Lonely expats don’t exist do they?
On the surface it looks like the entire expat community is made up of happy, ambitious, well-adjusted and accomplished people, with a sense of adventure and an interest in worlds other than their own.
While this is true in one respect, it hides the fact that many internationals experience their international move(s) as challenging. As human beings we often look to others to tell us how to behave, in order to help us figure out the norm. It is how we made sense of the world as children, and when we are thrown into a new environment in adult life, we use the same psychological mechanism.
I am the only one feeling like this
If I had a penny for each time I heard a client express this concern I would be a rich woman! International moves evoke the same anxieties or fears that we experienced in earlier years, re-awakening unfinished business. But most of us don’t walk around with our deepest most vulnerable selves on show for all to see, and so especially in a small community such as ours, everyone keeps a brave face on things, reading the behaviours of our fellow expats, and falling in line. We are all having a great time… right?
Even when we don’t move around the globe, being happy all the time is not a normal human condition. Life can be really tough sometimes, but when our need to grieve, to be angry, or to experience failure is inhibited we add insult to injury.
Learning from the experience makes it valuable
Expat workshops can be a great place for meeting others who feel exactly as you do. While therapists can sometimes be accused of being too interested in pain, sorrow, grieving, etc, our focus is to help people accept and work through ALL their feelings, without labelling them as good or bad. So some of the HN workshops explore the option of realising that many of the experience are normal and part and parcel of the experience of ‘life’. Not just cross cultural shock, but literally, psyche schock!!! Learning to be at peace with ALL of our emotions, good, bad, scary, weird… is beneficial, whether we are at home in our own culture or living abroad.
Contentment is the most lasting form of happiness. If you can find it in you to be content with who you are, what you feel and think, at all times, never mind what the neighbours say, fellow expats, or Swedish in-law, and give yourself permission to be a fully functioning warm blooded passionate bunny, rather than a lobotomised one, then that becomes a form of happiness that sustains you through even the darkest of days.