By Dhyan Summers, MA, Licensed Psychotherapist
Erik Erikson, one of the foremost developmental psychologists of all time, outlined The Eight Stages of Human Development (Erikson 1950). In this seminal work he states that every human being passes through 8 stages of psychological development from birth to death. It is not the scope of this article to go into all the stages, but as an expat, and as a psychotherapist working with expats, I am continually reminded of the 6th stage, Isolation vs. Intimacy, which generally occurs between the ages of 19 to 40. The stage immediately preceding this is the adolescent stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion. Once one’s identity has come into clearer focus, he or she is ready to move on to the task of establishing important relationships such as spouse, children, colleagues and close friends.
Up to this point, we expats are just like everyone else. We establish careers, become co-workers, may marry, have children, and choose good friends. But if we choose to live life as an expat, this is where we depart from the norm; as expats we are continually re-visiting the 6th stage of isolation vs. intimacy. Our spouses (usually) and children may be a constant, but our close friends and colleagues are constantly changing. We must learn how to handle this flux without isolating ourselves, which sometimes seems like the line of least resistance and the safest bet.
At a time when social isolation has been described as a modern-day plague, the task of connecting with others can be quite daunting. A recent study by Duke University scientists (2005, USA) found that 25% of all Americans report having no meaningful social support at all. This was up from 10% when research was gathered 20 years earlier. And these were Americans who lived in America! One can speculate on the reasons for this such as working longer hours and computer-generated pastimes, but whatever the reasons, isolation is a huge problem. We know that social isolation results in increased incidents of depression and vulnerability to addictions as well as many other physical and...
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