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  • Writer's pictureAnabelle Soto-Taveras

Feeling the Loss of the Motherland

Consider the metaphor of the motherland. The place where you were born and had many of your first experiences. And think of yourself as a child, loving that motherland.


If children’s relationships with their mothers shape the development of the ego and define how the adult relates to the outer world, how will separation from the motherland shape our lives?  Our place of birth can symbolize the mother by assuming the same roles as the ones the mother had when caring for her infant.


The mother represents the most basic form of connection, which gives us a sense of belonging. Just as we become dependent on that woman who feeds us or lulls us to sleep, we can become dependent on the country and culture that we have accepted as our own. We even create part of our sense of identity based on our relationship to the motherland. 


Therefore, it is only logical to feel an attachment to that place and to experience immigration as a form of trauma, even when we choose it and even when we feel we are happy and in a better place. Losing the homeland can feel like an infant losing the protection of the mother. If, added to that, the individual has, in fact, experienced a difficult separation from the mother during infancy, the more intense their feeling of trauma will be during the immigration process. 


If the experience is traumatic, there can be some regression, in the form of trying to  dissociate themselves from their new culture and compensating by exalting and adoring certain aspects of the old culture. These people tend to idealize some aspects of their home country, like the food or dress. Food is especially symbolic as it represents the link of the child and the mother;  in this case, the immigrant and the homeland. 


Most of us would think immigration is only traumatic when the person is forcefully removed from their homeland or as a result of a devastating event (such as a loss), but that is not necessarily the case. I don't wish to diminish the experience of immigrants who've traveled across borders to escape violence or are in desperate need of new opportunities. Instead, I aim to clarify that their experience is a different type of trauma related to immigration, but for most, if not all, leaving the homeland is always traumatic. Therefore, in this post, I want to focus on less evident forms of trauma resulting from this process. It is important that both those of us who are immigrants and other Americans whose families have been in this country for generations understand the pain and scars resulting from this process. For the immigrant, being aware of the pain is a necessary part of processing it and learning ways to cope with it. For those who don't consider themselves immigrants, it is important to develop an understanding and empathy for the psychological cost of this process, which is, for the vast majority, part of their heritage. Lastly, it is important for therapists to consider when we treat immigrants to serve our clients best. 

Resources:

Mitchell, S. A., & Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond: A history of modern psychoanalytic  thought. 

Fromm, Erich (1991). The sane society.  

Grinberg, L., & Grinberg, R. (1989). Psychoanalytic perspectives on migration and exile. (N.  Festinger, Trans.). Yale University Press.

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