Traveling to a new country or a new city is never easy. Whether leaving voluntarily or because the situation in the country of origin is complicated, the migrant has to face a whole host of unpleasant emotions and feelings when seeking a new life abroad.
Migratory grief is a complex process associated with leaving behind many things that have been cultivated and lived with.: Family, friends, landscapes, language … We live it as if we were facing the death of something, only that it is not a definitive thing and that we can relive again and again.
Then, we will talk in depth about migratory mourning, what it involves, its signs and its phases.
What is migratory mourning?
Migratory grief is everything a process of elaboration that occurs as a result of losses linked to the change of country or city of origin, i.e. the migratory experience. This duel occurs regardless of whether the migration is by choice, such as the search for new job opportunities or the willingness to learn languages, or whether it is due to an external factor, such as the lack of seeking employment. employment, economic, political and social crises environmental disaster in the country of origin.
In popular parlance, mourning is associated with the idea of death, something that is eternal. However, in psychology, grief is linked to the idea of losing what we want most, which can be temporary. As living beings we are constantly gaining and losing things, so it is perfectly normal and common for us to experience duels. Some duels are particularly difficult, like the death of a loved one, a permanent and very painful loss, but in other cases we talk about more mundane things, like the loss of a job or the break-up with your partner.
Understanding this, it is clear that the idea of migratory mourning implies losing something, but what do those who migrate lose? Well, really a lot. People forced to leave their homeland and find themselves in a totally unknown country they feel that the main things lost are culture, language, family, friends, status, contact with the ethnic group and the land..
1. The language
The migrant does not forget his language, at least automatically, but he loses the people with whom he can use it. He feels frustrated because he can’t express himself at all with people in the new place he had to goOr that he hasn’t even learned much of the new language yet to feel he is practicing in the new society in which he now lives.
This often leads to feelings of insecurity and embarrassment as the person does not know how to fully express their ideas and feelings. It may also happen that, despite mastering the language, there are certain nuances of it that you do not fully understand, such as a sense of humor or informal and social expressions, something that is unique to each. language and that is one of the elements that most culture shocks involve.
2. Family and friends
Of course, the greatest loss migrants suffer is that of their family and friends. They know they are alive, they know they will be able to visit them, but not having them with them involves very intense suffering. The migrant has left behind all his contacts, a social and support network that has been built up over the years.. Even though you may come to a new country and meet new people, feeling lonely is inevitable because these new people are not a substitute for old friends.
3. Contact with the ethnic group
A person’s identity is closely linked to the ethnic group in which they were raised. Within our reference group, we are in a paradoxical situation, but not a negative one. On the one hand, we are equal in sharing language, beliefs, race or other aspects, while on the other, we highlight each other’s personal characteristics, such as personality and status.
With migration, the feeling of being different is amplified and this balance between similarity and difference is upset.. At some point in the migratory experience, the immigrant realizes that, regardless of his integration in his new country, he will always be a foreigner, he will always be different, even if he does not suffer from xenophobia or he is not a victim of racism. In addition, his ethnic group of origin will begin to see him as someone insane, someone who has influences from other people, who is not “like ours as he was before”.
4. Cultural references
Who leaves he loses his cultural references, forms of being typical of his ethnic group or region of origin such as social norms, musical genre, taste for food, way of thinking and beliefs, aspects which, until the day the person left their country, accompanied them throughout their life .
In most cases, the migrant begins to exercise less skilled jobs in the country where he went to work than those in his country of origin.. The reasons are often varied, but the main one is their legal status, with a limited or undocumented residence permit and the fact that many foreign diplomas are not recognized in other countries, making the fact legally unrecognized. to hold such a diploma or qualification. .
While the migrant can expect to be recognized for this degree in the new country, the process is usually long and during this time he is forced to work on whatever it takes to survive. For this reason, the migrant loses his status because he has to “downgrade” and do things that he would never have done in his country. Even so, even if this circumstance does not occur, being alien, lack of dominance or emphasis, usually results in loss of status in itself.
6. The earth
The mourning of the earth is a loss for the landscapes and the climate. It may not seem important, these are just landscapes, but everyone has grown up seeing the silhouette of their hometown, the shape of the mountains on the horizon, the sea, hot summers or a landscape and a climatic feature. unique to their country. Move to a place where it is not cause for nostalgia and melancholy.
Why is this a special duel?
What differentiates migratory grief from other grief, such as the death of a loved one or the break-up with a partner, is that it’s a multiple, partial and recurring duel. Multiple implies that there are a lot of things that get left behind that motivate you. As we said, the migrant has to say goodbye to his family, his friends, his customs, his language, his landscapes … And since there are a lot of things that remain behind, he is very easy that at any time you remember one of them, the person feels the migratory mourning very intensely. Partial means there is always the possibility of coming back.
For example, when a loved one dies, there is no human way to be with them, because the loss is absolute and they cannot be resurrected. On the other hand, in the case of migration, there is always the possibility of returning, because what is lost is the land, the culture, the family … it does not disappear, it is still there, but it is very far.
