -, and in herselves as a pillar of the family. As a specialist, as a clinic psychologist, do you think that this self-centered life of the WOD is healthy?

As a psychologist, I believe that everybody needs to engage in SELF-CARE in order to be able to take care of others. Mothers in general have a very central role in their families. For example, children tend to resort to their mother’s help since a very young age and will most of the time continue in their young adult lives. During diplomatic assignments, diplomats are usually focused on their work and their working hours are long and frequent. Spouses, on the other hand, have more time to dedicate to their children, the house/staff and planning of both events and move of countries. Hence, their role is quite central for the functionality of the family and the house. However, when so many responsibilities are put upon you, taking care of yourself is of high importance. In fact, what would happen if this pillar collapses? What would happen to the family if you are physically and mentally too tired to support them? I think these are very important questions that families need to ask. These questions are the reason why I say that self-care is extremely important in order to be able to preserve a good physical and mental health. A very nice concept that I usually use in my clinical work is mental hygiene. Just like everybody practices physical hygiene (even if it’s only the basics), mental hygiene is as important in order to maintain a clean mental health. Such things can be engaging in a hobby, doing sports, meditation, taking a day off per week just for yourself…you can be as creative as you want!!  

  1. At the end, what do this WOD you interviewed cheered from their lives?

Although many talked about the difficulties and obstacles they experiences, ALL OF THEM talked about diplomatic assignments as an opportunity. Different participants talked about different opportunities, but all were able to view their experience as a very nourishing and developing experience. They were all grateful for their lives and the experiences they were able to have throughout their journey.  

One of my participant even said that diplomatic postings helped her discover her strengths in management and PR. She said that before embarking on this journey, she had never realized how good she was at managing things and meeting people. She said that she was so good at PR that it made her realize that if she ever wanted to pursue a career in it, she could.

  1. As a conclusion, did you change your initial “glamourous idea” of a WOD?

 Absolutely haha!! The amount of recognition that I have for spouses of diplomats is incredible and I think that their lives are everything but easy and glamorous. The amount of work and dedication that each put in postings is incredible and I don’t think that diplomatic postings would be the same if it weren’t for them.

 You can watch my change of perception in a Tedx Talk I did back in March:

In this talk, I aim to shed light on the amazing work spouses of diplomat do in diplomatic assignments, in order to help them get the recognition they deserve. Please feel free to share it!!

 Finally, although I realize that each spouse of diplomat has a different experience, I truly hope that some of you will be able to relate to anything I say, both in my talk and my thesis.”

Manuela Caramujo

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