My series “all about expat emotions” is not only about the unpleasant ones like envy or frustration. Although if you follow me for a while, you are familiar with my convictions: “You are allowed to feel the way you do”, and “emotions are not good or bad, all of them are providers of information”.
Acceptance is essential for expats to pursuit the goal of feeling at home, wherever they are. It isn’t easy, I know. Allow me to tell you a story:
This last few months have been extremely difficult for the people in and from Chile, my country of origin. There has been political struggles, riots, violation of human rights and memories from the dictatorship and its consequences are haunting the generation who had to experience this massacre. I have to witness everything from far away. I tried not watching the news, unsuccessfully and kept asking my family and friends; but their answers weren’t encouraging.
I started coping by helping Chileans around the world who were struggling, just like me. I received many requests from fellow Chilean expats that weren’t sleeping and were filled with guilt and desperation, because it was (and still is) a challenging time. Those sessions were extremely valuable, for them and me.
Another coping strategy was more work. Additionally to my growing number of clients and my usual tasks, I was creating content for my new website. I immersed in my job, that was my bubble, and it worked for a while.
The Slap in my Face
A dear friend from Chile noticed that I was absent. I told her that I was loaded with things to do. Then I started asking a lot of questions, trying to form a picture in my mind (not the images from the media) of everything that was going on. She was annoyed and probably a little bit sad that I wasn’t paying enough attention to all what was happening and she threw this bomb at me: “you wouldn’t understand, you are not here.”
That hurt. A punch straight to my guts. I know it is different reading about it, hearing descriptions from friends and family, seeing videos, the news. Obviously it’s not the same and I can’t have “the full experience” if I’m not in Chile. When we finished the conversation, I was angry. At her first, at me after. I went for a run and let the anger out, therefore I was able to think clearly and anger-free and felt relieved.
She is right, I’m not there, but thousands of kilometres away. What made me feel relieved was to remember the fact that me not being there is my choice.
What is expat acceptance?
- Acknowledging and embracing yourself, including the parts you are not so fond of
- Coming to terms with the things you can’t control and change at the moment
- Taking responsibility for your decisions, recognizing that the ones you took, were made voluntarily
- Not judging or overthinking what’s right or wrong all the time
- Acting instead criticizing yourself, your partner, the weather. Blaming is purposeless, pointing fingers is neither constructive nor beneficial
- Embracing the choices you’ve made. Some of them were not that clever, but how could you know that ahead?
- Seeing your missteps as part of your lifelong learning
I’ve come to terms with the whole thing. I can’t be in two places at once. It was my decision and it was really hard to reach. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion about what’s going on there. A different perspective actually, that may enrich the conversation and the points of view of the people that are living in Chile right now.
My dear fellow expat, accept all your emotions, your vulnerability and imperfections. That’s exactly what makes you courageous, strong and wonderful!
May your 2020 be full of love, success and peace, and may your expat life be the way you want it to be!
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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.