Monday, 8 November 2010

What if you don’t feel at home?

Maybe you used to feel at home, but you don’t anymore.
This is a big problem for people who migrate from one country to another. For me, it was very difficult leaving my home in Ireland when I was 11, and finding my way in a boy’s boarding school in England. It is much worse for people who are forced to leave their homeland and travel many thousands of miles, to escape from poverty or political danger. 
Here's how someone moving suddenly from Vietnam to Australia describes the shock of the change in her life. She sees Melbourne as a cold place with empty streets, and wonders how she can possibly start a new life in this strange country:
‘Oh, my first impression was that it was so cold…It was…cold.  From Malaysia where it was hot, we had on only light clothing.  So it was terribly… cold… It was on a Saturday that we arrived; there was no one in the city. … I thought how come there were no people in this country?  The streets were deserted.  I thought now I was in another country, and I did not know English, I did not know how I would start a new life.  That was my continuing worry.’
[You can read more about this person and people like her, on DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01228.x ]
What to do?                                                                    
We are told that immigrants should adapt to the ways of their new homeland as quickly as possible. That’s what I did at boarding school. I lost my Dublin accent and became as English as everyone around me. But that meant losing touch with my past self, my past friends. It was alienating. 
If it is possible, it makes much more sense to keep in touch with home, to live with people from your own background, speak your own language, eat the food you're used to, do the things you're used to doing. Once you feel safe and comfortable, then look around and see what new opportunities there may be for you in your new country, your new home.

Or maybe you’ve never felt at home - anywhere, anytime. Maybe your life has been so difficult, so troubled, that you’ve never felt safe. Maybe people who were supposed to care for you failed to do so, leaving you exposed to danger and abuse. Or maybe it was the people who were supposed to care for you who were cruel, or abused you. 
This is very tough, very damaging. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to deal with.
Sometimes the only place you can feel safe is inside your head. Sometimes you need to create an inner world where nobody can get at you, where pain doesn’t register, where you can escape from the turmoil outside.   
This can be fine. We all need a refuge, and if inside your head is the only one you’ve got just now then use it, and enjoy it.
Problems arise, though, if your inner world becomes a prison cell - if you find you can’t escape from it even when you want to, even when the danger has passed. If that’s happening to you, you’ll probably need some expert help to find a way out.
As there was a way in, there is always a way out.


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  2. I have never or very rarely felt at home. As a child and as a adult I have always used daydreaming as a way of escaping. This can be both healing and self destructive. I wonder if or what it would take to feel at home?

  3. Is it the lost of our tribe? that we feel so alone in a strange land . All the familiar things that remind us of home have vanished. What does our soul need ? Like you say we need to feel the comforts of our tribal roots.
    The food, smells, language, religion, etc These things give us nourishment that enables us to cope better . When these thngs are absent our soul starts to shrivel like a slow starvation . We need HOME and all the things that we associate with it .
    Funny many of my family and friends have emigrated to various parts of the world and yet all of them seem to yearn for Liverpool. My sister says when she touches down in Liverpool and hears the scouse taxi drivers voice she is home .

  4. this has helped me very much knowing there are others out there who feel the same, especially the part about making a home in your head. good advice. thank you x