Welcome!…or, how not to go crazy immigrating to a foreign land
Man’s desire for change is his characteristic feature. In this case, of course, any change is accompanied by a certain psychological process of adaptation. In fairness, it should be noted that adaptation is not always a comfortable state. Let’s talk today about one of the rather complex processes that rightly deserves our attention.
According to sources, the word ‘immigration’ comes from the Latin word “immigro”, which means “to move in” and is a global, historical phenomenon. Yes, people are always looking for their ‘place in the sun’; the territory where they can feel safe and comfortable. At the same time, when deciding to move to another country, they inexorably face problems that temporarily, perhaps, deprive them of these fundamental feelings, but, unfortunately, the consequences can be more long-lasting. This entails the emergence of a number of psychological disorders that can give rise to a deep depressive state, with an exacerbation of chronic conditions or the acquisition, amid severe stress, of somatic diseases. The decision to move may be voluntary or forced, but, unfortunately, it is still a psychological trauma that activates various responses in the body. Such defence mechanisms include apathy, aggression, the development of allergic reactions, alcoholism (especially female “behind closed curtains”) and others. Many scientists involved in the study of this phenomenon believe that the intensity of experiences in the process of immigration can be safely compared with experiencing the loss of a loved one or divorce. Is it not absurdly paradoxical?
So, welcome to the backstage of immigration!
Numerous studies by scientists have shown that the percentage of immigrants living with negative feelings and emotions associated with the move is very high – about 88%! Regret about immigration, anger, sadness and insecurity lead to the so-called neurosis of the immigrant. This issue is not divided by gender! Therefore, both men and women are equally affected. It should be noted that men, in immigration, behave more aggressively than women. In principle, this may be understandable, but they seem to only realize their aggressiveness when they gain social status, for example, at work, or in the family, which, in itself, is destructive. In part, this is also related to the increasing divorce rate for immigrants.
Another important aspect of immigration is the identity crisis. Many friends and connections stayed in the ‘old country’. It is not that they disappear altogether, rather that the quality of communication changes. Fortunately, in the 21st century, the possibilities of the Internet and instant messengers are great. At the same time, we understand that we are surrounded by new people and it is necessary to build new relationships; in a family, with colleagues, with friends and, most importantly, with ourselves. In the old country, we could have had several identities, certificates confirming our competence, respect from colleagues and other benefits of our profession. However, together with the relocation, we are faced, in most cases, with a loss of value as a specialist. It becomes necessary to re-confirm and re-prove our professionalism and competence or, sometimes, even change profession, going through the process of learning and acquiring new skills. This is a time of global review of our knowledge, skills, abilities and experience. “Who am I?”, “What can I really do here?”, “What am I?” – These and many other questions cut into our consciousness like sharp blades, causing even greater uncertainty and fear of the future. In this case, most of us face the so-called collapse of the ego and “social death”. It is an extremely unpleasant process, often forcing us to abandon our usual positioning in society. Numerous studies of the psychological problems of immigrants indicate that a person lives with the greatest frustration in the conditions of a foreign country. Regardless of what exactly caused the move, a person cannot feel confident in many of the spheres of life. We cease to be part of the dominant majority. At the same time, this phenomenon becomes necessary. As the great masters say, “In order to feed on something new, it is necessary to exhaust the old to the end”. In this case, we can talk about great happiness when our new business interests bring us pleasure and help us to realise who we are. Otherwise, we have every chance of falling into depression or aggravating an already existing depressive state. Immigration depression sometimes takes on severe forms, turning into clinical depression, from which you can only recover with competent and appropriate pharmacological support, which a doctor should be able to recognise.
The danger of living a period of social death is the desire for isolation. In fact, it may already exist when the immigrant arrives. When speaking of isolation, I mean both physical isolation and emotional-psychological isolation. Yes, you can be surrounded by people, acquaintances or new friends and the feelings of loneliness (based on the difference in cultural values, a language barrier or a general confusion of consciousness) make you want to close off from the whole world. Problems of a communicative nature are increasing, which in turn add grains to the treasury of complexes and fears. Even a regular cup of coffee with colleagues can turn into a test. If, suddenly, you feel a weakened attitude towards yourself, then, most likely, this is a reflection of your inner process, which may well be not equal to reality. We just become extremely sensitive and vulnerable. Very often, at this stage, there is an addiction to alcohol, with a high probability of developing forms of alcoholism. It is important to remember that alcohol is a false ‘friend’ who can only provide an illusion, the price of which is your future well-being. Unfortunately, there are people who pay such a high price. Another characteristic of this stage can be rapid weight gain.
