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Immigrating to Canada: a Multi-Generation Major Life Transition

May 2nd, 2016 · No Comments · immigrating to canada

The experience of my psychotherapy clients clearly shows that immigrating to Canada, or, really, anywhere, is a very major life transition.

immigrating to canada

Also, there are frequently equally profound life transitions that figure prominently in the lives of the children of immigrants.  Immigrating to Canada can have a very sizable psychological impact on those who immigrate, their children, and even their children’s children.

Immigration as a Stressor

Like very many Canadians, I’m the child of immigrants.  My parents experienced the process of immigration to Canada as one of the most stressful events in their lives — and they were immigrating to Canada from the United Kingdom, one of the more culturally similar of places.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, yet the immigration process is full of enormous stressors.  It begins with the process of saying good bye and letting go of so much of one’s life in the country of origin.  Such a loss must be grieved, and sometimes leads to depression.

Often immigrants make hard decisions about what to leave behind.  Many possessions cannot make the trip.  Even more difficult is the experience of leaving people and places associated with important memories behind.

immigrating to canada

Security

Depth psychotherapists know that feeling safe is a primary psychological need  It’s a primary issues for those immigrating to Canada.  Safety takes a number of forms.

First there is the basic question of physical safety.  Many immigrants in times past, and at present, have had to struggle on arrival to get and keep the basic necessities of life — appropriate housing, for instance.

Also, for some, there is the very real question of feeling a sense of psychological safety.  In some cases, immigrants may come from war zones, or from other situations that have left them with truly traumatic experiences.

Then, there is the broader question of economic safety over the long term.  The ability to find suitable and sufficiently lucrative work to ensure a reasonably secure future.  Stress about money, and the sense of having less than is the norm in Canadian culture may lead to a pervasive, and difficult to escape, sense of deprivation.

Belonging

Beyond mere safety, the immigrant faces the huge question of belonging and fitting in.

Acculturation is the term used for the psychological change that results following the individual’s introduction into a new culture.  It refers to the very demanding, and very individual process of the individual coming to terms with the culture that they find themselves immersed in, and includes the degree to which the individual adapts to the new culture and/or retains certain valuable aspects of their original culture.  This is connected with psychologically vital issues such as food, language and culture.  Sorting all of this out is an extremely demanding and potentially stressful experience.

Connected with acculturation, regrettably those immigrating to Canada may face discrimination. Prof. P. Nangia has studied and documented extensive discrimination faced by landed immigrants in Canada in the media, the workplace, stores, banks, at the border and many other places.  The struggle to overcome these attitudes may have a profound effect on  immigrants — and an even profounder effect on their children.

The experience of the children of those immigrating to Canada around belonging will vary greatly, and will have a huge connection to the experience in their particular family, the specifics of the social setting in which they find themselves, and their particular individual characteristics.

The depth psychotherapist is aware that, for these children of immigrants, born at the interface between two cultures, there are archetypal issues that are equally deep, and quite possibly deeper, in some ways, than those experienced by their parents.  In particular, the second generation immigrant may confront in profound ways the question “Where is home?” and also the nature of the individual’s life journey, finding his or her unique way between two different worlds.

The process of depth psychotherapy may well shed essential light on this precious individual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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