Psychotherapy with expats

Expat, exile, immigrant, name it as you like;
you’re living a tale of parting
And parting,
a thread in love’s intricate weaving.

It can be asserted that migration occupies a pivotal position in the narrative of both the individual and the collective human experience. We may read our expulsion from Eden, which commenced with Eve’s fateful bite of the apple, as a tale of exile, and the separation of the human infant from the mother’s womb as an inaugural, compulsory migration. In truth, migration stands as one of the most essential survival strategies for all living species. After all, evolution is an odyssey of either adapting to an environment or embarking on a journey toward a more suitable one. Crudely put, vitality undulates within this very dynamic. Adapting to the environment, establishing connections and roots, or, conversely, branching out and distancing oneself in pursuit of alternative locales with more favorable conditions.

I have a tendency to perceive this dynamic not as two opposing states, but rather as an upward spiral with constant transitions between them, each nurturing the other. Whether examining migration from a more sociological and theoretical perspective or delving deep into the narrative of a single individual, I believe it is crucial to keep this oscillation in mind.

Migration, fundamentally, is a story of separation, and like any separation, it brings to the forefront the question of how we attach. Attachment theory, perhaps the most extensively studied theory in the field of psychology, fundamentally posits that if a child’s initial bonds with those who provide care are secure, then subsequent separations are also experienced more securely, allowing the child to be more open to exploring their surroundings. Of course, the opposite holds true as well. If an infant hasn’t formed secure bonds with the adults who provide care, they may perceive the world as a perilous place, leading to cautious behavior when it comes to exploring new horizons. So, each separation triggers the past separation experiences within us. If, when we parted ways with our parents in our early days, we still felt secure, subsequent separations are relatively easier to navigate. However, if parting has been imprinted as an anxious and fearful experience, later separations may unconsciously awaken these anxieties.

The therapeutic process with individuals who have willingly or unwillingly embarked on journeys to better or more challenging conditions in distant lands also necessitates delving into these dynamics. Illuminating today in the light of past experiences can be a challenging, at times intricate, yet undeniably enriching path for preparing for tomorrow.

“With reference to Jung’s wisdom that ‘We don’t so much solve our problems as we outgrow them,’ how about -regardless of your previous separation stories- considering your current parting as an opportunity to understand and transcend the ones before?