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Expat guilt, something we have to deal with

sensi di colpa

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It may be my Italian Catholic education but guilt is the first thing I packed when I made the decision to live abroad.

Initially it was just an annoying sensation, easy to ignore and hide behind the new and exiting events and experiences. But suddenly there it was, the inevitable and alarming question:

What kind of daughter abandons her parents and family?

Immediately followed by the relentless and excruciating pain of the answer:

An insensitive and selfish daughter.

But does the choice to live on the other side of the world really makes me a bad daughter?

My parents unwittingly played their part in encouraging the development of this damaging thought.

I guess it wasn’t their intention to make my life difficult, but from their cultural and generational point of view, the duty of a daughter is to be physically present in case of need.

Over the years there have been comments from friends from home, sporadic and without malice:

I would never go away, I have a responsibility, I could never…

Although they were not addressed to me specifically, they did push a button and went to feed the discomfort I felt, as my guilt grew.

Of course I was confident about the love and affection I felt for my parents and family. Nevertheless I spent years wondering if my behaviour mirrored my feelings or if leaving Italy could mean I was indifferent to what is really important.

Guilt feelings are insidious.

They shake our certainties, making us hesitant and vulnerable; they are resolute and do not give up easily, if we manage to drive them away they always find a way back; they do not discriminate and welcome everyone with open arms, thriving in insecurity and doubt.

I had to work very hard but I finally came to the conclusion that there are many ways I can show love, respect and gratitude towards my parents.

Living in the same country in not necessarily one of them.

Looking at the years I’ve spent abroad, it is apparent that been preset in the life of loved ones has always been important. It is this presence, even if at a distance that, I believe, nourishes relationships.

I passed down this important value to my daughters, who grew up speaking Italian so they can communicate with my family and friends, and have maintained an intimate and strong relationship with everyone, despite the distance.

This awareness helped me to change my attitude, allowing me to accept that living on the other side of the world does not make me a bad daughter.

I got rid of guilt once and for all and I am living a lighter and more fulfilled life.

I like to end this post with a quote from Richard Bach’s Illusions, a book I read as a teenager and has a special place in my heart, in my opinion is an excellent antidote against guilt:

“Can miles truly separate us from our friends… if you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there?”






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