In the previous blog post about homesickness, we began an exploration of homesickness from a psychoanalytic perspective, delving into its roots and various coping strategies. This emotional turbulence experienced when uprooted from familiar settings, thrust into the unknown, manifests in symptoms like a deep longing for home, depression, anxiety, and even physical ailments. In this second part, we’ll deepen our understanding of homesickness, focusing on psychoanalytic concepts such as defense mechanisms, the role of the unconscious, and the therapeutic process of ‘working through’ homesickness.
Understanding Defense Mechanisms
One of the fascinating concepts in psychoanalytic theory is defense mechanisms. These unconscious strategies protect our ego from psychological distress. They are our mind’s way of maintaining our emotional equilibrium when faced with anxiety-inducing thoughts or feelings.
Regression is a type of defense mechanism where one reverts to an earlier stage of development when faced with stress or anxiety. Homesickness, when viewed through this lens, can be seen as a form of regression. For instance, when confronted with the pressures of adapting to Dutch culture, language, and unfamiliar social norms, you may find yourself instinctively longing for the familiar environment of home. This longing could be an unconscious yearning to return to a time when life was simpler and safer, a past stage of development where the present anxieties did not exist.
Recognizing this unconscious regression can help you better understand the deeper psychological processes underpinning your homesickness. Moreover, it provides you with insight to develop healthier ways to cope with the difficulties of adjustment and the associated feelings.
The Unconscious Mind and Homesickness
Psychoanalysis, famously proposed by Sigmund Freud, posits that our conscious mind is just the tip of an iceberg. Beneath it lies a vast, largely inaccessible unconscious mind, which holds our repressed memories, desires, and conflicts. This unconscious mind can influence our feelings and behavior in ways we might not fully understand.
In the context of homesickness, the unconscious mind can manifest as an idealization of home. This idealization involves selectively filtering memories of home to focus on the positives and downplay the negatives. It is a mental process that tends to romanticize the past and overlook the everyday frustrations and difficulties that were also part of life back home.
For instance, you may find yourself reminiscing about the comfort foods from your homeland, the familiar faces of your loved ones, or the cherished traditions you left behind. All the while, your unconscious mind might be conveniently forgetting about the traffic jams, the political problems, or any other issues that were part of life back home. Recognizing this unconscious bias can help you cultivate a more balanced view of home and your new environment, thereby easing feelings of homesickness.
Working Through Homesickness
‘Working through’ is a concept that encourages individuals to revisit, examine, and gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and conflicts to achieve emotional growth. This process can be a powerful approach to dealing with homesickness.
Working through homesickness may involve recognizing and exploring your feelings of longing. It might involve understanding any defense mechanisms at play, like regression, and understanding your unconscious biases about home. This process, while challenging, can lead to a greater understanding of yourself, your emotional responses, and ways to manage your homesickness more effectively.
This approach may allow you to transform your feelings of homesickness from a source of distress into a tool for self-discovery and personal growth. Moreover, working through homesickness can help you acknowledge and address your idealizations about home and the Netherlands. This process can allow you to form a more realistic view of both places, appreciating their strengths and accepting their imperfections.
Therapy and Homesickness
Therapy provides a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore their feelings and understand their unconscious processes. If you’re an expat struggling with intense feelings of homesickness, engaging in therapy can be highly beneficial.
It can help you explore the root causes of your feelings, identify any defense mechanisms you might be using, and understand your unconscious biases. Moreover, the therapy can provide you with the tools to manage your feelings of homesickness more effectively, and help you make sense of your expat experience in a deeper, more profound way.
It’s important to note that seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness, but rather a step towards self-care and emotional well-being. In fact, it’s a decision that requires a great deal of courage, and it’s a decision that can make a world of difference in your expat journey.
In conclusion, homesickness, as painful as it may feel, is a normal part of the expat experience. It’s a testament to the bonds you’ve formed with your home country and the people you’ve left behind. However, understanding homesickness from a psychoanalytic perspective can provide you with powerful tools to manage it.
By recognizing the role of defense mechanisms, understanding the influence of the unconscious, and working through your feelings, you can navigate homesickness in a healthier and more informed way. And remember, it’s okay to seek professional help. In fact, it’s more than okay — it’s a step towards self-understanding, growth, and ultimately, a more fulfilling expat experience.
As you embark on this journey of self-discovery, you might find that in longing for home, you’re also finding a new one. And that, despite the challenges and difficulties, is a journey well worth taking.
Brenner, C. (1987). Working through: 1914–1984. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56, 88–108.
Freud, A. The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. New York, NY: Routledge; 1936/2018.
Leduc-Cummings, I., Starrs, C. J., & Perry, J. C. (2020). Idealization. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 2129–2132.