Seeking freedom and belonging under oppression: A Persian Paradox

My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl by Shabnam Curtis is not the first story to be shared, and will not be the last, but there is a need for more stories to show the different pieces of this complex puzzle called humanity. Sharing her story, Shabnam aimed to contribute to and enrich the diversity of voices. When we share stories and know each other on a more profound level, we feel the authentic human connection, we create empathy, we sense a true belonging. True belonging is to be part of something while we keep our identity and accept ourselves and others for who we are. Fitting in is hiding some aspects of our personalities, something emotionally painful. It kills our self-worth and makes us a victim. Belonging creates self-worth and freedom. Belonging and authentic connections are basic human needs.

Around age 40, when she thought she had all her ducks in a row, Shabnam felt a void in her heart; she started thinking about the past more than ever. Wondering where the sadness in her heart came from, she was unfulfilled but felt guilty of being ungrateful for her life. Little did she know, playing the role of a victim and wearing different masks to fit in was a significant burden on her heart. As a form of therapy, she began talking about her past. Exposing herself wasn't that scary. What she mostly received was empathetic reactions from people relating to her experiences. She was surprised how universal her Persian struggles were. A sense of relief encouraged her to share more stories and talk about her secrets, and to her surprise, most people didn't judge or hate her. People from different backgrounds related to her, carrying similar stories in their hearts. As the fear of censoring herself receded, the flame of courage to share her past through a book got higher. She began writing.

Shabnam wrote and wondered, why did she, herself make so many wrong decisions, putting herself and others in more emotional pain? How could parents show their love through punishment? Was that true love? Why did they do that? To understand why people did what they did, including herself, she dug down to discover more about the psychology of the pattern of human behaviors. What was the sociological impact of the circumstances people dealt with? She taught herself to see behind the surface of people's behavior. What was their primary motivation? How much did they know? Did they even know they were hurting or helping? Did they want to connect heart to heart, or was it impossible because of the masks they had to wear? Here is when she learned human is a paradox carrying all different personas and acting through different psyches weakened or strengthened by our subconscious. This was a breakthrough helping Shabnam to see the past differently.

Yes, she played the role of a victim for years, and under the circumstances, she made wrong and even selfish decisions to survive. She couldn't change the past, but she could get rid of the self-hatred she carried for a long time. She understood victimhood dragged her away from her authentic-self. It pushed her to fit in to be loved. However, she also learned oppressive social circumstances could create an environment to live in a survival mode. This perception helped her to lower her self-hatred and raise her self-worth. She had learned she wasn't alone in living that story, so sharing her story became a tool to create a community to practice empathy and feel true belonging by reaching the authentic-self deeper and deeper.

Shabnam’s motto is, "We all have a story to tell. Share your story, listen to others' stories. Create more empathy & love!"

You can find more information about Shabnam Curtis’s book, My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl on her webpage, www.mypersianparadox.com.

Shabnam Curtis was born and raised in Tehran, experiencing the Iranian Revolution of 1979 firsthand. In 2004 she immigrated to the United States, where she now works as a project analyst by day and a passionate writer at all other times. Shabnam teaches memoir writing workshops and has been performing lectures at colleges and universities about her book and the concept of empathy and true belonging. She is working on her second memoir (a sequel). Her articles have been published on Views & News and Eat, Darling, Eat network. She lives in Virginia, with her husband and two dogs.


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