What you miss the most… and what this says about you
This week we welcome Renata Harper, author of the Expat-Living.info Guide to Cape Town, to Expat Nest. After following her heart abroad a few years ago, Renata found herself experiencing a new kind of missing that surprised her; one that has since led to profound change in her life. Now back in her home country of South Africa, she gives thanks for the opportunity she had “to miss”… and suggests that what we miss most might be the greatest clues to who we really are.
All of us know the feeling of missing – a loved one (person or pet) who has passed; a best friend who moves to another school; a favourite book, toy or memento forever lost; a garden sanctuary that someone else discovered.
For expats, missing is a familiar friend, or foe…
Sometimes we carry it lightly, other times it keeps us weighted down to the ground. I like to think of the kinds of missing as being like the seasons. There is the gentle tug at the heartstrings, which can be cured by a moment of play or a phone call to a best friend. There is the deep nostalgia, which leads us to pause and tends to pass in its own time. There is the cold and brittle ache, which supported inner work can help to soften. And then there is the wild and throaty missing, a call – or calling – that needs to be answered, usually with renewal and transformation.
What I missed during my two years in the Netherlands was of the latter kind – and it took me by surprise. During work breaks, I’d switch on “Animal Planet” or “National Geographic” and find myself enraptured, then in ridiculous floods of tears. I was longing for wildness, wild creatures, and the sense of belonging and perspective they give me.
What missing meant for me
Of course, it was only by leaving home that I could found myself missing something I hadn’t even known was essential to who I am. And in moving away from it, I was able to then move – consciously and mindfully – back towards it. How did I do this?
First, so I could give back to animals, I volunteered at a cat sanctuary that was in cycling distance from our tiny apartment in Amsterdam (a highlight of my expat experience). Then, two years in, I headed home, where I’m able to spend more time in wild places and where I am slowly changing the direction of my writing to reflect my passion for honouring the natural world.
Becoming aware of the key role wilderness plays in my life has also helped me to accept my need to return home. It has helped me understand that I didn’t “fail” by not being completely happy in the Netherlands and that the country didn’t fail me. And, of course, there are things I miss about Holland too, like transparent governance, high levels of personal safety, better animal welfare laws, and seeing my partner (now my husband, in case you were wondering) immersed in his “first life”.
Global nomads will both gain and miss something from wherever we’ve been… But might it be that all the “missings”, however painful, are clues to what our fullest selves look and feel like? I think so.
What do you miss the most? How do you deal with the different kinds of longing? We would love to hear your story.
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The benefits of touch
The importance of touch begins early in our lives – touch is one of the main communication systems between mother and child. For a newborn, touch is crucial for wellbeing, brain development, and cognitive and physical functioning.
The importance of touch does not end after infancy. Touch has been found to alleviate pain and increase immunity. Physical touch can also decrease stress and aggression, and increase oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone that promotes bonding between people. One study measuring physical touch between partners over a week found that people who were touched more often had higher psychological wellbeing half a year later. Even a brief touch, without us noticing it, makes the giver of the touch more likeable to us.
It might come as a surprise to learn that we can identify another’s emotions from a simple touch without seeing or hearing the person – making touch an important channel of communication throughout our lives.
It matters who is touching you, and how
Studies show that the touch of your partner has a stronger effect than touch from someone you are not as close to. And the closer and more connected you feel to your partner, the more affection you will feel for him/her when touched. Even an imagined touch by a romantic partner has been shown to decrease stress and pain and to help us face difficult challenges – more so than when imagining verbal support.
On the other hand, touch can have a negative connotation based on where you are touched and who is touching you. For instance, being touched on the face by a co-worker may be seen as inappropriate or as harassment. There is also a range of age- and gender-specific perceptions of touch as well as cultural differences in the perception of touch.
What if you don’t get enough touch?
Psychologists have coined the term “touch hunger” or “skin hunger” to describe the need or longing for meaningful (other than sexual) physical contact. It is essentially a craving for touch. We may experience “touch hunger” when we feel isolated or lonely – whether we miss having a partner or feel lonely in our relationship, or have moved to a new country. (In the first months after I moved from Greece to Holland, there were two things I longed for and missed: the sun and a hug!) And touch may become ever more important today, as our work and interactions become increasingly virtual.
For some people, touch is their main language of love. (Take the quiz here to see what your love language is.) This means that they feel loved and connected through touches like hugs, holding hands or a pat on the back. Conversely, they might feel unloved or lonely without affection. Lack of touch might even result in stress and low mood.
How do you feel about touch?
Not everybody likes to touch or be touched. We are all different and our preference for touch – and how much or how often we need it – varies from person to person, or even from culture to culture. Do what feels right for you.
If you really enjoy touch – and even feel better, happier or more loved when touched – then be sure to include this element in your life. This may mean expressing your need for touch to your romantic partner, reaching out with physical affection to family or friends (within their personal boundaries), or seeking out “touch experiences” like a massage.
Sending you a virtual hug!
Many thanks to counsellor and health psychologist Kristýna Maulenová for her contribution to this article.
Did you learn anything surprising about touch in this article? How do you navigate touch in your circle of loved ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
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