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A loss of identity and a crash of confidence can feel confronting, challenging and weird (especially when living overseas!). But it is possible to overcome it and get back to you.
When I moved to Singapore from Melbourne in 2022, this was not my first rodeo at what they call becoming a “Trailing Spouse”. In 2007, my then boyfriend (now husband!) took a promotion within our company and we moved to the USA for 2 years, our first experience with the expat life.
The experience was all parts incredible AND super challenging for me.
At the time we were young and free! Dual income with zero responsibilities (remember that?!)- no kids, pets or mortgage! We both worked hard and played hard. We travelled EVERYWHERE, said yes to opportunities, and totally lived it up the experience.
But not long after moving cracks began to appear in my mindset and mental health. Trailing spouse depression and identity loss is absolutely a thing, that I had no idea about. It wasn't in the brochure!
As a fiercely independent woman of 30 I had NEVER before “given up my life” and put my own aspirations (and needs!) on hold for someone else … who at that time hadn’t even “put a ring on it” yet, as Queen B would say.
I had all the negative feelings, while watching my partner THRIVE in his work and his personal friendships. As you can imagine, this caused a massive strain in our relationship.
I had lost my sense of identity, my value and self-worth.
I realise now I had put all my happiness eggs in his basket in the relationship, expecting him to be EVERYTHING for me 24/7. I wanted him to fix me! And make me happy! Of course, that pressure was too much.
Thankfully, this was a wake up call for me, a turning point where I decided I needed to work on me. I enrolled in University and went back to study, and I enlisted the help of my first NLP Coach and began the journey of understanding who I am, and what I wanted.
SIGNS YOU MIGHT BE EXPERIENCING IDENTITY LOSS:
Fast forward 13 years marriage, one child, becoming a Mindset Coach myself and surviving a pandemic - we decide to move to Singapore last year for expat #2. Suffice to say this time I was more prepared.
I spent my first few months noticing common themes throughout conversation I was having with other expat women here in Singapore.
Pandemic burnout, overwhelm from moving to Asia without a support network, and anxiety arising from uncertainty and changes in working visas were recurring topics at every coffee meet up I joined.
I began hearing echoes of the SAME feelings that I used to have.
So many women who had moved for their partners career were suffering from an identity loss leaving them with too much time to think and worry about finances in the future.
Although very grateful to be in Singapore for the expat experience, frustrations were felt around being unable to work and the fact that they put their life and career on hold to support their other half.
This was the catalyst for me deciding to expand my Mindset Coaching business in Singapore. To be able to help these women who are feeling this sense of identity loss. To support those struggling with stress anxiety and ever growing “imposter syndrome” that come with big life changes.
New Life Phase
A loss of identity can happen at any time it does not relate to age or gender. Experts reveal that it can be triggered when a person enters a new life phase that makes them question their basic understanding of self. Major events such as changing careers, becoming apparent, ending a long-term relationship or moving to a new place can be a catalyst for those uncomfortable feelings where you just feel a bit, well, off.
Research shows that relocation is the third most stressful life event possible.
On top of this according to an InterNations survey, it's the partner of the expat with the job who tends to be more susceptible to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and who is negatively affected by the move. Typically, this is because they:
(Tick, tick, tick from my experience way back in 2007!)
In the beginning, the expat partner tends to focus on everyone else's happiness and getting the family settled as the priority. Once the transition is complete and all the tasks are done the questions begin to arise what do I do now? What is my purpose here? Where do I fit in? Who am I? Feelings of resentment, frustration, sadness, and hopelessness can set in.
How to Shift Your Mindset
The first step to navigate any big life change where you're feeling this sense of identity lost is begin to shift your mindset and try to see this journey, or new phase of your life, as an opportunity for personal growth, development and expansion.
Here are 6 key points to help you get started:
1. Choose Acceptance
Finding a place of acceptance for the circumstances you're in right now is key. Remembering that if your mind is too far in the past thinking about all the things that you don't have, you will continue to feel stuck. If your mind is too far in the future, you'll continue to feel anxious by the uncertainty. Both thought processes make it harder to find happiness and be in the present moment. Do note that acceptance doesn't necessarily mean that you have to surrender or like the situation, but having a willingness to accept your circumstances will release the resistance in the mind that creates undue stress.
2. Create Routine
Routine serves as an anchor. Predictable, repetitive routines are calming and help reduce stress and anxiety. Formulating a weekly schedule can help you feel more motivated, organised and productive. How you begin and end your day matters. Are you feeding your mind with positive information and thoughts when you wake up? Are you feeding your body with nourishing food of movement during the day? Are you getting enough sleep?
3. Embrace Exploration
Use this time to discover more about who you are:
Recognise that you're not alone in your feelings. It can feel daunting to build interpersonal relationships in a new country but connecting with others and sharing your emotions can be very healing.
5. Catch Self-Doubt
When negative or unhelpful thoughts creep into your mind, questioning your value or worth, practice catching the thought before it spirals. Understand that not every thought you think is factual, and feelings are not facts. The mind has a protection mechanism that wants to keep you safe. Instead of believing and listening to unkind self-doubt call it out by asking, “Where is the evidence to support this?” or “What is causing me to feel this way?”.
6. Reframe Your Language
The words we choose have a positive or negative effect on our mindset. If you believe it's hard and say to yourself “This is hard, I hate this, I don't want this” then it will no doubt be harder for you. Whereas if you use more empowering words such as “I can do this, I can overcome this challenge” the mind will be more open to change and all the possibilities.
This article was originally published ANZA (The Australia & New Zealand Association) Magazine Singapore, March 2023 edition (pg 34-35).
About the Author: Janel Briggs is a NLP and Timeline Therapy Practitioner on a mission to support women across Australia and Singapore in healing their professional anxieties, insecurities and imposter syndrome to build unwavering confidence and self-belief. The goal is to level up your life and career by learning how to to live fearless and anxiety free! Connect with Janel on social media via Linkedin or Instagram.