How Commiserating in Re-entry Keeps You Stuck (and what to do about it)

How Commiserating in Re-entry After Being Abroad Keeps You Stuck - and What to Do About It

Have you ever noticed that re-entry conversations tend to focus on commiserating?

Talking with friends, in Facebook groups, in blog posts you read, your own internal dialogue…have you ever noticed a tendency to get stuck in a “this really sucks” mode of thinking after an experience abroad?

I have. In fact, I was guilty of this habit for many years. My re-entry conversations often went like this:

Me:          Re-entry is hard.
Friend:   Agreed. It sucks.
Me:          I wish I were still abroad.
Friend:   Me too.
Me:          I wish I didn’t live here. I liked living abroad much better.
Friend:   Me, too. Nobody understands me here.
Me:          Same here. I’m so unhappy here. *sigh* Re-entry sucks.

Friend:   It sure does.

Ok, so my conversations weren’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.

There’s nothing wrong with a little commiserating. It’s a relief when you find someone who gets what you’re going through, especially when you feel like nobody else understands! You feel seen, heard, and validated. That’s important.

The problem is that it’s incredibly easy to make commiserating a habit, which can stall creating a global life that will make you truly happy and satisfied. It can prevent you reaching the career, relationship, travel, and life goals you’ve set for yourself.

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You know when you’re abroad and you hit your cross-cultural limit?

So you meet up with some expat friends and you good-naturedly complain about your host country. A little commiserating about what’s different, frustrating, and annoying can do you good. It can help you process, laugh, and even learn. In this case, commiserating is a release and a way to bond with others. It’s a way to feel seen, heard, and validated as you go through something new and challenging.

But at a certain point, this type of commiserating starts to do more harm than good. When complaining about your host country becomes the only thing you talk about with your expat friends, it goes from being a positive to a negative. And it can be come an addiction of sorts.

Once you get into commiserating mode it can be difficult to stop. Additionally, you can start feeling like it’s “us vs. them” and even start to withdraw from the people, challenges, and rewards of living life in another culture. Anyone would tell you that this habit is something to avoid if you want a happy and successful experience abroad.

Don’t let this happen to you in re-entry!

The more you focus on what’s wrong with everyone and everything at “home,” the less likely you are to see career, relationship, travel, and other life opportunities, and the more you’ll dislike where you are and what you’re doing. The more negative you are, the less likely others will want to be around you. The more you feel a distance between you and others in your life, the worse you’ll feel. It’s a downward spiral.

Why we get stuck commiserating.

There are many reasons why we get stuck on the merry-go-round of commiserating. Here are 13 that I thought of; I’d love to hear what you think.

  1. There’s some really deep transformational stuff going on inside you when you’re in re-entry, and commiserating is a way to process how you feel.
  2. Re-entry is largely an internal and individual experience and commiserating with others makes it a bit more external and shared experience.
  3. The grief and loss you feel in re-entry can bring up other types of unresolved grief and loss, which can be confusing and painful. If those losses stem from ambiguous loss, it can make articulating why you feel so miserable much, much harder.
  4. You don’t feel seen, heard or validated now that you’re home. Commiserating with someone who “gets it” can makes you feel seen, heard, and validated. Commiserating can feel like a verbal hug.
  5. You seek solutions but don’t know how to get from how you currently feel to how you want to feel.
  6. It’s easier to complain than take steps to make a change.
  7. It’s what everyone else is doing, so why not?
  8. You tend to feel like a victim more than a victor in life.
  9. You think that the only way to feel better is to move abroad again, and so why not commiserate about how terrible it is to be in your home country? You’re not staying long so why does it matter?
  10. You feel powerless to change your situation.
  11. You’re depressed and could benefit from talking with a professional.
  12. You think that the only way to justify doing something new is to prove how terrible your current situation is, and commiserating is a way to prove that your current situation is terrible.
  13. It’s just habit, and you don’t know anything different.

I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of commiserating. Really, really guilty. It’s something I’ve actively been working on in the past several years. I’ve uncovered why I’m drawn to commiserating (I tended to do it when I felt powerless to change my situation), and I’m getting better about letting myself commiserate only to a certain point.

I’ve found that past that point, commiserating is like digging myself deeper and deeper into a dark hole of negativity that gets harder and harder to get out of. I now actively strive to stop commiserating when I see myself starting to dig that hole.

5 ways to reduce re-entry commiserating

  1. Identify why you’re drawn to commiserating (if you are). What do you get out of commiserating? How does it help you? How does it not help you?
  2. Determine your commiserating limit. When does commiserating start to feel like you’ve eaten too much junk food? When do you feel like you’ve moved from helpful to hurtful?
  3. Be ready to suggest other discussion topics (e.g., finding solutions to the problems you’re commiserating about) if you’re with people who want to keep on commiserating. You could take the lead on coaching the group to find solutions or simply change the subject to something that’s more positive and upbeat.
  4. Limit your time with heavy commiserators. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe a family member or maybe it’s a Facebook group or a blog. If you’re getting sucked into commiserating to a level that brings you down, you may need to spend less time with that person or group.
  5. Develop good re-entry coping skills that will help you focus on finding solutions rather than commiserating. The stronger your re-entry coping skills, the less you’ll need to commiserate. You’ll be more focused on finding solutions, making progress, and living the global life you crave.

You can also head over to Facebook and join other global adventurers in our Re-Entry Relaunchers Unite! Facebook group! We engage in a little commiserating but mostly keep our support and inspiration optimistic and upbeat so we can all move forward towards reaching our Re-Entry Relaunch dreams!

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About the Author: Cate Brubaker

Dr. Cate Brubaker is a re-entry/repatriation coach, consultant, and author of the Re-Entry Roadmap creative workbook and the Study Abroad Re-entry Toolkit. Cate has lived in Germany, worked and traveled in 36 countries on four continents, and has helped all kinds of globetrotters successfully navigate global transitions for over 20 years.

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