Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Dealing with Expat Guilt

There are all sorts of reasons why people choose to become an expat, often through choice but sometimes not through their choice at all. Being an expat comes with many benefits and some amazing experiences, but as soon as you make the decision to move abroad you battle with all sorts of emotions, and the underlying one for me has been guilt.

I feel guilt every single day as a result of choosing to live abroad. I often wonder if I would still feel this same level of guilt if I wasn't an only child, but I think I probably would. It impacts all decisions I make, it makes me second guess everything and always leaves me with a slightly unsettled feeling, split between two homes, two types of existence. No matter how much I visit home or speak to people at home, it never feels like enough. But with a busy life to lead in my own little expat world, it's impossible to be two people and give my all to both lives.

When you talk about expat guilt, everybody around you will tell you not to feel guilty and that it's an amazing opportunity, but as an expat living in it, it's impossible to turn off those feelings of guilt. They are there and all you can do it manage them and not let them take over.

While I'm by no means an expert at dealing with the guilt I feel about being an expat and I'm very much still working through it, I do have some ways to manage it.

  Make the Most of Time 
As an expat you only get to spend a short time with your loved ones back home so make the most of that time. Fill that time with wonderful things and make memories. If you truly make the most of the time you do spend at home it makes living with the guilt easier. If you know you've made the most of that time, when those guilt feelings  come creeping up, it's easier to quieten them with memories of your last trip home and plans for your next trip.

It's possible to make those moments you are home count more than it would if you were living nearby, caught up in the daily treadmill of life.

  Live Your Happy Life
The reason most people choose to be an expat is for a better life, more opportunities and happiness. If you were going to be unhappy then the sacrifice just isn't worth it. In order to make the guilt bearable you have to live your happiest life as an expat. Throw yourself into it and give it your all, make this expat life fulfil all of your hopes and dreams. If you're truly happy living as an expat then the guilt that you life with is worth it, it means all of those guilty feelings are for a reason.

If you're not happy though, it's probably time to question whether expat life, or the particular expat life you're living is the right one for you. Are the sacrifices worth it if your expat life isn't giving you happiness?

  Don't Take on All of the Responsibility 
You made the decision to move abroad so it's easy to feel like everything rests on your shoulders. Partly it does, I'm aware every day that my decision to move abroad was never in my mam's plan. In making the decision to move abroad it turned her life upside down and I always feel like I should do more, but in reality I have a life here. A busy life that has all of the things in it that exists in a life in the UK and it's hard to balance the two. You can't be two people and you can't split yourself evenly between two opposite ends of the world; sometimes you have to give more to your present, and if you don't, how can you ever live your happy life?

You may have made the decision to move abroad, but that doesn't mean that all of the responsibility is yours. Of course, it's expected that you go home and visit, but you're only a plane journey away there's nothing to stop your friends and family from visiting you and seeing your new life in action. We always want to see our family more and always feel like we should go home but sometimes you can't, and that is ok. It has to be because if you're making decision based on guilt 100% of the time, are you even living your life at all?

 Accept It
You made the decision to life an expat life and guilt is part of it. To an extent I think guilt is part of life in general. Everybody with a single bit of empathy and a good heart feels guilt over something in life, regardless of where you live. For me personally, I often overthink things and create situations I should feel guilty about that don't even exist. And sometimes those reasons for guilt are very much there but I can't change them, so all I can do is bury them.

I recently stumbled across the quote 'guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.'It's so true! If you let it guilt can completely destroy you. There is no point in living an expat life that could be amazing if you are going to allow guilt to stop you truly living it. With all of the things I mentioned above, guilt still consumes me every day. The longer I have stayed abroad, the more my feelings of guilt have grown into this monster with the potential to consume me and all I can do is manage them.

I don't think there are any magical ways to keep the guilt at bay, you just have to make the decision about whether your expat life is worth the feeling of guilt that it brings. You can't live your life for somebody else, but if your guilt is consuming you so much that it is stopping you from throwing yourself into your life or you know will have regrets that will outweigh the life you've created, then perhaps its not worth it? Each situation and each person is different and as much as I wish there was a magic potion to deal with these feelings, there's not.

If anybody has any tips of dealing with expat guilt I'd love to hear them. How do you manage those feelings of guilt? 


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