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The Importance of Emotional Refueling for Expatriates, Immigrants and
Anyone Who has Moved Away From Home.
Missing home is common to us all and the more we know about what we miss and what emotional needs we need to “refuel” can help us adapt more easily to our new surroundings and better navigate the times when we can’t go home.
The concept of “Emotional Refueling” comes from Developmental Psychology and refers to the toddler who, as she masters the art of walking, makes frequent returns to her parent to “refuel” her sense of safety and her need for reassurance. The toddler yearns both for independence and closeness to her parents. The emotional refueling, provided by returning to the familiar and nurturing caregiver, provides the safety and stability she needs to explore farther away from her parents. She can thus develop her self-esteem built on the delight she experiences when her autonomous functioning increases while maintaining a strong bond with her parents.
The need for Emotional Refueling is equally important in adults who have moved away from home. It plays an important role in the adjustment to one's new surroundings. In fact, adults fare better living and adjusting to a new home (a new country, a new city, etc.) if they can “replenish” their emotional tank by tending to their connections with their homeland.
Emotional Refueling is both unique and universal: for instance, a French person will miss specific cultural aspects of growing up in France which will differ from a Hungarian person. From a universal standpoint, we all tend to build attachment to our past, to the people we knew, to the surroundings that had an impact on the development of our identity. Consequently, the ways we choose to “emotionally refuel” will also be unique and universal.
For those who are fortunate enough to be able to go back to their home country for regular visits, the needs for emotional refueling are more easily met. Being from France, when I return for a visit, I enjoy eating my favorite foods, smelling the amazing aromas in the Boulangerie, hearing my favorite French songs on the radio etc.
If it is not possible to return to the home country because of financial hardships, confinement during a pandemic, closing of borders due to safety issues etc, it is useful to assess what we miss from home in order to increase our awareness of what may cause nostalgia and feelings of disconnect. Only then can we truly attend to our emotional needs.
For many of us, what we miss most from our home country is obvious: Family members, friends, foods, traditions and rituals etc. But there may be other needs that are deeply anchored in ourselves, outside of awareness, and that may negatively affect our well-being if they are left unattended. The following self-evaluation, using a concrete step-by-step approach based on our 5 senses, can help increase our understanding of these “less conscious” needs.
Self-Assessment Guide: For each of our 5 senses, ask yourself what exists in your home country that is missing or different in your new living environment.
Sight: What do you enjoy seeing and watching when you are back home?
Examples: the unique architecture of buildings; the materials that houses and roofs are made of; favorite T.V shows, etc.
Sound: What were the familiar sounds of your childhood/adolescence?
Smell: What were your favorite smells?
Examples: specific perfumes associated to specific people; the smells of certain foods, the smells of Roman and Gothic churches (in France) etc.
Taste: What foods or drinks are unique to your country of origin?
Examples: certain ice-creams flavors; cheeses; chocolates, etc.
Touch: Are there textures and tactile sensations that meant a lot to you when you were growing up?
Examples: expression of physical affection between family members or friends (kissing on the cheek for French people) etc.
As you self-evaluate, long-forgotten memories may resurface and increase your awareness of what you miss from home. But this self-evaluation is not meant to make you feel nostalgic, sad and lonely. Your new awareness can help you take steps to provide for yourself what you don’t have access to in your new environment and that you deeply miss.
For instance, you may introduce certain rituals from your home country to your new friends and neighbors. “Meeting for an Apéritif” in France is a well-loved tradition and can be enjoyed where ever you live. Learning to cook the very meals that a favorite family member used to prepare may keep the memory of both the meal and the person alive. The Internet is likely to provide documentaries about your home country and may satisfy your need for visual bonds to your home country. YouTube can allow you to find songs from your past. Meeting other expatriates from your home country may help create a sense of community.
We certainly can’t recreate everything from our childhood and a return to our home country provides much that is unique and can only happen when our feet are on the home soil. But the privilege of being an adult whose awareness is keen, is to nurture our emotional needs and our bonds to others, be they close or far away, and honor our roots from the past so we can plant our feet firmly on our patch of land, wherever we are, and experience a feeling of connection.