Living in another country is a dream come true in many ways, but international life isn’t all éclairs and museums. Expats may experience depression and anxiety, and as I explained in this post, we are even more vulnerable as if we would be back home. Join me in this article and discover how to prevent toxic positivity from ruining your expat experience!
What is Toxic Positivity
Often you feel pressure to “stay positive” and ignore the negative when talking to others about your life abroad. Sometimes, people just don’t want to hear about the bad stuff.
Toxic positivity is when a person excessively or constantly expresses happiness or optimism in all situations. It’s a way to cover up or ignore negative feelings and experiences.
Living abroad, you’ll notice that you get targeted with a special kind of toxic positivity. If you’re an expat, you might recognize these three flavors of dismissive optimism:
“At Least You Get to Live Abroad!”
Your friends and family at home often assume that living abroad is a magical experience with no downsides. Sometimes when you tell them about the negatives—feeling lonely, scary local news, dealing with culture shock—they try to cheer you up with this phrase: “At least you get to live in another country!”
As you can probably imagine, this isn’t very helpful or comforting. It makes you feel bad for expressing anything problematic for you. Shouldn’t you be grateful for your fortunate circumstances of living abroad? Isn’t that enough to be happy all the time?
The answer is, “No,” of course. It’s challenging to share and connect with people from home when they dismiss your bad experiences as trivial moments in a perfect life.
“Everything Will Work Out in the End.”
As an expat, applying for jobs, a visa, or trying to meet people can be nerve-wracking. The consequences of not finding work, waiting for the visa resolution, or expecting this new friend to call you, can be severe.
When you’re going through a difficult period, you may talk to a neighbor or a friend back home about these complications, and they may respond: “Everything will work out in the end.”
This optimism is meant to be comforting, but instead, it is hurtful. You feel like the neighbor, friend, or family member doesn’t understand how challenging it can be to find work, friends, or a visa permit when you live overseas.
The unique stressors of life abroad are already complicated and isolating. This comment can make you feel even more alone in your experiences.
“Why Can’t You Just Be Happy?”
The toxic positivity in your life doesn’t just come from external sources. Sometimes you’ll ignore your unpleasant feelings. If this takes place for a long time, you’ll start to feel depressed and sad and end up asking yourself: “Why can’t I just be happy?”
This extra pressure to put on yourself is counterproductive and damaging. You are dealing with enough stress already, so adding this demand of “you have to be happy” has the consequence of more stress and anxiety.
How to deal with toxic positivity?
1.- You don’t have to do anything!
Remember this mantra, every time your hear from others (and from yourself) sentences like “you have to be happy,” “you have to be grateful,” “you have to seize the experience.”
Your answer (it doesn’t have to be out loud, hehe) is: “I don’t have to do anything.”
You will, at your time and pace. To fully enjoy the lively and shiny side of your international life, first of all, it is necessary to accept, embrace and “befriend” the dark side.
2.- What makes YOU happy?
Put a shield to all the “shoulds.” You decide what brings you joy or sadness. Something that “normally” will make others happy may not be the right trigger for you. And there is NOTHING wrong with that!
You will know what enhances your joy. Nobody can do that for you. So take your time to search for your own positivity, for what lifts you up.
3.- Accept and don’t run away
Thankfully, your dear online psychologist (me, just in case 😉 ) reminds you that you can’t run away from complicated feelings like sadness, anger, and frustration. Being honest with yourself about these feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. Acknowledging your negative emotions leads you to more self-acceptance and genuine happiness.
Instead of dismissing your feelings, choose to disregard toxic positivity. Life abroad is challenging enough without it.
I have a a brand new course where you can learn, among many many things,to feel deeply connected with yourself and the ones you love, even if you are away and can’t be there for the holidays.
Your Journey to Expat Resilience- 21 days to feel Strong, Confident, and Comfortable in Your Life Abroad.
Go to the link and learn how to kick homesickness in the butt!
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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.