7:30 am – A typical morning in your expat family
‘Mum, when is Dad coming back from his business trip?’
8:15 am – ‘Hurry up, kids. Time to go!’
9:00 am – You’re back home after school drop off.
The flat is spacious. You’re lucky, you have a view on the lake.
To break the now deafening silence after the stormy morning, you put the TV on.
Breaking news: another terrorist attack – 52 killed.
You wince while images of blood, despair and destruction succeed each other.
‘Oh my God!’
You shake your head. You can’t even start to imagine what it would feel like to go through such a trauma.
In a glance, you look around and embrace the beautiful location, the pictures of your smiling children on the wall, your comfortable lifestyle.
No doubt. You’re privileged.
Your family is in good health, you have no money problems, food on the table and a roof above your head.
So how could you dare? How could you dare to tell your truth?
How could you dare to say that you’re hurting.
That the pain is deep and excruciating at times.
That you’re anxious, lonely and frustrated.
That you can’t sleep.
The truth is : although you agreed to move here and to follow your partner, you’re highly stressed and ultimately unhappy!
This makes you feel ashamed and guilty.
It’s incredibly difficult to admit. First and foremost to yourself. Let alone to others!
That’s why you brush it off. You reason yourself out. You lie…
A terrorist attack, an incurable illness, a divorce: those are recognized traumas.
Everybody understands. Everybody gets it. Straight away.
But in your life, there is no such thing: your partner only got a promotion abroad!
How could THIS be a trauma? Isn’t that going overboard?
Trauma in our collective psyche tends to be something big like an earthquake, the loss of a loved one, even a redundancy.
But what we’re talking about here – moving abroad – is a blessing!
All your friends rave about the wonderful adventure you’ve embarked on and how lucky you are.
And you are indeed, but…
Let’s take a closer look at what trauma means.
The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines trauma as ‘an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent’ and as ‘a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury.’
Which means that the trauma is not defined by the event but the consequences it has on the person.
As mentioned in ‘Coping With Trauma’ a book by Dr Jon Allen combining years of research teaching and experience treating trauma survivors, trauma is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.
There are 2 parts to a traumatic experience: the objective part and the subjective part.
The objective part refers to the event itself that may cause death or serious injury to you or others. This is what we usually focus on (natural disasters, war scenes, murder, rape).
But it is the SUBJECTIVE experience of the OBJECTIVE event that constitutes the trauma.
In other words, a trauma is defined by the effects it triggers in you.
As underlines Allen, ‘objectivity and subjectivity don’t always match. You can be traumatized by someone with a fake gun’.
Psychologically the bottom line of trauma is overwhelming emotion and a feeling of utter helplessness.
It’s ‘overwhelming emotion and a feeling of utter helplessness’ that you may experience when you move abroad.
Because you feel so awkward, so incompetent, so dumb not being able to communicate with the local people after three years living here.
Because you’re not contributing financially to your household. You’re officially considered as dependent. It’s written on your visa.
Because you feel so lonely. Even when you smile to random people in the street, you get cold looks making you feel like you really don’t belong.
Because you’re shocked that your partner doesn’t want to listen when you try to open up.
Because you’ve been brutally stripped of a fundamental right: the ability to live in a place in your own right. If you were not in this relationship, you would be kicked out of the country.
Because nobody can pronounce your name properly.
Because you suffer from the change in climate.
Because it’s not what and how you thought it would be.
Because all of the above (and even more) is adding up, day after day and has a compounding effect.
The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing ; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife … is bound to be noticed.
The trauma is invisible. It comes from things you would never have imagined.
More often than not, as a trailing spouse or — more elegantly said — as an accompanying partner, you’re traumatized because you put yourself in that situation. You think that you should take responsibility for it and you end up blaming yourself for not being happy.
Ironically enough, the particularity of trauma is dissociation.
You want to avoid thinking about it. You want to forget about it.
But to heal, you need to acknowledge it. You need to face it. You need to be heard and validated.
Giving you permission to grieve, to vent, to complain, cringe and cry, that would bring relief.
I have created a safe space to do just that. Without fear of being judged or fixed. A safe place where you can be just as you are. Where you don’t need to pretend. A place to be yourself.
Will you join us?
Find more details about this online support group program called ‘Unpack Your Bags‘.
We look forward to welcoming you.