image by Jace Grandinetti
Being an expat is having the opportunity to live abroad for professional reasons, either temporarily or permanently.
In the case of couples or families, more often than not they tend to move abroad because the husband/male partner has being asked to relocate with a job offer. The female partner, or wife, follows without any hesitation. As a consequence, the husband ends up being the sole breadwinner.
There are pros and cons that come with expatriation. The loved ones left behind glamourise expatriation: being exposed to a new culture, having a high-paid job, hiring a nanny to care for the children, enjoying a busy social life, learning and speaking a new language. However for the ones leaving, this new chapter can be daunting even if it’s happening for the second or third time. Starting all over again in a new and foreign environment requires a lot of energy and patience.
Four years ago, I pushed my husband to look for another job opportunity abroad because nothing was working for me after living in London for so many years. I went through many challenges constantly without being able to catch my breath: from long-term unemployment to surgeries, fighting stress, anxiety and insomnia while entering a new stage of my life - marriage. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
We moved to Amsterdam after my husband found a new position there, I took the opportunity to get some therapy to forgive myself for not achieving what I planned. I was using therapy to also provide me with tools to allow me to overcome my fear. The fear was more about being out of my comfort zone since I had been looking for stability for such a long time. Once I had found inner peace, I re-trained to become a certified counsellor and coach.
In my therapy practice, I work with different profiles of women.They are mothers and wives (or partners), some of them left their career for the relocation of their husbands/male partners. They experience difficulties in finding an employment that fits their abilities. Others have constantly been facing personal and/or professional challenges. I call women in both groups the forgotten partner. They are often not included in the narrative of expatriation.
Women of both groups are educated, strong but did not get enough opportunities to achieve personal ambitions. They come to therapy with a great sense of guilt, they feel ashamed. They perceive their lives as meaningless.
Each woman I have helped has described the loneliness and anxiety she is living, and having the self-confidence completely shattered. They are feeling anxious for not being able to come out from the shadows of their husbands/male partners. They have completely lost their identities.
One client said to me : “I am feeling so lonely and lost even though my husband is supportive and caring. I am completely depending on him which makes me feel worthless and invisible”. Another client said to me : “people always ask me what do you do? What can I respond if I have been unemployed for a while and been through so many other obstacles? Do I still exist?”
We can read or hear everywhere that women can have it all but what happens if things are not working out for you for so long?
My clients come to therapy to get an understanding of what is happening in their lives. I always say: “There are many areas of your life that you can not control, however you can control your mindset”.
As the author Kathie Byron says :” Life does not happen to you, it happens for you”.
What do we focus on during the therapy sessions?
In my practice, I often refer to the pillars of fulfillment. It is a tool-kit that I strongly believe helps my clients to reclaim who they are and find balance in their lives. Here is a snapshot:
Looking at the core of beliefs and values; perception plays a big role in our thinking and actions.
Acknowledging, facing the emotions and feelings to move forward with a different outlook; breaking the negative thinking.
Practicing self-forgiveness to let go of the past. As Mahatma Ghandi said : “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”.
Practicing self-love and self-compassion; celebrate every achievement no matter how small.
Being grateful, enjoying the little moments in life: loving, nourishing, creating, learning, understanding, laughing and listening.
Focusing on the circle of influence : who am I? What do I want? What am I willing to do or not to reach my objectives? It is about developing self-awareness to be in harmony with own values and norms. In some ways, finding meaning in unexpected life events.
Defining or/and re-evaluating the notion of “success” which differs based on culture and background.
I use these pillars constantly in the work with my clients to help them develop new perspectives, to also give them tools to cope with obstacles. Learning from their past experiences to reach and maintain inner peace. I have witnessed how this tool-kit helps my clients to make a head start on a journey to rediscover their identity, feel less forgotten and more like an equal partner after all.
Liliane, a certified counsellor & coach, living in Amsterdam. offers talk (& walk) therapy. Providing emotional guidance around these problematics : loss of identity, stress, loneliness and isolation. Focusing on the uniqueness and background of my clients to ensure that the assistance received respects personal values and norms.