With the arrival of refugees from the war in Ukraine, we have found ourselves facing people who are suffering from situations of intense stress, which is a risky situation for mental health
However, the forecast that can be made from transcultural psychology and psychiatry is that the psychological difficulties of refugees usually begin, in most cases, after some time, not in the first moments, in which the refugee displays all his energies, he is very busy organizing his basic survival: housing, work, having information about relatives who have been left behind… In this first stage, most refugees remain active, display all their abilities, have energy to fight. As is known, in the early stages of stressful situations we have a great capacity for response.
Relevant problems usually appear when stress becomes chronic. It is then when the enormous difficulties to get ahead begin to be perceived, loneliness begins to weigh heavily, helplessness is felt in the face of the unfairness of the situation experienced, the obstacles of the host society in relation to opportunities are clearly perceived. , racism … Over time, moreover, the forces begin to weaken
I have dealt with cases of refugees, in more than 30 years of experience, from different wars (Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine… to name a few) or cases of undocumented immigrants who find themselves with no way out, and I have observed that there is a point where they are stuck, confused, not knowing where to go, but at the same time, as if waiting for something to save them.
This situation has reminded me of the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Bekket (1952) in which the Irish author masterfully describes the confusion, the despair, of people who see themselves as hopeless but at the same time have confidence. in something that helps them
Bekket describes, not only in this play, but in his work in general, people in this kind of situation. Thus, characters such as Wladimir or Estragón, like many immigrants and refugees we serve, seem to live in a stopped time, in which they feel that nothing is happening, a time from which they cannot escape…Obviously, these experiences are It also occurs in other situations of chronic stress in which people find themselves with no way out.
I quote below some texts from “Waiting for Godot” that evoke these situations
Estragon: I’m tired. Let’s go
Vladimir: We can’t.
Wladimir: We are waiting for Godot
Estragon: It’s true. Then what do we do?
Vladimir: There is nothing to do.
Estragon: I can’t take it anymore. (Act 2)
Estragon: We have come too early
Wladimir: Always at dusk
Estragon: But the night does not fall (Act 2)
The end of the play arrives and Godot has not come
Estragon: What, are we leaving?
Vladimir: Come on!
(they don’t move)
End of the play “Waiting for Godot”
As literary critic Ana González Salvador points out, Bekket explores to the last consequences how to name the unmentionable, using words that vanish like dust as soon as they are pronounced. Or as Domingo Ródenas points out, the characters in Bekket wait to reiterate that there is nothing to say and that waiting is useless. Bekket dwrite characters who do not give up waiting, waiting for nothing, waiting for nothing. Characters who seem to ignore whether they are still alive, characters who notice an enormous tiredness, a tiredness that is not of this world. This is the work of Samuel Bekket, a lucid and generous Irishman, who donated all the money he received for the Nobel Prize, claiming that he already had his personal needs covered.
I have seen cases of immigrants and refugees that have reminded me of Becket’s texts. One of the cases that most impressed me was that of a Libyan refugee who arrived in Barcelona wounded, the victim of a bomb explosion planted in a Benghazi street. Hamad describes his country as a destroyed place, dominated by mafias, to which he cannot return, but he finds himself powerless to start a new life, even now that he has largely recovered from his injuries. Hamad is a kind, cultured man who describes that he had a good life in his home country before the war, but he has had to stay here for a long time, not knowing what to do with his life. Now it seems that for Hamad a moment in time has come when he has stopped. He feels here, far removed from his past and without a future.
Obviously, when describing these situations, we are not talking about dissociative pictures, from a psychopathological perspective, but about states of very intense personal crisis related to the intense chronic stressors that they suffer from. We refer to pictures that go far beyond, in my opinion, the narrow framework of psychopathology, to psychological states along the lines of what Foucault called “integral human phenomena”
Psychological help in these cases is not easy. There is consensus on the usefulness of narrative-type techniques along the lines of Epston and White’s approaches, supporting the fact that these people can reinterpret and restructure their own history. In short, it would be about helping these people find a narrative, a coherent story that gives meaning to their lives, after so many ups and downs and suffering.
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Waiting for Godot: restlessness and confusion in the refugees who see themselves without an exit