Moving homes can be a difficult and scary experience, however, when this move involves moving to another country and becoming an immigrant in a new geographical location, this experience intensifies and can become more overwhelming and far reaching. The experience involves more than moving home. It includes leaving behind familiarity, history, culture, etc. – and entering a brand new environment that may have different cultural values and practices, social norms, and daily routines.
These changes may be difficult to process and can have an impact on the individuals who have emigrated (first generation immigrants) and their children born in the new location (second generation immigrants). The impact can take different forms, including a decreased self-esteem, lowered feelings of self-worth, and a lack of community. These impacts can lower the overall quality of life of the individual and the family as a whole.
Struggles Of First Generation Immigrants
Making the decision to move geographical location is usually a weighty decision and can oftentimes be influenced by traumatic circumstances. These circumstances may be something these individuals are trying to leave behind, such as war, poverty, high crime rates, etc.
The journey may be linked with a variety of emotions and experiences. These could range from excitement and hope, to fear and grief. One is leaving behind a home, familiar people and places, and a culture to move to a new place where there are many unknown variables. In fact, this type of move may be considered a traumatic or life-changing event depending on the context.
When the individual or family arrives in the new location, they need to establish themselves in a safe place. This may take a while as they get to know the new environment, learn new routines, and build a new social network. There can be challenges with this depending on language barriers, cultural differences, job security, etc. Once the individual or family has settled, there may still be feelings of loss or displacement. This can negatively impact their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. They may feel that they have had to shift and change as a person to acclimatize to the new environment.
Struggles Of Second Generation Immigrants
As a child of parents who have emigrated, you may also feel lowered self-esteem and self-worth along with a variety of challenges and negative experiences. These experiences may lead you to feel confused about your identity, where you belong, or who you are as an individual.
It is common for first generation immigrant parents to place a high value on education and economic stability, this often stems from a desire to have a better life for their children. However, this pressure may be overwhelming for their children and cause undue stress and anxiety as the children constantly try to meet these high expectations.
This may link to your parents not seeing you for who you are becoming, but rather holding you up to an ideal they have created. You may feel trapped in meeting this ideal and therefore you do not feel that you are authentic toward yourself. This can lower your self-esteem. You may decide to rebel and remain steadfast to your chosen beliefs. This may cause emotional rifts in the family, which may lead to anger and guilt for both parties.
As a second generation immigrant, you may find it difficult to know who you are because you may feel that you have lost your original culture and this may affect how you experience your world. You may feel that you do not have a connection with your parent’s culture, but also not be completely congruent with the ‘new’ culture. This can affect your identity formation and confidence in knowing what social group to whom you belong. This may also create a feeling of distance between you and your parents, as they have more connection with their original culture.
You may feel that there is also an emotional distance between your parents and yourself. This may stem from a young childhood. Often first generation immigrants work extremely hard to secure their place in the new location and improve the quality of life for their family. This may lead to their children not experiencing a lot of time with their parents in a manner that would build emotional security and ease. This can also lead to lowered levels of self-esteem and self-worth.
How Can Therapy Support First And Second Generation Immigrants?
Understanding the complexity of life for first and second generation immigrants is the first step in finding support. One of the things that can be supportive and beneficial for these individuals, and their families is therapy.
A therapeutic space can offer you many opportunities to help you process your experiences and build your self-esteem and self-worth. Many people choose to not seek out therapy because there is a view that they are weak and not able to cope with the relocation. This is inaccurate. Any life changing event can cause a ripple effect that can be supported by therapy.
Therapy offers a safe, non-judgemental space for an individual to explore and express whatever they may be feeling or thinking. Many first and second generation immigrants believe they need to be ‘strong’ or stoic to support their family. The problem with this is that these thoughts and feelings do not go away, they simply sit under the surface and are experienced in other ways. These feelings can develop into anxiety, depression, short tempers, low self-esteem, and a negative world view. When you have a space where you feel safe enough to express these thoughts and feelings you are able to work with them and lessen the effect that they have on your life.
Therapy could also offer a space to work through various traumatic events, whether it is something that happened in your original location, the emigration, events in the new location, or the experiences of a child of immigrant parents. Working through a traumatic experience can help lessen the heightened emotional response that may be activated through the day. This will also help reframe your world view into a more safe and positive one, instead of one that focuses on risk and danger.
Learning to improve your communication with your family surrounding these struggles and topics is often beneficial as it opens important conversations. These conversations can lead to improved understanding and familial relationships. Therapy can offer a space to learn these new communication strategies and plan how to have these conversations. Therapy can even help mediate some of these conversations in a group therapy setting.
Working on building your own self-concept and developing your identity with a healthy level of self-esteem and self-worth is a journey that can be held within a therapeutic space. A therapist can offer you strategies and the time to work on building yourself up to a person that you can appreciate and respect. This usually impacts your interactions with the world in a helpful manner.
If you are a first or second generation immigrant and some of the struggles mentioned above ring true for you, you may benefit from seeking out a therapeutic space and starting a healing journey with the help of a therapist. This is a brave step and it is an important investment in yourself. You are worth the investment.
If you would like to start this journey, reach out to us to book an appointment. We look forward to working with you.