The Emotional Stages of Living Abroad

Published by MartaCastro on

The Emotional Stages of Living Abroad

Change is an inevitable part of life, and it can be hard to deal with it, integrate, and even appreciate. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the Kubler-Ross Change curve to help us understand the process of change and its emotional implications (“Death and Dying”;1969). This model can be applied to different changes in life, including migrating. It is one of the most reliable tools to understand the emotional stages we pass through when living abroad.

The five stages:

It is essential to mention that we do not move along the stages linearly or step by step. A person tends to move in stages in random order and may sometimes even return to a previous stage after a certain time. Each stage can last for a different period of time, and a person can get stuck in a particular stage.

1- Denial: The Stage of shock or denial is usually the first stage in the Kubler-Ross Model and is mostly short-lived. In this phase, we use denial as a defense mechanism, and it requires time to process the new reality. One may not want to believe what is happening. It can affect the ability to think and act.

2-Anger: When reality hits us, and we understand the magnitude of the situation, we start to feel angry and may look for someone or something to blame. Anger can be expressed in many ways. For example, some people may take out the anger on themselves, others may direct it towards others around them. Some may be angry at life in general, and others may blame the new country. We tend to be irritable, frustrated, and short-tempered during this stage.

3- Bargaining: When the stage of anger finishes, we may start thinking about ways to postpone the inevitable and try to find out the best thing left in the situation, and compromise. Bargaining might bring some relief to those who are moving closer

to what they wish to avoid altogether. The search for a different outcome or a less traumatic one may remain on during this stage. (For example, thinking, “I am only here temporarily..”)

4- Depression: During this stage, we tend to feel sadness, fear, regret, guilt, and other negative emotions. We have completely given up by now and may now reach a dead end where the road ahead only seems dark. We can show symptoms of sadness, low energy, indifference, reclusiveness, pushing others away, and no excitement towards life. It may seem like the lowest point in life with no way ahead.

5- Acceptance: We realize that fighting the change will not make the pain go away. We resign to the situation and accept it. The resigned attitude may not feel like a totally happy space but is one in which the person may stop resisting change and move ahead with it. In this phase, the person starts to solve problems and look forward to a new life.

The most important thing is to understand that all the emotions we experience when trying to settle in a different country are valid and normal. The initial difficulties and even depression are part of the adaptation process, and they will go away once you are ready to accept your new life and try to make the most out of it.

Reach out if you think you are stuck in a phase or think some hand would help you move towards the next phase of your adaptation process.

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