Last time I wrote about the sense of loss we often feel as expats when our friends move on. But what about when it's your turn to leave? I've had countless sessions with my clients in which they have shared with me feelings of uncertainty, fear and, most surprisingly, failure, when trying to decide whether to stay or go.
When we decide to leave our home country to pursue a life in a different place we're often met with a myriad of different reactions from the people we're leaving. Some think we're crazy, some accept the decision but say they'll miss us terribly, maybe some are jealous. If and when we finally decide to go, this new life is already loaded with expectations, there are already criteria for success or failure. Coupled with the difficulties of adapting to a new culture and the loneliness of being away from everyone and everything, this can provoke a potent cocktail of emotions.
Of course, in an ideal world, after the initial shock you start to find your feet, make friends, adapt and prove to everyone at home that you were right and they were wrong. But what happens if you just don't like it? Do you stay? How long is long enough? Do you go somewhere else? Where? How do you face the people who, in your worst going-home-fantasies say "I told you so."?
Unfortunately therapists don't have the answer to these dilemmas. We can help organize the information, we can help work through the pros and cons, we can think through possible future scenarios together, we can help our clients to express and understand the emotions connected with the decision but ultimately we can't make the decision any easier.
Hopefully what we can do is try to introduce a more compassionate voice into the rich mix of fantasy voices that we all have within us. Because success and failure are in the eye of the beholder. Often in the conversations that I have with my clients we find that they are setting standards for themselves based on values that they don't even hold. Sometimes when we invite someone into the therapeutic space to give us more information about what other people are really thinking they are astounded to find that actually they are pretty universally admired for their sense of adventure and bravery!
So if you think it might be time to go, try to be gentle with yourself. Try to connect with your own values. Use your emotions, the pleasant ones and the ones that are more uncomfortable, to give you the information that you need. Talk to people that you trust. When it's time to decide it probably will difficult but when we decide to be compassionate with ourselves, not only do we tend to suffer less, we also open the door to the creativity that can generate new exciting alternatives.