Recently, I ran across a post from Lana Hope of Wide Open Ground about her struggles in trying to deal with the outside world. Here’s an excerpt:
When I write about cultural disconnect or socialization problems, I am not just talking about some short painful period after high school, where I went to college, experienced intense culture shock, and then got over myself and became a regular adult. If only that were true.
I am bombarded weekly with mainstream cultural references and ideas, and 90 times out of 100, it’s met with a blank “What The Heck Are You Saying?” from me. In other words, my childhood stabs me in the back, constantly.
She then goes on to talk about an incident with a neighbor where the neighbor mentioned the fact that the 70’s band, the Eagles, grew up in a town not far from her hometown, and the neighbor’s astonishment at the fact that she didn’t realize who the Eagles were.
Reading the entire post, I just wanted to reach through the computer screen and hug her (though I don’t know if she would be comfortable with that, lol). I’ve been there, it makes you feel like an idiot sometimes when you don’t know what someone else is talking about, or makes you feel so disconnected and out of touch from everything around you. I’ve had a double dose of that feeling, both because of my fundamentalist upbringing, and the way that my mind works, it can make communication with people in person difficult enough, then to throw in the cultural disconnect makes it far worse.
There is so much that you miss out on being so isolated from the outside world. It can be embarrassing sometimes to not know what someone is talking about. My biggest problem was the lack of proper sexual education in an environment like that.
It’s embarrassing to say that I wasn’t even familiar with what masturbation was until I was 18 years old.
I’m sure that are more people out there who are dealing with this right now.
Though I’m definitely not the shining example of fitting into society, here are a few things that I have learned, and maybe, I hope that it will be able to help others who are dealing with this same problem.
Here are my biggest tips on trying to adjust:
When trying to learn about modern music, to better understand its influence on culture, YouTube is your best friend.
Just immerse yourself into music, dive into it. It’s especially important to familiarize yourself with classic rock, because it has had quite a bit of influence on American culture, especially among people from the baby boomer generation. YouTube now has entire albums and full concert recordings up on the site. Get familiar with groups like AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, and yes, even the Eagles. You will be surprised just how much their music influences various cultural references.
Learn more about sex and sexual health from reliable, sex-positive sources.
Familiarize yourself with good comedy.
This may not seem very important, but it is. It will help you to understand people a little better in conversations, not necessarily because of cultural references, (though that does help), but it will help you understand speech patterns that people often have, and the way they try to joke around. Growing up in a closed fundamentalist environment, you were likely not made very familiar with things like intentional double meanings, sarcasm, etc.
Fundamentalists tend to not use such mannerisms; they tend to be very literal about most everything that they say. I suggest for a start, sarcastic comedians like George Carlin, the rather deadpan humor of David Sedaris, and watching a lot of sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, etc. Sitcoms tend to use a lot of humor with double meanings, in a more conversational style.
Realize that many aspects of mainstream culture will make you uncomfortable at first.
Rock music will sound like senseless noise to you at first, a racy line from a comedian may make you cringe (especially if it’s something sexual, or poking fun at Christianity), it will be hard for you to handle, but you will get used to it, and even enjoy some aspects of it, some of it you may feel awkward about, but then grow to love.
Also, it may happen that you may actually feel some guilt over watching/listening to all of this. Voices of disapproval may echo in your head, the old guilt machine embedded into you by parents, your minister, and even just the fundamentalist culture in general may spring up to haunt you. Ignore them as best as you can, and keep going.
Immerse yourself in the culture, but give yourself a break at times, take time to be alone.
There will be times it will feel too overwhelming, and that’s OK, it’s normal, allow yourself time once in a while to shut it all out to keep from becoming completely unraveled.
Take a cue from my namesake, the character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. This clip is from the episode “The 43 Peculiarity” Howard and Raj were desperately trying to figure out what exactly Sheldon was doing in a storage room during his lunch break at the university that they all work at.
Communicating with people primarily online may be easier, but you have to practice in person as well.
It maybe easier, and more comfortable to only communicate online, because it is so much easier to understand simple text without reading tone of voice, body language etc, but you need the practice of speaking to people in person.
I’ve gotten this practice because of my job, getting out in the workplace forces you to interact with people in person constantly. Dealing with 80-150 truckers in a 12 hour period several days a week was uncomfortable, and frustrating, but it sharpened what little ability I had to carry on basic conversations.
Realize that you may understand the outside culture intellectually, but it will never fully feel like home to you.
This may seem like a depressing piece of advice, but once you learn to accept it, you will have more peace of mind. You will often feel like a foreign in a strange land, or a cultural anthropologist studying a native culture somewhere, and that’s OK.
To use the example of the anthropologist, you can learn the habits and practices of the culture around you, learn plenty about the behavior of people around you, understand what they are doing, maybe a little of why they do it, but you will not understand everything about the culture, because it is not truly your home culture. There will always be gaps in what you understand about it, even if you can advance to the point to where you can blend in and become rather accepted by the outside culture.
Trying to hard to understand everything will result in plenty of unneeded frustration, and will end up with you stressing yourself out trying to overanalyze everything and everyone. Here’s a secret: Most people don’t understand themselves why they do the things that they do, or why they act a certain way.
Like Winston Smith in 1984, you may understand how but not why. You may learn how our culture works, but not why it operates that way.
Reach out to fellow former fundamentalists.
It’s essential, they are the only people that can understand what you have been through, and can tell you what they have done to help get them through these struggles, learn from them, reach out for support from them.