Emely ÖstbeRg, MSc (Counsl. Psychol.)
Specialist in Anxiety DIsorders and Adjustment issues
Accredited by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies
COUNSELLING & cognitive behavioural therapy in Richmond upon Thames
Top 5 temporary felt experiences of repatriation (moving back home)
- that no-one talks about.
By: Emely Ostberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych). Consultant Psychotherapist
Repatriation is defined as moving back, voluntary or forcibly, to one’s own country*. To those that have not experienced it, this may look like a tedious exercise in logistics but the psychological and emotional effects of being uprooted, by free will or otherwise, can be unpleasant. Below is a list of the top 5 reasons why it can be psychologically difficult to move back ‘home’. I say 'home' because to many it may not feel that way yet. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a compilation of some of the most common experiences. The list is inspired by my post-graduate research on the psychological processes that occur during transitioning experiences (Ostberg, 2017).
1. The Issue with bilingualism
Most people talk about the advantages of being bilingual. Yet few mention the experience of speaking a language which has hardly been used following a longer period abroad. For example, imagine the person who moved in their late teens and has since mostly been surrounded by their second language. Their first language is being used with other friends who speak the same language and perhaps family. At work and in the community the second language is used. Hence, the persons professional language has only been developed in the second language. Once back in your home country this issue can cause a feeling of inferiority. Perhaps they notice that their compatriots, those who never moved out of the country, are effortlessly using words and expressions that didn’t exist or were used when they themselves were in their teens. Expressions and words that they may know of but that don’t come with the same automatic ease as it seems to do for their compatriots. Depending on how they deal with the sense of inferiority, the gap between their compatriots and themselves may either widen or lessen.
2. The issue with being seen as someone you're not
An individual who has been away for a long time will notice that even though you now have a degree, a high-flying job, children of your own etc people who you haven’t met for a long time may not interact with you in a way that is any different to how they did when you were an 18-year-old rebellious goth. Now, of course not everyone has been a rebellious goth - but you get where I'm coming from! It doesn’t matter if you now have a PhD in astrophysics and work for NASA. To them, until you’ve shown otherwise, you will always be that 18-year-old goth. This can be difficult to handle, especially if you already find yourself struggling with a sense of inferiority (see point made above).
3. Others have changed.
...and so have you. If you have been away for a long time it is most likely going to be a journey to reconnect. You will have to get to know the new ‘yous’ and you may not love the changes in each other, but maybe you will. You will be in a state which psychologists call ‘negotiating relational space’.
4. You will able to spot a social construction miles away.
It is like you put on a pair of glasses with special frames that allows you to observe patterns and behaviours others can’t see. Sometimes not even if you point it out. Depending on your mood you will either get annoyed or laugh as a response. If you’re Swedish you might notice people queuing up and taking a ticket to a line that doesn’t exist, just because of the unwritten rules that queuing entails. You may notice that peoples’ personal space when they talk to each other is at a different distance than what you’re used to. You may learn that people aren’t as helpful/more helpful than they were where you moved from. Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to being offered help with carrying heavy suitcases up the stairs, but in the country you’re moving back to the same offer may be thought of as intrusive and rude to offer. This new ability is what psychologists call ‘repatriotic gaze’.
5. The rose-tinted glasses are no longer tinted.
All those days when you imagined yourself and how different it would be to live in x, y, z country will undoubtedly have been slightly romanticised. Unfortunately romanticising comes with an inevitable low once you realise that ‘yes, it is possible to grow tired of x, y z food’ or that your initial enthusiasm over free nurseries/scheduled coffee breaks/long summer holidays does wear off after a while.
Click Here to Add a Title
This may appear to be a fairly depressing view but it is not by any means. I believe through writing about this many can be helped as it puts words to an already felt experience. I also believe it is important to remember that all of the above-mentioned are temporary states of being and not forever. I urge you to seek professional support or seek out a peer support group if you find this stage is beginning to feel more like a permanent state.
7 Ways of managing
without escaping the present
by: Emely Östberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych.)
Accred. Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist BABCP, MBPsS
1. I feel, but I am not the feelings
Anxiety, anger, and other uncomfortable feelings can be tremendously uncomfortable. The bodily response is very similar to being chased by an angry lion. A very angry lion. Maybe even a horde of lions. But the feelings cannot harm you. This is the first point you need to tell yourself.
"I feel, but I am not the feelings."
2. Radical acceptance
Instead of giving into anxiety's urge to flee or fight, make a conscious effort to accept this temporary brain chemistry blip and begin observing. Notice how the anxiety behaves... Does it increase in intensity as you begin observing it? Or does it decrease? Is it a tingling feeling or more like a big beat? Does it feel the same in your whole body or does your chest feel anxiety differently from your toes? Don't try to change the feeling. Radically accept the way it behaves.
Go for a high-intensity walk, do some fast-paced yoga poses or do 10 jumping jacks in a row. You get the message, - move your physical body. Reducing the amount of adrenaline and burning it via exercise is one of the most effective ways of managing anxiety.
4. Move your focus of attention
Focus your attention on someone else. Try to see how you can be helpful to another person. Paying attention to what another person needs, rather than what your anxiety is saying that you need (fight, flight or freeze tends to be its message), is a useful way of reducing the sensations of anxiety. In fact, helping behaviours have shown to increase oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ hormone of the body which counteracts the neurochemistry that anxiety creates.
5. Reconstruct your thoughts
Your anxiety is making you underestimate your ability to cope – Thinking that you can’t cope is one of the symptoms! Ask yourself what the worst that could happen? And the best? Is there any other way of looking at the situation? Ask yourself what a friend would say to you if they were with you right now.
6. Tap into your inner researcher
Take a look at the evidence in your own history. Remind yourself that you’ve experienced similar things before and coped. Whilst experiencing anxiety, anger or other uncomfortable feelings we tend to discard evidence to the contrary. We truly believe that we cannot cope another second when, in fact, we have experienced similar feelings before and survived.
7. Grounding yourself
Use the method of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..
The potential benefits of psychotherapy conducted in your mother tongue
by: Accred. Psychotherapist Emely Östberg
Did you know that the age at which one learns a second language can impact one's emotional connection to the words?
Mia Nacamulli is a communication specialist and in her TedTalk she tells us how we tend to be emotionally less biased when we speak, write, read and listen in a second language due to the way a second language is stored and recalled in the brain.
Bilinguals often report of how they find themselves cursing more freely in their second language owing to not having experienced the words as emotionally laden, something which supports Nacamulli's hypothesis. Some have told me how they found it difficult to say 'I love you' with the same intensity as when speaking in their mother tongue. A few bilingual colleagues of mine have spoken about sensing an 'emotional inhibition' when engaging in personal therapy in their second language, especially when working on elements recalled from a time when they only used their mother tongue.
What does this mean for the process of psychotherapy? Does it mean that psychotherapy not conducted in one's mother tongue is useless? I would argue no, definitely not! However, I do believe that it tells us that psychotherapy and in particular some elements of it could benefit from being modified in order to take the bilingual brain into account.
Want to learn more? Watch Nacamulli's TedTalk here.
Click this text to start editing. This blog block is a great way to share informational entries with your visitors. You can click the green +/- button to add new entries.