Warning: as an expatriate, you may suffer from this condition!

By moving abroad, you’ll suffer from a powerful and hidden condition that affects all expatriates with various levels of intensity.

Believe it or not, that condition is called grief. Before you stop reading, hear me out: I’ll prove it to you.

The sense of loss that expatriates experience after moving abroad is exactly the same grieving process people suffer when they experience tragedy.

Grief from Bertram Mackennal

Grief from Bertram Mackennal via wikimedia commons

As mentioned in the definition of grief provided by MedicineNet.com, “grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical (death), social (divorce) or occupational (job). Emotional reactions of grief can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair. Physical reactions of grief can include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, physical problems, or illness.”

All changes involve mourning because when you gain something, you lose something. And who will argue that changing from country, home, culture, language is not a radical change?

Moving abroad will thus trigger some grief, one way or the other.

For the purpose of clarity, I’ll name it “expatriate grief”.

When you know what something is, you can begin to deal with it.

Suffering from expatriate grief is taboo. Why?

  • Because grief is mainly associated with death
  • Because moving abroad is a conscious decision made after weighing the pros and the cons. You made the decision. How could you now feel entitled to complain?
  • You generally accepted the move because it was linked to substantial benefits for the whole family.
  1. For the employee sent abroad, it means more money, more responsibilities, a higher function in the organization
  2. For the other family members, it translates into better housing, nice destination, opportunity to learn a new language.

Under those circumstances, how can you dare whining and sighing?

You think, it’s simply not relevant, not appropriate, not acceptable.

But expatriate grief needs to be dealt with. Expatriate grief won’t disappear how deep you may want to bury it.

Do you know that one of the major issues faced by adults who grew up away from their home country (ATCK) is unresolved grief?

For years and even decades, people can struggle with anger, guilt, sadness without even thinking that they’re actually grieving.

Don’t waste so much time. Take our 7 part course on expatriate grief.

It’s free here.

You’ll discover:

  1. Expatriate grief: the loss of losing a home
  2. How to recognize expatriate grief
  3. Expatriate grief: what’s the difference between grief and depression
  4. Find out what you’re grieving for
  5. The one essential thing you need to know about expatriate grief
  6. How to take care of yourself while suffering from expatriate grief
  7. How to support someone suffering from expatriate grief

How do you feel now? Have you ever thought of grief in relation to the losses you’ve experienced in your successive moves?

About Anne Gillmé

 

 

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Comments

  1. expatsinthemove says:

    We moved from TX to Toronto. It has been heart breaking and painful to say the least. My husband had been commuting close to 5 years and the time came to make the “move”. We have an 11 year old and a 13 year old. I do feel like I lost it all, I miss TX terribly, TERRIBLY, my job, my friends, my routine, my kids’ activities. I do have a strong sense of loss. Our family dynamic has changed and I still struggle to find real benefits besides the obvious monetary ones. I feel continuously reminded of what we lost. I am getting as involved as possible as fast as I can, i am back to work (teach spin and coach triathlon) but I miss my identity, my people, the group rides, old friends, the familiarity of the place, all the people I knew and my place in the community. This seems to be a permanent move which makes me try harder and not look back but my heart is back in Tx. Thanks for this post, at least I felt like someone knows what this feels like and that I am not crazy.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this experience of your move. The grieving process is painful. It takes time but it’s a healthy process. Reaching out, expressing yourself and finding compassionate people who can listen to you, understand and relate to your sense of loss are constructive steps towards healing. I feel for you and hope you’ll be soon more at peace with yourself and your surroundings. You’re working hard on it. Very warm wishes, Anne.

      2014/1/4 Disqus

  2. I have unresolved grief from when I was 7 in 1974. I was born in another country, and my family emigrated where I live now when I was one. We went back for the year in which I turned 7. Coincidentally (?) I developed OCD the year after we got back. I remember every detail of 1974, and all my life, I always vowed I’d go back there to live. I’ve visited a few times, but only briefly. I also married a man who emigrated from that country as a child. The experience has woven itself through the fabric of my life, and now, in middle-age, I am having all sorts of difficult feelings about having never managed to go back there for an extended time, and how having older parents now, and children, is making it feel practically hopeless that I ever will be able to enjoy an extended, meaningful period to integrate and explore back there ever.

    • Thanks for sharing this important experience of your life. It seems that you have developed a strong bond with your country of birth and there are still open wounds. It’s possible to heal and I’m sure you’d find great comfort in seeking professional help. Maybe something to try? Sending you lots of positive thoughts 🙂

      2014-06-17 18:46 GMT+10:00 Disqus :

  3. My problem is slightly different. I have been living as an expat in the US for almost 20 years. After my divorce, I just stayed, finishing my education. I have a 9 year old daughter who loves her life here. I, on the other hand am very homesick and miss my family. I talked to my daughter yesterday about moving back, and she completely lost it. I feel terrible, like the worst mother in the world. Obviously, I am also conflicted about leaving. After almost 20 years, this has become home too. I want to make it as easy as possible for my daughter. I know she will eventually be fine, but I want to say and do the right things for her. Do you have any advice?

