A psychological approach to migration

Emigration implies a fracture, a detachment. Emigrating also means abandoning, leaving, leaving a protective covering, the homeland, and going elsewhere. The elsewhere is a place far from the sounds, smells, sensations that constitute the first traces on which a psychic functioning code has been established. It means finding yourself halfway between two cultures, "snatching one's roots from the land of origin, looking for a way to transplant into the new land, with the need not to give up on oneself, one's identity" (Mazzetti, 1996).

He takes charge of us. Its goal is to heal us, not to change us, because the comfort that soothes the wounds triggers the change, and you feel this comfort simply by being accepted without judgments and without reproaches. "Sweet refuge of the soul", says the prayer. The total absence of pre-established roles to be interpreted slowly leads to rehabilitation.

Marcela serrano
Taken from The hotel of sad women, p. 73.
(Italian edition 1999. Feltrinelli Editore, Milan)

We approach that risk that De Martino (1958) calls the "crisis of presence", understood as the loss of a "being in history", which forms culturally constructed in acting have the function of objectifying. We refer to the ethnopsychiatry studies of Nathan and Devereux, who attribute particular importance to the cultural envelope that protects and supports each individual: their reflections have turned to the intrapsychic experience of those who live "suspended between two worlds" (Nathan, 1990 , p. 57), in a transcultural condition. Similar is the feeling of loss of the migrant described by Achotegui (2002), which will be discussed later in relation to the "Ulysses Syndrome". It is not uncommon to feel a sense of unease in the face of the unknown. A new and unusual situation often creates uncertainty and bewilderment and requires a more or less prolonged adaptation time. The migrant who arrives in a foreign land experiences this when he comes into contact with the host society. It can perceive the environment as hostile, intolerant, sometimes only indifferent; he is deprived of his cultural identity and entangled in a reality that he often struggles to understand. A feeling of extreme solitude recurs that he feels as far from family and friends, uprooted from every tradition and projected into a world foreign to him.

The reasons for the departure, the concept of migration itself, the culture of origin, are all elements that can, at least in part, define, even before reaching the foreign country, the character and outcome of the migration project. The impact with a distant and inhospitable society destroys the expectations and hopes of the migrant, who will therefore tend to experience a deep inner discomfort, preferably expressed through the body, which can result in a mental disorder or culminate with the return to home. In the impact with the new culture, the immigrant needs a moment of adjustment and reflection, which gives him the opportunity to know the context and adapt.

    Winnicott, in his Game and Reality (1971), considers cultural heritage as an extension of the "potential space" between the individual and his environment. The use of this space is subordinated to the formation of a space between two: between the ego and the non-ego, between the inside (belonging group) and the outside (receiving group), between past and future. Emigration therefore needs a potential space that serves as a place of transition and transition time, between the "mother country-object" and the new external world. If the creation of such a space does not take place, there is a break in the relationship of continuity between the surrounding environment and the Self. The "transitional object" is experienced as something that is not subjectively created and controlled and not even separated and found, but which somehow is in the middle. The status of the transitional object is by definition ambiguous and paradoxical (see Mitchell, Black, 1996, p. 154). The break that is generated can be compared to the prolonged absences of the object desired by the child, which lead to the loss of symbolization skills and the need to resort to more primitive defenses. The mother creates what Winnicott calls the holding environment, a physical and psychic space in which the child is protected without knowing he is, so that this forgetfulness constitutes the basis from which the subsequent experience can spontaneously start (cf. ibid, p. 153). Even an emigrant, with the loss of reassuring objects, undergoes a decrease in his creative abilities, the recovery of which will depend on the possibility of processing the state of deprivation and the ability to overcome it.

    Emigration is one of the circumstances of life that most expose the person to forms of disorganization. If the individual has sufficient processing skills, he will be able to overcome the crisis and take it as a "rebirth", a process that will increase his creative potential (cf. Grinberg, Grinberg, 1984, p. 29). Several authors consider migration as a risk: on the one hand, for the economic and social condition in which it places individuals and migrant groups; on the other, for undermining the identity integrity of the subject through a cultural shock (cf. Lai, 1988, p. 45). Today the demand for psychological consultation by immigrants is becoming more frequent, showing a set of joint problems: of communication, of learning a different language / culture distant from their own, of doubts regarding their stay in the country, of difficulty of insertion and acceptance of differences. Psychological assistance to these subjects is certainly a difficult undertaking and requires multiple training due to the complex complexity of the problems present. The clinical relationship does not present itself as a simple contact between two singles, but it encloses a bridge between two worlds, each of which reproduces their knowledge, beliefs and expectations. According to Cesari Lusso:

understanding the psychological experience of migrants does not require ad hoc psychology, but can be based on knowledge that refers to the development of the human being, and which highlights: the role of interactions with the family environment, the structuring character of interactions social, the links between affective, cognitive and social functioning, the dynamics of interpersonal and intergroup relationships, the mechanisms of self-construction and identity, the role of social insertions, etc. (Cesari Lusso, 1997, p. 44).

The immigrant refers to categories of social inclusion and exclusion, such as those of "citizen" and "foreigner" (internal to society as a participant in economic development, but external as a non-citizen). Being inside means feeling part of a group, in which we reflect, feel accepted and loved. Membership is thus transformed into defense against the common enemy, and is united in the idealization of an "entity" commonly recognized as superior and to whom to offer one's shared dependence (in this case the Homeland, religion, associations, etc. ). The inside, therefore, is conceivable only if an outside is configured, understood as estrangement symbolized as an "enemy". Everything that is outside is conceived as different, other, foreign, threatening. There is a twofold attitude towards "the other", ranging from attraction, desire for exploration and knowledge, to destructive anger, envy, challenge (see Carli, Paniccia, 2002, pp. 63-64). This ambivalence is present both on a sociological and cultural and psychological level.

From the testimonies, it emerges that - even when the departure from one's country is a free choice - there are at the same time feelings of fear and guilt for having abandoned one's homeland, one's family. Migration therefore manifests itself as a critical-generative element: both of a series of potential advantages (such as access to a new opportunity for life and horizons) and of a set of difficulties and tensions.


migrants, ethnopsychology

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