“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
- Miriam Adeney
What is "expat guilt"?
In short, expat guilt is rooted in the fear of being a “bad_____” (insert son, daughter, sister, friend or whatever applies).
It is normal to worry that your decision to move abroad may be perceived as selfish by those you leave behind. Concerns about how the relocation may affect individuals who are moving with you, especially kids, are another source of anxiety. When kids have trouble adjusting to their new home and school, you'll feel bad. When they cry, you'll feel bad for them since they're missing their extended family and old pals. When they struggle to adjust to the new language and culture and when things don't go as planned and you start to miss home, you'll feel bad because you'll wonder if all the anguish and upset was even worthwhile.
In addition to this, COVID restrictions during the past years created new circumstances that no one could have ever foreseen. Many spent a considerable amount of time unable to return home to their family. It seemed like there was no end in sight and "expat guilt" was at an all time high.
This type of guilt is attached to the idea of "should"—"I should be there doing that, rather than here doing this."
This emotion, this guilt, is a natural emotion. But it can ruin your entire experience and make you doubt the wisdom of your decisions.
If you have decided living abroad was the right choice for you, or you and your family, focus your energy on managing the aftereffect of your decision. Here are some tips to help you do that:
What changes can you make to ease your guilt?
1. Accept it
Although some people don't want you to relocate, you do, and at some point, you will undoubtedly feel guilty about it. Just include it in your guilt list! We feel guilty about our time and money management, how frequently we call home or see our loved ones, whether we are "good" sons, daughters, or parents, whether we eat the right foods, weigh the right amount...the list goes on.
Think through the pros and cons of your situation. If you’ve decided this is an amazing opportunity for you or for your close family, embrace the guilt and be reasonable about it; talk it over with your loved ones, keep a journal of the ups and downs, but don't allow it dictate how your future will pan out.
2. Work on communication to set healthy boundaries
Even though it's awkward, discussing your feelings with friends and family can be the greatest approach to reduce any guilt you might feel about moving abroad.
Sometimes your guilt will be brought on by the remarks of people you know and care about. If these relatives are criticising your choices and are not open to communication, learn to set better limits with them.
3) Stay in touch better
Set up regular Zoom catch-ups, send daily or weekly photos and updates, get them involved in the everyday decisions; strengthen the connection. Especially for parents or grandparents, seeing a child move far away comes with a feeling of being ‘cast aside’ or sadness for not seeing their grandchildren as much as they would like.
Put it in perspective and think that maybe when you DO see each other it is for a longer period of time, and you get to create a stronger connection. If you don't see them often, try to make the stays with them for longer periods so they really get to know each other.
4) Plan visiting arrangements
The expectations can be decreased by planning how and when you visit or reconnect with your loved ones because everyone knows when you'll be returning. Not that you have to completely follow the trip schedule, but at least it will show how much you care and lessens any negative remarks and the associated emotions of guilt.
5) Strengthen your family unit
If you are living abroad with your partner and children, make sure to work on strengthening your family unit.
You might be working extended hours - try to make the time you have together extra special. Have family gatherings where you discuss what everyone has done during the week, any recent events, and dream up future plans.
What’s important is that when you are with them you are really there. Don't be distracted by your phone or other devices.
6) Connect with others that live abroad
Connecting with others who have made the same decision and are experiencing the same emotions can be extremely helpful. Online communities of people from your country, or even in-person meet-ups, are all great for finding the emotional support you need.
7). Talk to someone: talking really helps
Share your emotions with others. Although it could make you uncomfortable to admit your feelings to others, remember that they have probably experienced some guilt as well. We instantly start to arrange and evaluate our feelings as soon as we express them to others. Sometimes hearing yourself say it is all you need to know that you are a kind person.
It is crucial to keep in mind that guilt can be a normal component of any significant life shift, particularly those involving overseas relocations. Concentrate on the advantages of your circumstance and the opportunities that are currently available to you. Reframing any unfavorable thoughts or emotions can be accomplished by reminding yourself of the reasons you first chose this course of action. To assist you in managing your emotions, it could also be helpful to seek counselling.