Are you struggling in your new culture?
As an expatriate, you may sometimes feel like a ‘fish out of water’. And, if you don’t identify with the culture in which you find yourself, where does that leave you? Human beings are social animals, and even introverts are likely to favour an environment that offers meaningful social interactions, engaging activities and familiar references.
Wherever we end up, it’s important to have either the feeling that we belong in some way … or to have trust in our ability to meet whatever challenges we’re presented with. The thing is, if we are in a situation where we feel isolated, we will almost certainly come face to face with … OURSELVES.
Particularly if a sense of lonliness has set in, facing ourselves can be distressing and demoralising. While it is good to have alone-time, too much time alone – particularly too much time in critical self-reflection with no appropriate mirror of our intrinsic value – can easily lead to anxiety. Over time, the loneliness of isolation can lead to depression.
If you aren’t thriving as an expat, do any of these questions resonate with you?
• Is your motivation low because you’re unclear on the rules of engagement?
• How overwhelming is the ‘red tape factor’ in your current setting
• Have you lost heart with trying to put yourself forward in business and in social circles
• Is anxiety affecting your health, your emotional wellbeing … or your relationships?
• Has separation from family and friends at ‘home’ left you feeling empty?
Has the ‘exciting challenge’ of expat living turned into just a challenge?
When you found yourself planted in a new and unfamiliar place, it may have been exciting and challenging – in a good way – at least to start.
But, along with many people around the world who are living the ‘expat dream’, there can be times when fitting in, even just getting by feels like a day-to-day struggle … never mind trying to do business or establish a fulfilling lifestyle.
The sense of struggle can be the same or even greater if you are the reluctant expatriate, hanging onto the coat-tails of the person whose business it is to be there. If you never wanted to relocate in the first place, even the smallest of daily tasks … from buying ripe fruit to calling a taxi can be exhausting … and that can feel like rubbing salt on the wound.
If this describes your experience, it may help to know that you are not alone. So if you have nearly arrived at the end of your rope, my first line of support is to tell you that talking can help. And, if you are anxious and your thoughts are racing to unhappy conclusions, talking with a qualified therapist who has an outside perspective of the situation and who understands some of what you’re going through can help even more.
Of course, in sessions it’s appropriate to talk about ‘you’ – not ‘me’.
This said, when people meet me perhaps the first thing they’ll notice – and sometimes ask about – is my accent. The way I talk immediately gives clues about where I’m from and of course, sets people guessing about why I’m here.
That’s how it is when we meet new people. It’s in our nature to assess and judge one another, and often this is done on an unconscious level within 7 seconds of meeting someone. When we’re functioning in a different culture, there are many other socio-anthropological signs, signals – and judgements – to factor in. It can be much harder to function with ease when so many more things cannot be taken as read.
What’s my experience of this? My background is cross-cultural and I am an expat … my father grew up in India, my mother is English … I grew up in the United States. From early on, I had to make sense of mixed cultural messages, so I really understand first hand, the importance of finding your own ground to stand on.
My sessions to support you in finding your ‘ground’ are focused with all seriousness on the results you want. It inspires me to support you in connecting to a deep sense of well being within, for you to feel at home in yourself anywhere in the world. I work in a spirit of lightness and playfulness, mindful of our deliberate purpose.
Consider it this way: if it feels like there are too many pressures in your expat life, how will it help to just go over the ways in which expat living feels like such a grind? True, I go by the principle that it’s good to get it all out … that is, letting go of toxic thoughts and feelings.
It’s because anxiety and distress put so much stress on the body-mind system, that you want to get the stuff that’s eating you up – so to speak – up and out of your system. And it’s worth noting here, that I’m a firm believer in the judicious use of humour as a powerful tool for gently ‘oomphing’ clients out of their ‘dis-comfort’ zone.
In sessions, the work involves talking (raised voices, bad language and tears are welcome), questioning, visualising, writing, maybe even drawing … and following up with carefully crafted and agreed upon homework experiments so you can practice trying things differently. Our purpose is to build self confidence, curiousity, a spirit of adventure, resilience and a renewed sense of purpose. Phew!
The aim of our work together is to build a firm foundation for you living life – a life of purpose and meaning – as determined by you … wherever you are in your life and career … and wherever you are in the world.
When you’re an expatriate and you’re feeling miserable, you need a plan.
Most people feel a sense of ‘belonging’ in their family. Others are at ease with close friends. High sensitive individuals are often relaxed with solitary interests. And some identify with their culture or nation. In any case, if we are settled in our environment, we participate in relationships, interactions and cultural activities that are at least familiar. All this can change when we find ourselves in a new place with little in the way of support around us.
If you are missing a familiar foundation, then my programme based on building your resilience muscles, along with awareness of your personal resources will support you in making that decisions that are right for you. You can discover ways to make your life more easeful and enjoyable in your expat location, and you can make choices about where to focus your energy and interest.
Are you on your own or someone else’s adventure?
Maybe you think you have to be brave even when you’re miserable … if so, do any of these questions sound familiar?
I just have to cope. How can I take time for self pity?
Yes, you have to cope. Everybody copes. It’s our job as human beings. And you want to do ‘strategic coping’, instead of hanging from the ceiling by your fingernails or rocking back and forth in a corner. You can learn new habits of thinking and acting that make ‘coping’ more about creative thinking and action, rather than defense of a seige position.
I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere. What can I do to get out of this?
When you believe you’re stuck and that there’s no way for you to move, your creative brain may stop thinking. It’s not even trying to help you, because you don’t believe that things can change. However, when you work on building resilience it is possible to recognise the capacity of your mind for creative problem solving. Then, you can discover options for change or expansion that were not previously apparent.
So, in the right here, right now, the work is to define your strategy for surviving … and then for thriving. Putting your ‘thought energy’ into hating where you are right now is like building the wall of your own prison, brick by brick and then doing the plastering as well. My strategy for managing this kind of discomfort is to define micro-steps which can initiate the process of change.
I just feel overwhelmed and my relationship is in trouble. What can I do?
Mindful meditation on your circumstances can help you relax a bit and gain perspective. By taking some mental and emotional ‘time out’, you can assess what is most important to you. All couples go through difficult times of differences in opinion. By bringing calm to your part of the equaton, you can begin a negotiation with a spouse or partner, to give the best chance of overcoming discord. Or if you find that you end up making personal decisions on your own, mindfulness can help you in playing on your own team, that is being your own best support.
Coaching really does help for overwhelmed expats
If things I’ve said here resonate with you, you can find out more by emailing me for my Tip sheet on ways to survive and thrive as an expat. After that, if you want to discuss the way I work in more detail, you can book a free 30-minute telephone session and I’ll look forward to sharing some of what I’ve learned with you.
I work with clients privately on Skype, and in face-to-face consultations in London, SE4.
Call me to arrange a free, no obligation session to find out how you can move beyond self doubt to build high self-esteem, self-belief and conviction in your own worth.