The wounds of exile
Emigration, exile, immigration, uprooting are familiar words for some of you. Those words are not new in human history. For millennia, humans have moved, travelled, built their families, sometimes quite far from their place of birth.
For instance, I was born from a Belgian father and a Portuguese mother, and I live in England with a French man. My brother's wife is Slovakian, my son's wife is from Brazil and my eldest daughter has a son with a Lebanese man whose roots are Armenian.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to lead kinesiology and family constellations workshops in Lanzarote. This island belongs to the Canaries archipelago and is 100km from Agadir on the coast of Morocco.
During my stays I was impressed by the diversity of origins found among the inhabitants of this tiny island. There were people form all over the world, some of which were clandestine refugees who fled Morocco on small fishing boats.
Fleeing to survive.
Those refugees had fled their country for reasons that were so important that they felt death was on the other side of the scales. Try and imagine the emotional impact of such a decision.
For most people, the country, the region, the town or the village represent protection and security. Therefore one needs very good reasons to leave a place where we were born, where we grew up, where we loved and where we had company.
Positive reasons that can lead us to leave are connected to curiosity and the desire to discover the world.
But many people in the world have to leave their home because they cannot live there anymore. Nature has become hostile, war has destroyed everything or tyranny has eaten away freedoms. Life has become too difficult and the only solution for some people is to leave.
“To leave is to die a little”
When we have to leave our family, our country to go into the unknown, where another language is spoken, where other cults are celebrated, where other food are eaten, the heart is torn apart.
Our country can be assimilated to a mother, or a father, depending on the culture. In some countries like France, one talks about the Motherland, la “Mère Patrie”. Patrie comes form the latin patria, patrie and pater which means father.
How surprising that in french, the word “mother” (mère) comes before “patrie”, therefore symbolizing the couple. Citizens are like the children of the “Mère Patrie”.
Therefore, when we have to leave our country because our life is in danger or because we cannot live there anymore for economical, political or environmental reasons, we can feel rejected, abandoned, betrayed and that feeling projected on a symbolical parent has an impact on our cellular memory, and the DNA is programmed for several generations. Sometimes, that information can echo older memories of abandonment or rejection, and the emotions can become even stronger.
The process of grief
Thanks to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, we know the first 5 steps of grief.
Let's go over them briefly:
1. First, there is denial, a refusal of the situation. Emotions are almost absent. Usually this stage is short, but when the situation imposes emigration, things are a bit different. Some people can remain stuck for a lifetime in this stage and continue living like they were in their country of origin until they die. I even know some people who never learnt the language of their new country.
2. Then anger comes when the person realises that she is powerless in front of the situation. She cannot change the climate, war or stand up and speak against the dictator. In some cases, guilt can come up, which will be translated as a feeling of having abandoned their family just to save their life. I once met a Vietnamese family (boat-people survivors) whose father was still fighting for a political change even 20 years later. His whole being, except his body, had stayed in Vietnam.
3. Then comes bargaining. The person tried to negotiate new rights. It is in this phase that immigrants try to retain their original nationality while getting the nationality of their host country. They do all they can to keep something of their country of origin.
4. Then comes depression or sadness. It is the stage where one realises that nothing will ever be the same. For those who left their country, some realise that they will not be able to come back home to die. They will not be able to be buried near their loved ones. Their children are perceived as strangers for the family that stayed behind.
5. The last stage is acceptance. When acceptance is reached, we can see families which are well integrated in their country of adoption. Unfortunately, a lot of families never accept the situation and cannot receive all that their new country has to offer, and they reject any gift coming from their new home. They become stateless people who live on the side of time. I knew some Moroccan and Turkish families that still live as if time had stopped on the day they left and who could not accept the idea that their country had moved on while they were gone. They were suspended in time.
Marco, child of political exile.
Several years ago, I met a young man whose came from Andalusia and who was suffering from a phobia of mobile phones, that had appeared several months before.
He explained to me that his Spanish parents had emigrated during Franco's regime and came to settle in Belgium, to wait for the situation to get better. The father, who was a good mechanic, opened a garage, and the mother took care of the kids. The mother never learnt french, since she was expecting them to return. Marco, from a very young age, had to take care of all the administrative tasks, and calling on the phone was one of them. In school he was a good pupil, but as he was suffering from dyslexia, he never took notes and was remembering everything by heart. Later he became a garden architect, all while almost never taking notes.
We put down his family system. It appeared that the father had heart problems and his attention was completely turned towards Spain (Marco tells me his father invested all he had in buying land, houses, apartments back in his country), towards his family, and he was not really present in Belgium. His heart had remained in Andalusia and had been worn out. Marco was very faithful towards Spain, and, among other things, that prevented him from committing to his girlfriend. The whole family was very angry towards Spain. I invited him to express this anger and resentment. After taking his rightful place as son and grandson, after leaving the stories from the past with his ancestors, Marco was able to acknowledge his loyalty towards Spain and his gratitude towards Belgium. The whole system started to breathe again and felt lighter. One month later, Marco came back to tell me that his phobia had stopped and that he was preparing to move in with his girlfriend.
Exile leaves traces behind that can be erased.
Having to leave to save one's life leaves traces that will be more or less deep, depending on the region and the people.
As long as the person in exile has not come to peace with his roots, with his country of origin, he cannot receive all that his host country has to offer.
To begin with, the Family Constellation process allows the expression of the emotions that got stuck in the family subconscious during the migration journey, and also those of the group to which the family belongs. Descendants remain loyal to their roots, even though they feel like strangers when they come back in their family. Those unconscious loyalties activate anger, self-sabotage behaviours and problems to integrate. As a proof, we have suburbs filled with children of second or third generations of immigrants, who are suspended between two cultures, two loyalties, and two times.
Secondly, working with Constellations allows each person to find their rightful place, to accept the destiny against which nothing can be done, and to receive all that the host country gave for many years. The exiled person can find peace again, and his/her descendants can live in another land without having to reject it out of loyalty or guilt.
This article was translated by Marianne Souliez.