    • Thanks a lot for sharing your concern. It seems that you’re going through quite a lot of emotions at the moment. May I offer you some points to reflect upon before making a definitive decision (staying or leaving)? You may first consider your feelings about your family: Did you miss them always so much? Or is there any particular event that triggered your yearning recently? At another moment in your life, it was not so strong because you decided to stay. Leaving family and friends behind when moving abroad triggers what is called an ambiguous loss: the persons are physically absent but psychologically present in our mind. Ambiguous loss is extremely stressful and can freeze the grieving process. If you want to know more about that topic, I recommend the work from Pauline Boss who coined the term “Ambiguous loss” and studied its effects for more than 30 years. A second point to keep in mind is what’s called “reverse culture shock”. Many people who go back to their home country after en extended period of time mention that they’re struggling to adjust and that the process is very painful: the country has changed, the friends have changed and you have changed. As a result, the expectation that one might have initially (“I go back home and everything will be easier/much better/more familiar”) could be severely shattered. In conclusion, you may find great benefit in gaining clarity and exploring your deepest feelings (if necessary with some professional help) regarding this move. This will also help you to handle the relationship with your daughter. Does it help? Sending you lots of positive thoughts. Warm wishes.

      2014-07-09 5:35 GMT+10:00 Disqus :

  4. Thank you for posting this – I’m just now, at 42, dealing with a massive surge of grief over my childhood overseas as a TCK from ages 2-9. I have no legal right to return to the country where I spent my childhood except for a visit, but I don’t feel and have never felt American. I feel completely trapped by my life here in the US, overcome with regret that I’ve failed to find a way to return “home” (I had some opportunities to do so, but failed to pursue them because they were so challenging, and I was repeatedly told by family, friends and therapists that I just needed to get over it and deal with life in the US ) and I’m utterly unable to see anything positive in my future. Therapy does help somewhat, but the larger issues seem unresolvable – I’ll spend the rest of my life aching for the country of my childhood and feeling trapped in a country I never wanted to be a part of.

    • Dear Jeff, I can feel in your words your longing for returning ‘home’ and this sense of being ‘out of place’. Your suffering echoes this quote from Simone Weil ‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’ Amidst the pain, I’d like to encourage you to keep taking initiative and looking for answers. They will come in due time. Should you wish to share your story with like-minded fellow expats, you’re welcome to join our support group ‘Unpack Your Bags’ that is launched several times a year.

  5. I moved from California to Alberta, Canada. I moved for a better life with my boyfriend and his family and it was the best decision I could make due to my home life being pretty rough on me and my health. I left behind 22 years of my childhood, my friends, my family, my one and only help to my lonliness which was my dog. I’ve been sleeping horribly and I have no idea why. I have visited plenty of times, and I slept perfectly fine then.l, Until now. I’m not sure if it’s my subconscious that’s waking me up and me realizing that this is my new home and where I’ll be. Any feedback on what I can do would be great because I’m alone all day until my boyfriend gets home. Aside from a few people that are around me. Deep down I still feel lonely.

    • Dear Marissa, I hear your distress and your loneliness. You may find some comfort in reading this article. Keep reaching out. You’re not alone: you can join our peer support group for example to be heard and to connect with others.

  6. I have a slightly different issue, I haven’t been abroad very long yet, but for some reason being away keeps reminding me of my father who passed away over two years ago. Whenever I have a moment to myself I seem to get overwhelmed by emotion and cannot stop crying and the memories do not leave me. This happens uncontrollably and inconsolably even if I am in public. I have dreams about him also, I feel how I felt the first year following his death when I had to go back to university in a different city to my home. I am in my early twenties and finding this emotion exhausting. I can’t tell if I am just suffering from “expat grief” but I associate all sadness with my father’s death so I end up thinking about that. Or actually being away is triggering my bereavement all over again.

    • Thanks a lot for sharing your story, Jazz. The process of grieving is unique to each individual. It takes time. It’s painful and messy. One seemingly ‘small’ loss may trigger emotions associated with a bigger loss. There’s also a compounding effect of all the losses we go through when moving abroad (loss of language, habits, food, climate, familiar surroundings, daily relationships with friends and family ..). May you find in your own way and your own time peace and serenity. Sending you lots of warm wishes.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I left France to live abroad, I did not know anything about culture shock, expatriate grief and third culture […]

  2. […] aspect pointed out in the post is that “moving abroad triggers a form of grief”. This expat grief does not only affect adults but also children. It is a myth that “children don’t grieve […]

  3. […] aspect pointed out in the post is that “moving abroad triggers a form of grief”. This expat grief does not only affect adults but also children. It is a myth that “children don’t grieve […]

  4. […] out in article mentioned above is that “moving abroad triggers a form of grief”. This expat grief does not only affect adults but also children. It is a myth that “children don’t grieve […]

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