It is a recurring duel because it is activated every time you return to your homeland. It sounds paradoxical, but the truth is that many people, when they visit their home countries to see family or go on vacation when they return, feel like they are leaving, as if they are starting over. This can happen even if they have built a whole new life in their new country and are doing well. But it is not only the visits that reactivate the mourning, Sometimes a simple video call conversation or viewing photos of family or hometown will wake him up..
The signs of this duel
Before explaining the signs of migratory bereavement, it is important to underline a fundamental idea: it is neither a disorder or disease. While it is true that migratory bereavement is a risk factor for presenting psychopathology, it is not in itself a mental disorder, but a very complex psychological phenomenon and not necessarily pathological. For this reason, instead of talking about symptoms, we are talking about signs, among which we can find:
1. Feelings of anxiety
The person feels sad, irritable, sullen… This can happen even if you have achieved the goals you wanted to achieve in the host country. it is possible to feel isolation and loneliness.
The migrant may experience physical discomfort such as a lump in the throat, stomach pain, back and head, tics, mental and physical fatigue …
3. Difficulties related to identity and self-esteem
It is common that when the migrant arrives in the new country, he does not pay much attention to feelings of sadness for the loss of living outside his country of origin, or even comes to deny them. He can idealize the host culture and underestimate that of his homeland, See your country as a horrible place and that no one should stay to live here.
The reason for this thinking is easy to understand because it is easier to adapt to a new place if we think it is the best in the world and we are convinced that what is left is not worth it and we even have ashamed to come here. But it happens that it just keeps on being from here, something that starts to be perceived as very bad and that affects our identity and our self-esteem. In the end, you end up feeling like you’re not here or there.
4. Paralysis of the life plan and difficulty in making decisions
Faced with the indecision of whether to stay or return, many people delay their personal decisions, Like committing to a partner, having children, developing professionally, starting a big personal project …
He feels guilty for leaving important people behind in his home country. It feels like they could have put in more effort and behaved or could have tried other options in their home country, even if it meant having a very poor standard of living. It feels like you’ve left family and friends to their own devices, and they fear not knowing what will happen to them if they never return to their home country..
The phases of migratory mourning
During migratory mourning, they can go through different phases, very similar to those that occur with other duels. As in any period of loss, these phases do not have to follow a different order, in fact, they can be experienced several times and cyclically.
1. Denial phase
The migrant tries to act as if nothing has changed or been different. It’s as if he didn’t care much that he had gone to a new country or had to suffer the loss of anything. This phase also occurs when the migrant is not allowed to really build a new life in the place where he ended up, but tries to maintain as much as possible the same lifestyle that he had in his country of origin. ‘origin, which is very difficult.
2. Rationalization phase
He realizes the decision that has been taken. The migrant becomes aware of where he is, what he has left behind and the reasons that made him travel. It is in this phase that one makes contact with oneself and which gives rise to the other emotional phases of the migratory process, while allowing the individual to be realistic and aware of what he will need and of the steps taken. to undertake. to try to thrive in your new host country.
3. Phase of anger or protest
In the event that the decision to change country or city is due to external pressures, it is normal for the migrant to feel angry about what forced him to leave. But if the decision to migrate was voluntary, it can also go through this same phase. It is normal to feel angry at how difficult the change is and how hard it is for you to adjust to the new place because you don’t know in advance everything about how things work in your new home and you don’t. not know how well the native people.
4. Sadness phase
Sadness is the easiest emotion to identify in the migratory duel, but that is not why it is the easiest to deal with or the one that has the least effect. This sadness can be overwhelming and deeply affect how well a person functions in their new country, even for years to come. Ithis emotion arises from the constant remembrance of what has been lost and can be accompanied by a deep sense of uprooting, Feeling of being in a no man’s land or of having no country, neither that of birth nor that of the host.
5. Fear phase
Fear is present throughout the migration process, both before the trip and once settled. This is quite normal because new and unknown fears. The migrant asks himself many questions and he is not sure he can solve them: will he adapt ?, will he learn the language ?, will he be able to use public transport ?, Will he make friends? Will he find a job? …
If not handled well, this phase can cause a deep sense of helplessness, not knowing what to do once you get here and fearing that you will never thrive or complete the migration project.
6. Acceptance phase
In this phase, the migratory process is accepted both rationally and emotionally, i.e. the person is able to really say goodbye without feeling in debt so that they are left behind or fear losing them forever.
7. Forgiveness and gratitude phase
In this phase, the person is allowed to connect with the good and the bad that he experienced before leaving his country and also with regard to the decision taken. Forgive the things and people who hurt the migrant, and he is grateful for what he has managed to bring with him, Which made him grow personally. All the good things that have been learned in the process are valued.
8. Phase of new affections
At this stage new connections, new roots and new life are established. This is the moment when the migratory mourning took place and ended, being this which confirms that the person has been able to adapt to the new place of residence, but without having the feeling of having lost his roots. nor what it grew with.
- Achotegui, J. (2000) The duels of migration. Janus. Psychiatry and human sciences.nº2.
- Achotegui, J. (2002) Depression among immigrants: an intercultural perspective. Ed. May. Barcelona.
- González-Calvo, V. (2004) Materials on the migratory duel. Expert in migration policies. Univ. Pablo de Olavide. Seville.