Loneliness – Top Challenges of Expat’s Life

CATEGORY: , , , , 13.10.16

Loneliness can be really BIG.

From excitement to paralysing loneliness. Expat’s life is one of the most challenging experiences we face. Sometimes it can be really bumpy ride with few stops on an emotional rollercoaster. Knowing how to manage and overcome its setbacks is essential to living the life you want. Beata Justkowiak, an expat therapist based in Singapore talks about the effects of loneliness and how to manage growing isolation when living or working overseas.



As an expat I have to say goodbye almost constantly. On so many occasions I learnt to leave, to move on, to say ‘see you’ and to say ‘was nice knowing you’. As old saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’ the frequency of saying goodbye increased but ease of doing so has not.

I have being saying goodbye to people since I was 19. I moved to different city to study, to grow personally and professionally and since then I have been practicing the art of ‘moving on’ or away. Whichever way I decided to move, the struggle of saying ‘bye’ came up immediately.



Being a psychologist I have a natural tendency to explore and dig deeper for better answers. I started the process on myself. I observed my own reactions when someone tells me goodbye and what feelings it triggers. Later, I observed others and what I noticed has not surprised me. People suffer when they need to say goodbye. They have tears in theirs eyes, they do not want to let go of good moments, of good relationships, of good, familiar life. They are forced to let go or to convince themselves that ‘it is ok ‘(or it will be), ‘it is for better’ or ‘nothing will change’. Despite knowing what to expect, why does it not become easier for us to move to next chapter, to say goodbye? It is because we do not want to accept it and we are trying to trick our mind by saying all the above. Our brain knows exactly that in fact a lot of things will change, a lot will be new and not necessarily comfortable for us, that we are trying to trick ourselves.



Being an expat myself, and working with expats showed me more then I expected from saying goodbye and effect it had on me. The feeling of loneliness is acute. Not only here in Singapore but in expat’s life. How to recognise the loneliness? 

– When you miss the company of friends and family, your safety net

– When you miss the familiarity of the life you left behind,

– When you compare everything to how easy and comfortable it was back in the past

– When you compare your life to others and you feel they are in much better position than you

– When you don’t want to move on, you want to move backwards

– When you chat with your family more than you expected and only they know about your true feelings.



– Being homesick is ok

– Feeling restless is ok

– Missing friends is ok

– Not knowing how to move on is ok

as long as you are open to create your very own way of making the next step. 


Working on loneliness and self-esteem highlighted the fact of how strongly people do not allow themselves to feel negative emotions, to have negative thoughts, to be in a negative mood. Having inner fight is not healthy and this is why finding new way of managing it is so wanted.


What are the actual struggles we can link with sense of loneliness:

– Lower self-esteem

– Perfectionism

– Lack of healthy self-confidence

– Unbalanced self-expectations

– Constant comparison to others

– Lower ability to make friends, to reach out, to maintain relationships.


What do we hear at the back of our heads? 

– I’m not good enough

– I shouldn’t struggle with it

– I have to do this and that

– I can’t..

– I don’t know..



When I think about managing loneliness I mean creating something that will work not only once or twice, but something that will be the base for managing strategy to build the happy life. For me it was FINDING myself. After 5 months of new life in Singapore where I constantly felt as the tallest outsider, I realised that one thing I know for sure, is that I am here every single day, and I will be, so I decided to be here for myself. Not because I had to, not because somehow I was in this situation. I decided to turn it around and make it my own decision, be for myself, every day. Learn to push through bad days (not with denial) and grow as a person.



Somehow people were always coming into my life and we would often share very intense friendships. When I’m lucky and there is a right person with whom I just ‘click’, it’s usually an intense and short-lived friendship, which is not easy to accept. Of course, some have turned into lifelong friendships, some are just there on Facebook, and others have disappeared. That’s how it is and how we as humans decide to act.

I have learnt to appreciate all those kinds of friendships, as they all are part of the beauty in itself.



While feelings and situations are often similar, the solutions need to be tailor-made to fit each individual. This is what I always tell my clients, when you talk to your family and friends ask what do they think about a particular situation so that you get their perspective. Do not ask what would they do, what they think you should do, or what would be best. Do not turn the conversation into ‘I need your advice because without it I’m unable to make my own decision’. It will only strengthen the belief that you cannot do it without them, without others, without someone… You need to practice one thing – knowing that you can manage everything you will face, and getting external perspective is one way to browse through visible options or get inspired to create new ones.


Top 5 about managing the LONELINESS

  1. Observe your reactions to feeling lonely
  2. Allow yourself to feel (good and bad) to eliminate destructive mechanisms such as avoidance and denial
  3. Try new way of conversing with friends and family, ask about their perspective
  4. Count your friendships, not friends. See what and how many types of friendships you have in your life in order to decide which of those you want to multiply.
  5. Notice what you tried to improve this far and what you have accomplished. Don’t waist time on something that does not work.


All the best and see you soon,




The article was published at Real Singapore Expat Wives

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