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Sunday, 31 January 2016 22:33

Psychological impact of migration: The Ulysses Syndrome and how to defeat it

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Migration is as old as humanity itself. Migration has always be a part of the development of human societies in some shape or form, especially in moments of economic or social hardship. Making the decision to pack your suitcases and leave your country and family in search of new opportunities is one of the most psychologically profound decisions anyone can take in their lifetime. It is a decision that changes you and affects everyone else that surrounds you, family and friends.

If you decide to move to another country with your family, the psychological impact multiplies as there is a feeling of responsibility for the future of those you are taking with you. That psychological weight can become a burden too heavy to lift, and in many cases it can incapacitate you and seriously affect your health. This is called the Ulysses Syndrome.

When someone arrives in a new country they feel the need to adapt quickly. In our minds there’s a fixed idea that we need to be in a better position than the one we had in our own country, and this must happen fast. It is precisely that quest for a better future that is the reason to move in the first place, and when we realize that things are not happening at the pace we had in mind and are confronted with obstacles, we get hit by stress.

For a migrant, a situation of prolonged stress can have very negative effects on his or her health. The feeling of losing identity increases, fear of failure and anxiety can be paralysing and cause depression. The expectations that worked as motivators when you decided to migrate not long ago seem further away and you can start isolating yourselves from your environment, making it harder and harder to integrate into the new society.

This is called the Ulysses Syndrome. The Syndrome is inspired by the Greek mythological hero whose journey back home after the Trojan War became a hell of infinite problems that kept him away from reuniting with his family.
The positive side is that there are many things that we can do to mitigate and falling into this Syndrome. There are exercises and attitudes that we need to put in motion even before we travel to our destination. Our preparation to migrate starts from the moment we make the decision, not when we arrive to our new country.

Before we travel:

  • Grief: Grieving is nothing more than an emotional adaptation process to losing something. It is important to go through a conscious farewell with those we love and are going to stay behind. It is true that we live in an interconnected and digitalized world and technology allows us to maintain a closer contact than ever before with our families, but let us not fool ourselves, it is not the same as looking at our loved ones face to face. A farewell is a farewell, but in our interior balance it must remain clear that the benefits of migrating outweigh the sacrifices.
  • Identity: Who we are is influenced to a large extent by the people we share our lives with. We have to understand that migrating is a conscious act of liberation from that identity. Attaching ourselves to someone as a way of affirming our identity is a mistake, and that is why we must be aware that through migrating we are going to grow and define ourselves as individuals in a different way than if we chose to stay in our own country. This is a critical truism and we need to embrace it as a fact of migrating and something entirely rewarding.
  • Feeling of failure: We must not leave our country with a feeling of failure, quite the opposite, we have to realise that migrating is an act of bravery and optimism.
  • Insecurity facing the unknown: Learning things about the place we are going to travel to and talking with other people who have gone through the same process before us will give us confidence and context to embrace this new experience.

When we arrive at our destination:

  • Change of identity: Arriving to a new place is a process of constant learning. We will master a new language, new traditions and a new culture, but it is also the perfect moment to learn new things about ourselves. We will be shocked when we learn that we have come to love things we had never heard of before, or that we have strengths and skills that we did not even realise.
  • Nostalgia: It is crucial that we do not live in-between two worlds. Sometimes we tend to idealize things about our past and suffer a feeling of nostalgia that will not allow us to see the positive things in our present. A relationship with our own country based excessively on emotionalism can become an obstacle for our new life.
  • Loneliness: Isolation is one of the worst temptations for a migrant. The difficulties of learning a new language and our new situation can push us to shut ourselves away. This is a mistake. We must seek the company of people that can relate to what we are going through, that empathize with what we are living and with whom we can share our doubts. It is always a good idea to look for groups and associations that will make us leave the house and connect with other people.
  • Disappointment: It is crucial that we think about our own expectations, and that we re-visit these expectations every once in a while. What today looks like a very realistic expectation today may not be so realistic tomorrow. Migrating is a process of constant adaptation.
  • Frustration: We have to understand the things that depend on our own effort and those that are beyond our reach. For every successful story of a migrant who has accomplished their goals of getting a great job with a great salary, and buying their perfect home within a few months, there are thousands of stories that you will never hear of people who had to fight, struggle and wait to achieve their objectives. Migrating is a long term process and we must not let that journey to frustrate us.

In conclusion, migrating is an experience that is going to change our lives for ever but it is not free of critical moments. The more aware we are about what we need to do to prepare ourselves psychologically for this process, the better that our adaptation will be and the more we will enjoy the experience.

VisAustralia is a migration consultancy that specialises in assisting Skilled people apply for permanent residence in Australia. We are experts at dealing with the legal process and assisting you obtain a successful visa outcome.

To commence your migration journey, contact VisAustralia today and request a detailed migration assessment from one of our lawyers here.

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