The Realities of Relocation: Crisis and Opportunity

The influence of “place” on our psyches is a dynamic influence for each of us. Whether the serene beauty of a forest in the morning, the energizing pulse of a city at nightfall, the cozy clutter of a parlor in a fire lit colonial home or the clear Zen-like atmosphere of our home office, the impact of “place” upon our mind, body and spirit is enormous yet often simply perceived as a context we take for granted—until we relocate.

We can attach to a place we call home and seek to remain there under all conditions. We can light upon a place for a time and then feel compelled to move on. There are the absolute demands of relocation for the sake of work or relationship and times that relocation requires a temporary (or permanent) separation from partner or family while we pioneer in new territory.

Regardless what gets us there, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will be undeniably affected, at least for a while and sometimes forever.

All relocations hold a bitter-sweetness—the combination of some kind of grieving or loss with some flavor of excitement, anxiety and newness. Resentment mixes with fear and curiosity. A magnetic draw and a surprising sense of home can arise that we never could have imagined. Eventually our “self” is bound to shift, morph and change into a version of ourselves we can perceive as a loss of identity or as an opportunity for growth.

The movement involved in relocation carries with it the physical– overwhelm in the huge job of seeing, sorting, and choosing adding to the logistics of letting go. There’s the disposition of all “things” and the “stuff” that life accumulates and attaches to us as part of our identity. Clothing, furniture and artwork are the big things, as are intellectual properties papers, files, books and media. Sometimes grown children leave “the nest,” their morabilia left behind for our contemplation and disposal.

Ironically, it’s the fate of the smaller items that is often more difficult than decisions around the larger items. As I was emptying my New York home on my way to the southwest, I recall having a small bowl of tiny pieces of jewelry and such that defied categorization. Each piece seemed so important in that moment while all around me friends and moving men lifted large chunks of my entire past into a dumpster or onto the Bekins truck. The invisible tentacles of life are difficult to break!

How we are motivated by and are prepared to negotiate this colossal task can build or diminish the psychological energy we have for the biggest challenge of all — disassembling and rebuilding our identity. One of my clients, while on vacation in the Caribbean, had the support and wherewithal to have all possessions moved across an entire continent with never a backward glance. Katja was running from a life and situation on the east coast that felt unsustainable. Envisioning a new home, in Vancouver, was uncommonly trusting and purely intuitive. Within days of her arrival she reported a feeling of ecstasy. She built a circle of friends quickly, operating on the guidance of one synchronicity after another, and soon established herself as an outstanding artist. Meghan, a celebrant, lived her life divided between Maryland and Montana for 6 years before she very gradually shifted the balance and became a full time resident of “Big Sky Country.” Bliss became the favorite description of life in her new home. Her adjustment was practically seamless and admittedly gradual.

Recalling Jessica’s journey brings to mind the other side of the coin. When Peter, her husband of 28 years was offered a position as president of a prestigious university in the Northeast, Jessica’s deeply rooted life in suburban Georgia was shaken to the core. Setting up a household in a busy urban area, she felt estranged and anonymous. She reported “feeling like a ghost” as she roamed the streets of Philadelphia attempting to familiarize herself and develop a sense of home. Depressed and disconnected, her crisis soon became one of adjustment versus divorce.

What are the factors within our own personalities that allows for ease or difficulty in adapting to new circumstances?

Next time: What it takes to adjust!


Andrea Gould-Marks, Ph.D., ABPP is the Founder of Lucid Learning Systems, LLC., a learning and development consultancy now in Tucson, Arizona, formally of Long Island, New York. As a psychologist specializing in transitions of all kinds, she has witnessed and archived a myriad of stories –all with various motivations, challenges and outcomes.