In our home country, we knew what to expect, how to get around, and how to communicate. Until one day, we make the big decision to live in someone else’s native country, and even the simple things we thought we were masters of, like getting to the grocery store, become enormous obstacles for us. The psychological effects of moving and living abroad are very real and in this article I want to talk about it’s effects on expat self-esteem.
It doesn’t matter if we moved for a successful job, a relationship, or a new adventure as an expat. This doesn’t change the fact that letting go of something that we’ve always known, even if just temporary, makes us feel a little bit like we have let go of a big piece of ourselves.
When our new environment makes us feel lost, it is easy to feel misplaced within ourselves, and our self-confidence becomes fragile.
In what ways can living abroad impact our self-esteem?
Loneliness, shyness, and communication
We may feel super comfortable traveling or with the native language of the country that we are in, but when we’re not from somewhere, it is easy to develop self-conscious thoughts and feelings that impact our expat self-esteem.
It’s likely that when we look around our new country, people look different, and when our appearance doesn’t quite fit the fold, sometimes the tendency is to shy away and hide because we are not sure what other people are thinking about us.
Chances are, it is probably nothing, but regardless of appearances, it does not change the fact that their behaviors may be different, along with the way they express themselves and communicate. We may feel too shy to put ourselves out there, and nothing hinders confidence more than feeling like we can’t be who we are or have to embody someone else’s qualities.
One of the best ways to cope with this…
…is participating in a sports club or a choir—projects involving a community. Try something new or participate in activities you already know you love – either way, meeting people with common interests will boost your self-esteem by enabling you to be yourself and helping you feel less alone.
Sense of self
We may have left our home country feeling pretty brave and confident, despite some hesitancies. But what happens when we leave our comfort zone is a significant shift from our secure, go-getter attitude to a sense of self and self-esteem that feels way less sure.
Once we arrive in a new country, we may begin to doubt and belittle ourselves and question our self-worth. This shift can happen for several reasons. We may feel this way because where we came from is a place of familiarity that continuously validates who we are. Some of us will move abroad for adventure and then feel like we should be doing other things.
Whatever the reason is, these constant questions we ruminate on regarding our identity or purpose in a new country typically only develop into feelings of self-doubt.
Feeling like we should be living somewhere else or doing something else makes it impossible to enjoy and be fully immersed in the experience.
So how do we cope with this?
Remembering that this is our life, and the life where we came from will continue even when we are not there. We need to let go of any guilt by relishing the things we enjoy – making the most of it. Everyone else we know and love would hopefully want that for us too.
So, don’t hold back. Plan a whole day or weekend around doing something you never had time for before. The more we experience the things we enjoy, the more self-assured we will become. Life is about figuring out who we are.
Feeling incapable or lost.
When we move to a new country, we have to learn so much that it’s hard to list all the ways until we are right there in the middle of it all – feeling completely and utterly lost.
What used to be an easy drive to the doctor can turn into the complicated process of getting healthcare support, what type of doctor do we need and trust, how do we get there, and how in the world does this public transportation system even work? How much does it cost? Where do we buy tickets, or whom do we pay?
It is easy to develop feelings of anxiety at times as an expat. By feeling physically lost, it may lead to expat self-esteem issues with self-beliefs that we are dumb or incapable.
What can you do about this?
You will not have an enjoyable or successful experience abroad if you are beating yourself up constantly. So, first things first, you need to take some of the pressure off yourself. No expat ever started as an expert—practice taking things one day at a time, and trust that eventually you will learn and your expat self-esteem will grow.
Start your day with mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga. These both have many benefits, one of which will help you learn how to slow down when presented with a challenge instead of panicking. When we get upset about being lost or struggling with a task, we often miss a solution that we only made more difficult to find in our minds.
Life as an expat is probably the biggest challenge you’ve faced your entire life up until now, so take it easy on yourself. With a little more mindfulness, exploration, and enjoyment, you can find some perspective and begin to see your new country with a fresh pair of eyes.
There is nowhere else you need to be right now other than where you are, and the sooner you trust that notion, the faster you can build resilience and self-esteem not only to get you through the obstacles but help you make the most of your new life.
If you’re struggling with expat self-esteem issues or indeed any of the psychological effects of moving and living abroad, you’re not alone and the good news is I can help you. As an expat psychologist I can help you build the life abroad that you want and deserve. Find out more about how an expat psychologist like me can support you here.
Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my free Workshop here
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By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.