“Nevertheless, I long —I pine, all my days— to travel home and see the dawn of my return .”
Ulysses, The Odyssey.
Are you an expatriate or a migrant? Are you living far away from your culture of origin, and do you frequently feel frustrated, alienated or depressed? Have you been living abroad for years and, despite achieving your professional objectives, do you feel unhappy? Do you feel that you do not belong, either in your host country or in your home country? If you feel identified with these phrases, you may be experiencing migratory grief.
What is migratory grief (or mourning)?
Those living away from their country of origin frequently seek psychological support in their native language. On one hand, we all suffer a reaction when adapting to another cultural environment, where all the social signs to which we are used to (language, gestures, manners) disappear: what anthropologists and psychologists refer to as cultural shock. On the other hand, amongst those who are already adapted, it is not uncommon to feel a vague discomfort, mixture of melancholy and restlessness, and a mixture of both love and hate for both their host country and their home country. This latter group becomes increasingly aware that, regardless of how much they improve their language skills, they will be always foreigners in their host country. At the same time, they tend to yearn and idealise their home country, but suffer when they visit and discover that it has also changed in their absence (as they have changed as well). This is called reverse culture shock. They feel, in essence, that they do not belong to either of both worlds. Should they return to their home country, or should they definitively adapt to their host culture? Accepting these losses is the cause of migratory grief. And when the grief paralyses you, creates significant suffering, and prevents you from taking vital decisions, then it is time to look for psychological care.
Why do we speak of grief (or mourning)?
Because grief is the process of emotional adaption following a loss. In the same way that one loses a friend, a relationship, or a home, the migrant suffers a multiple loss of:
- Family and friends
- Social status
- Security and comfort
I have not only worked for years with patients suffering from cultural issues, but I have been living and working myself away from my country for several years, practising in The Netherlands, United Kingdom and South America. I understand the challenges along the way, and I believe that there is no need to face them alone.