Cognitive distortions are habitual ways of thinking that cause us to view reality in negative ways. These inaccurate thought patterns dictate the way we interpret events in our daily life.

Though people often develop cognitive distortions from prolonged and severely adverse events, once one cultivates this way of thinking, it doesn’t take a highly adverse event to interpret it with negative bias.

The more you reinforce your cognitive distortions, the more significant toll they can take on your mental health. The stress that arises from negative thinking can be helpful for immediate survival, but it does not support healthy or rational ways of being long-term.

So as an expat, you must be mindful of how your cognitive distortions affect your perception of life abroad.

There are a few common distorted thinking patterns that people struggle with.  The following examples provide insight into possible cognitive distortions for expats.

Believing you are destined for failure.

How Cognitive Distortions Affect Our Perception of Life Abroad - Blog Article from Gabriela Encina Expat Psychologist - Black or White

When you are convinced that you are destined for either success or failure, this is an example of polarized thinking.

With the many changes in culture, relationships, and language (to name a few) you face when you transition to life abroad, it undoubtedly yields more opportunities for errors and challenges.

It’s normal to face barriers living life abroad – it is a learning curve that all expats experience. But the problem with thinking in extremes, especially on the negative end of the spectrum, is that it impairs your self-esteem, hinders your ability to acknowledge your wins, and holds you back from trying new things.

Polarized thinking is unrealistic since reality usually falls between the extremes.

Believing that one negative experience dictates them all.

Negative experiences can happen to anyone at any time. Especially if you live abroad, you know how likely it is to encounter obstacles, stress, and other intense emotions like loneliness or homesickness.

You may have had one frustrating experience involving language barriers, and your failure to find the right words to express yourself made you believe that you would never learn.

Or maybe you have wound up lost once or a few times, having difficulty using new means of transportation. This could have led you to form a negative self-belief that you cannot successfully navigate your new country.

These are examples of overgeneralization, and when you do this, you reach a conclusion about one instance and assume it applies to the rest.

Believing you’ve been intentionally excluded.

How Cognitive Distortions Affect Our Perception of Life Abroad - Blog Article from Gabriela Encina Expat Psychologist a woman directing both thumbs to herself

When you leave your home country, you are not only forced to learn a new location and language; you must be able to navigate both to live a normal life and meet new people.

Making friends as an adult can be quite challenging no matter who or where you are. This is not always a result of your communication or language skills but rather the people you meet being hit or miss.

For instance, you might find yourself chatting with a new friend for a while, but they don’t invite you to join or ask for your contact information when they walk back to their group of friends.

If you struggle with personalization, you are likely to take things personally when they have nothing to do with you. When you incorrectly assume that you have been excluded, it can contribute to conditions like anxiety and depression.

cognitive distortion affects on expat life

If you are searching for an expat psychologist online to help you overcome your cognitive distortions and develop new and helpful thought patterns, I can help you. In my online counseling, I can help you identify yours and begin seeing your world in a brighter and more rational way.

My counseling approach is based on scientific methods helping you identify, connect, and move forward towards your goals, guided by your values and what matters to you.

If you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad, Check my Workshop here

Do get in touch with me if you need help to navigate the challenges of your international life, I’m here for you. You are not alone!

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By your side,


Gabriela Encina - Psychologist & Expat Coach

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.