Resilience in the expat population

Resilience is the ability to withstand and overcome difficult or even traumatic circumstances. For some of us, living abroad can be such a circumstance to various degrees. In this article we will explore some ways to face adversity with realism.

Everyone at some point goes through adverse circumstances: death of a loved one, separation or divorce, losing a job, conflict in relationships, bullying, abuse, cultural clashes, social exclusion, insufficient or unstable finances, illness or risky operations, natural disasters, etc.

What differentiates people who manage to overcome difficulties, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, from those, who drown and continue to suffer indefinitely? Resilient people are not extraordinary. They are normal people, who possess some common qualities, which allow them to “bounce off” from problems with a feeling of having learned something, having grown up, and having become stronger inside.

Some strategies that bring about resilience are:

– Seeking for support and love in those close to us. If we live abroad, we can communicate with friends and/or relatives residing locally, in our place of origin, or anywhere in the globe. In this age technology is on our side. The important thing is to stay connected with people, who support us, wherever they are. Another way to create a support network is to get involved with local communities.

– Staying optimistic and hopeful about the possibility of improving our own circumstances in the future, e.g. being confident in our ability to exert changes, influence circumstances, and persevere.

– Radically accepting external factors, which we cannot alter.

– Realistically planning gradual changes.

– Trying not to see difficulties as mountains that crush us but as challenges that allow us to explore our skills and personal potential.

– Self-care: devoting time to activities that provide satisfaction and personal well-being.

– Putting difficult circumstances into perspective and within the timeframe of our whole life, instead of viewing them through a magnifying glass or discounting concurrent favorable circumstances.

– Not losing self-esteem but keeping a dignified and courageous attitude.

– Letting ourselves be inspired by psychological resources, such as people we admire for their strength and ingenuity, or books or mental health professionals, who can guide us.

We can further reflect on this topic by asking ourselves which situations in our lives as expats have proved to be particularly difficult, what strategies helped and which strategies did not work, what we learned from these situations, what impact they have had on our lives and personal vision, and if we were able to activate internal or external resources (support or guidance from other people).

Life as an expat can be a road with countless blocks. We can aim to learn and enjoy from travelling this road and to deal with hardship with as much serenity and wisdom as possible. A useful stance in this regard can be that obstacles are opportunities to grow and mature and not necessarily a curse.

Dr. Désirée Gonzalo