The Psychology of Emigration


If you are considering emigration, you are on the verge of a major life event that is characterized by stress, the feeling of loss and major change. To be able to cope with this event you need social and psychological well-being, then you will be able to adapt and adjust successfully. It is therefore important to understand the social and psychological impact of migration to prepare you and in doing so prevent possible pitfalls and challenges.

“Leaving South Africa is definitely not the chicken run. It is, in fact, not for the fainthearted at all.”

– Anon, programme manager, Oakville, Canada

What are some of the reasons for emigrating and how does it impact on psychological well-being?

There are many reasons why one would choose to emigrate such as the economy, politics, crime and violence or simply for better career and education opportunities. Each individual, and or family has their own reasons for emigrating, which often influence their emotional well-being throughout the process of migration and their adjustment in the new country.

The decision-making process involved in emigration should be a comprehensive one in which all parties affected should be involved. The reasons for migration should be realistic and sufficient as these reasons form the motivating factors that drives the process and provides peace of mind regarding the decision to migrate.

The presence of psychological conditions such as Major Depressive disorder, Bipolar disorder, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress disorder as well as relationship difficulties could influence the decision to emigrate. The individual who has been diagnosed with any psychological condition should therefore ensure that the emotional, mood, physiological, thought and behaviour changes associated with the specific condition is not affecting their decision-making process.

If you do something for the wrong reasons or you only in part agree with the reasons it will cause inner conflict and when you are at war with yourself your psychological well-being will suffer. You need to explore your reasons from the beginning and make a sound decision.

What are the different phases of migration and what could be expected during each phase?

You have made the decision and you have good reasons that motivate you to get through this stressful time, but what can you expect next. There are different stages or phases in migration, Bhugra identified four stages of migration that individuals could progress through, and these are the premigration, initial stage, middle stage and final stage.

Similarly, Sluzki has also identified four phases of migration that individuals are likely to experience and provides an indication of what can be expected during each phase.

Preparatory phase

This phase includes preparing for emigrating and can cause a mixture of contradictory feelings such as excitement about this new adventure but sadness or guilt at the realization of family relationships that will change and leaving the country of birth.

The act of migration

This phase entails the physical act of migration as well as saying goodbye to close family members and friends and the emotions experienced during this time.

Period of overcompensation

In this phase the stressful aspects associated with migration is not yet allowed to surface individuals and families are attempting to survive and adapt to a new cultural context.

Period of decompensation or crisis

During this phase the impact of the migration and the new cultural context is experienced by families. The coping mechanisms of families are tested as they are confronted with the task of transforming their family identity to include different gender roles and cultural norms of their new country.

Look out for the next part of the article, where we will discuss:-

  • What is the psychological impact of emigration on the individual, couple, family and friends?
  • Emigration and the couple

Source by Ashley Weyers


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