Contributed by: Paula Vexlir, Registered Clinical Psychologist
As expats we tend to understate grief. Maybe because there is so much to get done that you feel that there is no time for sadness, maybe because you need to show yourself strong in front of the children or your spouse, maybe because you have such a great opportunity (or better lifestyle) so who are you to complain, right? But grief doesn’t go away for lack of acknowledgement, instead it gets deeper inside ourselves.
Grieving is the normal reaction to loss. When we consider expat life there is always loss: it might be a specific place you liked, or a job, or close friends, relationships, food, weather, language, even smells could be felt as losses.
When we hurt our body we don´t hide the wound, we don´t cover it and just continue with our lives. If we leave it unattended chances are it might become infected and we could end up with a much more painful experience. When we pretend everything is fine and we hide our pain, our grief, we are doing exactly the same thing. We are encouraging an infection.
Grief is a normal emotional response to a loss and expat life is full of them. Unfortunately, among expat communities there is not much “permission” to talk about this. Unresolved grief is commonly found among expat communities. Sometimes it could be due to lack of awareness, maybe some hidden losses, or lack of permission to grieve, a lack of time to process, etc…
It is crucial that you allow yourself to go through the grieving process. This does not mean to be negative about your new life but to allow yourself to find out whatever you might be feeling about things left behind.
Acknowledgement means a lot more than it seems to. Recognition and validation of our feelings are crucial for resilience. Placing words on our emotions is important for the healing process to begin. Allow yourself to mourn your losses, accept the sadness, whatever your might be feeling, give yourself permission and embrace it. Grieving is tricky; all the unresolved grief comes back to you with each new loss.
So the holiday season becomes even more complex since we tend to look back, analyze how the year went, our gains and our losses and plan for the New Year. What could be better than a fresh start, right? But we need to cry for our losses to get one. There is no way to go through the experience “unmarked”. Back to the wound example, with the appropriate treatment, we can prevent the infection. The scar will not disappear. That´s right, you will still have those marks but it doesn’t hurt anymore. Just as in our body, our expat life can shape us. It is an experience that might change us but we will not necessarily be traumatized by it. Acknowledge of losses and grief will allow us to live a more fulfilled and enriched experience.
Paula is a Psychologist that supports the Spanish-speaking expat community worldwide. For more than ten years she has been providing counseling to expats for their acculturation processes (cultural adjustment, parenting issues and trailing partner´s challenges) and for any other situation they could be facing. By offering an online service she can support Spanish-speaking expats worldwide.