As a psychotherapist and director of Expat Counseling and Coaching Services, and as an ex-expat myself, I am continually struck by the tremendous impact of positive psychology on expats living abroad.
I share some of these aspects of positive psychology on expats here:
- The opportunity to stretch yourself in ways you’d never be challenged to do otherwise.
Most people, as you know, make very few moves in their adult lives, and when they do, move relatively close to home. Therefore, friends, family and co-workers often remain the same throughout adult life.
Contrast this with the average expat who moves every 3 years and may change an entire support system with each move.
Expats are therefore called upon to stretch themselves psychologically and emotionally in ways their stay-at-home counter parts would never be called upon to do.
If you want to enjoy your expat experience and not feel lonely and isolated, it becomes necessary to put yourself out there with strangers, push through your resistance to just stay home, and for some people to confront their demons around meeting new people.
The up side of this is that through this experience, expats learn that not only can you do this successfully, but that you grow as a result, and your self image or sense of self goes up several notches each time you do so.
- The opportunity to become more resilient.
Resilience refers to the ability to bounce back from adversity. Expats sometimes feel the negative impact of adverse conditions, particularly around a move.
It can at times feel overwhelming to come to a new country, possibly without knowing the language, start a new job, and if you have kids, get them established in a new school, all the while feeling lonely and without support.
However, most expats develop resiliency, learn to recover in a relatively short amount of time and get on with their new lives. This quality of resiliency is crucial in all stages of life, but particularly during transitions.
People who haven’t faced many upheavals in their lives, may find themselves ill equipped to handle transitions that occur at different life stages, such as divorce or death of a spouse, ageing, kids leaving home, and illness and eventually death.
Expats, who have successfully navigated transitions throughout their lives, find that they are able to bounce back more quickly. Little adversities have prepared them for the big ones. And the positive effects of resiliency now come into play.
- The ability to see the glass as half full as opposed to half empty.
Whether you’re a “half empty” or “half full” kind of person depends up on many factors. Among these are genetic predisposition, your family of origin, and how the adults in your life treated optimism and pessimism as you were growing up.
As you have experiences of moving to new places as an expat, even “half empty” people can learn to become more optimistic.
If this is something you have difficulty with, I suggest observing your negative self-talk, or what you tell yourself about yourself in difficult situations.
Say you observe the thought; I’m always going to be lonely here. The first step is to recognize this as simply a thought. A thought has no substantial existence. It’s just a brain wave and has no reality. Yet, many of us treat these negative “nothings” as if they’re some kind of truth.
The next step is to challenge the negative thought or belief with what is actually true, most likely “I don’t know if I’ll be lonely here in the future.” This is a far cry from assuming that you’ll always be lonely.
The ability to observe your negative thoughts as simply thoughts, rather than assuming that they’re true, is a life skill that many people never learn. Expats have a heads up on this if they’re committed to maximally benefit from their expat experience.
Learning how to stretch yourself emotionally, develop resilience, and transform your negative thinking are 3 important aspects of positive psychology that expats have the good fortune to be confronted with. Your life will definitely be enhanced as a result.