Separate attention is deserved by the problematic exacerbation of somatic diseases. Our body is a border zone between two universes: the material (rational and that which is outside) and the spiritual (emotional-sensual; that which we live within ourselves). When these two universes conflict, they can traumatise the body completely. In other words, when I think, guess or appreciate, as it should be, but I feel completely differently, then I begin to silence feelings in myself, thereby ‘closing them’ inside. Considering sensations as potentially dangerous, our psyche includes a number of defences, thereby blocking our true manifestations and reactions, but feelings are stronger than our brain and find their way out through the body. Our body starts screaming about emotional pain: dermatitis, eczema, acne. It shouts that it does not have time to cope with the squall of new information in space and digest it (gastritis, gastrointestinal problems). This infuriates everything and it is not safe here (anxiety disorders, often debut panic attacks). One of my clients, with an exacerbation of asthma, at one session, stated: “This is just a suffocating “beautiful” country” It is important to understand that, first of all, you need to find real emotional support, which will be accompanied by a sensual response from you. Then, try all sorts of medications, but remember the “iceberg” phenomenon – pills stop a symptom, but the problem remains. Fortunately, the psychological practice of working with the described and similar phenomena is widely used in the world.
Everyone who has risked arranging his/her life in a new country needs to know that the integration process in the selected territory takes an average of a year and, sometimes, can take up to seven years from the moment of moving as a permanent resident into a new country. There are people who fail to fully integrate; that is, fail to move into space and society. The period of “falling in love” with a new place ends in three or four months. After that, we are inexorably confronted with the realities of immigration. Preparing for the move is not possible. 100% of respondents say that only after moving did they realise all the nuances and scale of the difficulties of life in a new country. One may enjoy the measured, even slow, rhythm of life in overseas countries, but only on vacation! Everything changes dramatically when you move to a country as a permanent resident.
If we are talking about immigration as if it is akin to grieving a loss, then we can safely distinguish five functional stages of this process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Is it possible to avoid any of the stages? No. Is it possible to live this agonising period in a week? No. Still, you can use the material in this article and become a little more responsive to yourself if you are in one of these stages now. Perhaps, be kinder to your neighbour, who is probably only now breaking away from the anger provoked by the move. If you agree, it can somewhat change the picture of what is happening around you, and possibly with you. Being stuck in one of the phases or stages of adaptation can last for years. At the same time, you will definitely feel the discomfort. This can be avoided! Is it possible to adapt to discomfort? Yes, through the acquisition of strategies. Remember, our psyche, just like our brain, is plastic-like. By removing certain restrictions or interfering beliefs, we can facilitate the stages of living integration. When we cease to criticize ourselves, to hold on to the world of illusion (thereby aggravating the already painful mechanisms), the process becomes milder.
“Approving” and “allowing yourself to be”, along with encouraging yourself, is the key to the success of this thorny path. Try to be as close as possible to yourself and your feelings. Gain the ability to talk and to ask for help. It is important to know that the day will come when you adapt and your life, in truth, will sparkle with new and beautiful colours! If we depict what we have just talked about on a graph, it will turn out to be a U, where the upper points will be the points of beginning and end of your integration. More precisely, at first, everything is fine and you are in love with a new country. Then, you sober up from the intoxicating illusion, going through a deep social and personal crisis, and then everything is getting better…and, now, you can welcome yourself to a new life!
Forewarned is forearmed. For me, personally, when I moved to a foreign country, in 2014, the most painful and frustrating stage was the loss of identification. For me, this experience was a “vaccination” that permanently changed my structures and values, bestowing immunity on me after a hard re-loading and the acquisition of a large number of new skills. No, this is not about the idea “that which does not kill us will make us stronger”, but, rather, about the knowledge of ourselves – real and living; about our weaknesses and the ability to resurrect ourselves from the ashes.
It is worth noting that the acquisition of new skills (and this is necessary in the process of adaptation) is a development that, in turn, always leads us to access new resources and opportunities. Yes, really having lived this experience, you will be able to realise a lot of things that were previously impossible. The key word here is “live”, not ‘endure. As an HR consultant, I consider it necessary to introduce basic support for new employees in the systems of companies in countries with a high immigration rate. This is a necessity, regardless of whether you yourself invite experts in or not. At the output, this can only positively affect the growth and development of the enterprise. After all, behind every social role is a personality.
As a person who has lived through the “delights” of immigration, I want to support all those who are now swinging on the waves of immigration neurosis, occasionally getting into a storm. Hold on, my dear, because your goal justifies the means! Of course, you can send me your emails to:
Anna Danilova (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Take care of yourself and your time.