Loneliness, Homesickness and Isolation

Moving abroad may not solve your life’s issues, you may just relocate them. These issues may manifest themselves in different ways. Loneliness, homesickness and isolation are all too familiar to the expat. Although there is considerable overlap, they are discretely different.

Loneliness goes back to early childhood attachment, when we learn which part is our self and which is our parent. If we fail to develop an inner core, we experience loneliness as if we have a hole in our soul. Loneliness can also be felt very deeply when we grieve an aspect of our lives. Transition involves loss, loss engenders grief, and unresolved losses will complicate grief. We may experience loneliness deeply, especially when we are grieving an aspect of our lives. Expats are very vulnerable to loneliness, and the failure to develop our inner selves, or unresolved losses can make the isolation more acute.

Homesickness resembles loneliness except there is a longing ache for the familiar and an obsessive preoccupation with thoughts of home. Those who suffer from the condition feel some form of anxiety, sadness and nervousness. Homesickness comes in waves and stems from our need for love, protection and security. It can be normal and adaptive to feel homesick for some period of time because we miss routines and well-known social spaces. Symptoms are usually not long lasting, but each individual is affected differently. If symptoms do not remit, there may depression or frequent mood swings, tasks can be overwhelming, it’s time to ask for help.

While isolation can be a response to loneliness or homesickness, it’s more often self imposed. For example, expats may gravitate to refuges from culture shock in modern cities. These ‘safe harbors’ often keep expats apart from their host cities by allowing them to transplant their home cultures. Further giving the illusion of home away from home, entire apartment buildings are geared toward expats. Staying in their native culture further isolates because expat communities tend to be very small and insular, creating a vicious cycle.