We are used to doing what we want without questioning much, without overthinking about money, spontaneous, free. This usually changes when we move to another country, probably with a language we don’t master, without a support network, we feel insecure and lost. Join me in this article, see that you are not alone; learn to cope with insecurity and feeling dependent abroad!
You can watch my YouTube video about it here!
I am not going to talk about attachment styles in this blog, because that already has implications I cannot address in this article. What I can tell you is that, when we move abroad, we are in a very vulnerable state, of “high exposure,” stress just around the corner. A lot of what we are facing is new, unknown, scary. And this has a psychological effect: we become insecure, we generate new fears, and things as simple as going to the doctor or even to get a haircut can be tasks that create anxiety and paralyze us.
My Story of Feeling Dependent Abroad
When I arrived in Vienna, at the age of 30, I had no idea what was waiting for me. Yes, I am a cautious and organized person, so I had read a lot, asked in social network groups, moved my own networks generated by the years of traveling.
Of course, I felt very prepared, and my expectations were very high. For me, for my future husband, for my life in Austria.
And bam! Reality slapped me hard.
The german language is much more complicated than I expected.
I couldn’t find a job in my area because they needed me to speak german.
The “culture of friendship” in Austria was a little different than what I was used to in Chile; I had a hard time meeting people.
Winter was coming, and with it, a harsh climate that I was not used to.
I imagine that you can identify with this.
Under these conditions, I began to expose myself less and less to this kind of failure for my ego. I went out less, and, little by little, I dared less.
My partner began to be my world. My life and day would light up when he arrived; before that, it was just “spending the day” for me. I adapted (voluntarily) to his lifestyle, his friends, his family, his rhythm.
I went to the extreme of not daring to go to the doctor alone. He had to accompany me to the gynecologist, can you imagine?
Besides, my savings were running out. And I’d rather die than let my partner pay me for deodorant, the horror! I’ve been working since I was very young and I won’t let a man support me!
This whole chain of thoughts was mine. My partner never had a problem with helping me, and money was not an issue for him. But for me, earning my own money was a symbol of independence and empowerment.
My self-esteem was at rock bottom. I felt like a child, “devolving.” I, the independent queen, that used to do what she wanted, when she wanted, without worrying about money or organization.
It took me months to come out of my shell and take charge of my life, to feel self-reliant and independent again.
Here’s how. Keep on reading.
Types of Dependency we may experience as Expats.
I have identified three types of dependency phenomena that are caused or exacerbated by moving abroad for love.
Most likely, our partner, whether we like it or not, will become our world. We wait for them to come home to tell them everything, and much of what we do or don’t do is based on their schedules and availability.
It can have substantial implications for the relationship. In addition to focusing our attention on what our partner does, we give them the responsibility for our happiness/emotional stability.
This puts stress and pressure on our partner, who feels guilty for not being able to do something to help us, and also responsible for “making us feel good.” You see how this dynamic, sooner or later, will bring conflict.
When we arrive, probably the first acquaintances we will have will be the ones from our partner. Our social life, in general, will revolve around our partner’s friends and family.
This is an advantage concerning facing loneliness and obtaining information, accompaniment, or merely distraction.
However, it can become an extension of emotional dependency. Being connected with our partner’s circle, we may not have the same freedom to express what we want.
Besides, having our “own” friends helps us greatly to cultivate our independence.
Difficult topic, mainly because it has a strong emotional component, which includes shame and frustration. We are probably at a point in our lives where we are already financially independent, we buy things to our liking and don’t think about it too much, invest in ourselves, etc.
And this has nothing to do with a lack of money. Surely our partner is very willing to finance a lot of what we need/want. The problem is that it can generate conflict in our self-esteem and a power game from which it is difficult to get out.
I want to tell you:
– You are not alone, it’s completely normal to feel that way, and the vast majority of expats have been there.
– It’s something that can be managed and overcome, even faster if you talk about it and get help.
– Accepting your new identity and the decision you made when you moved, is the first step to feeling that independence and freedom you miss so much.
And how do we deal with Expat Dependency?
1.- Talk openly with your partner.
An essential step. Be honest and open about how you feel. Remember that what you think is yours, not your partner’s. Then, when you talk to him/her, do it from your perspective. From what you observe, you want, you need.
At this stage of your expat life, honesty, openness, and sincerity with your partner will be the key to begin your path to self-confidence, strengthen your self-esteem and trust in your abilities.
2.- Establish daily exposure goals.
Getting out of “our cave” can be emotionally stressful and tiring. For this reason, it doesn’t have to be a one-time event. Set small daily goals regarding what will make you feel independent. Example:
If you need to do something like go to the hairdresser, buy something or just walk around without constantly thinking about not getting lost… be prepared. Write down the keywords in the new language, learn them, and if you forget them, give that person the paper with what you need.
Little by little, but consistently. Don’t try everything at once; that causes frustration and that, in a vulnerable state, can be even more counterproductive.
3.- Build a Network as fast as you can.
The magic formula for getting us out of expat dependency is to meet people. We establish support networks both emotionally and socially. Don’t underestimate the power of networking! I found my dream job in Vienna because of it.
I’ll give you some ideas:
a) contact people through social networks who live near your area. There are pages like Meetup or Facebook groups that will help you with that.
b) look for a “tandem” (language exchange), so you kill two birds with one stone: you meet potential friends and gain confidence with the language you are learning.
c) contact an NGO that may need your help. Or vice versa, maybe you need help from them.
4.- Seek help from someone who has been through the same thing.
It is helpful that you follow and/or contact people who have migrated, like you, and who have already traveled a longer path than you, who can serve you as a guide (be careful not to compare yourself! only as a guide) and can answer your doubts. I always recommend that you talk to a mental health professional who can accompany you in this process.
Do you feel insecure and dependent and want to do something about it? Contact me now! Don’t waste another minute being overwhelmed and stuck on the hamster wheel and start living a purposeful life abroad!
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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.