Acculturation stress: what is it and how does it affect people?
Acculturation stress is a phenomenon that especially affects migrants. Let's see what it is like.
The migration process is a highly stressful time for anyone who is forced to leave their homeland to go and live in a place where they are not sure that they will do well.
Doubts, fears, the fear of being rejected or the difficulties in adapting make the migrant fear that his or her migration project will not succeed. They may feel that the arrival in their new country is a new opportunity or, on the contrary, an enormous risk.
This psychological phenomenon has been called acculturation stress, an emotion that, although normal, is a very common and undesirable one.This is an emotion that, although it is normal for all migrants to feel at some point in their migratory experience, if it is prolonged it can cause serious problems for their mental health.
What is acculturation stress?
Acculturation stress is a psychological process experienced by displaced persons when they arrive in their host land and face all kinds of changes and differences from their land of origin. In itself, acculturation is understood as the set of processes that a foreigner undergoes in order to adapt to the new society in which he/she lives. society in which he/she lives.
Normally, this process is not easy to carry out, since it implies profound changes in the individual, in addition to the fact that there is no certainty that he/she will succeed, which can generate a (dis)adaptive stress.
The concept of acculturation stress was coined by John Widdup Berry, a psychologist specializing in the adaptation of immigrants and indigenous peoples after cultural contact with other ethnic groups. with other ethnic groups.
He introduced it in the 1970s, using it as an alternative term to "culture shock", which had rather negative connotations since "shock" implied that, by necessity, the introduction of people from one culture to another had to end, in one way or another, in some kind of violence.
When we speak of stress as adaptive, some may be surprised. In the society in which we live, the word "stress" tends to be perceived as something negative, but this is not entirely true.but this is not at all the case. Stress is the response to a situation in which our physical and mental integrity may be put at risk and that, in order to survive or move forward, it is necessary to carry some kind of response, especially of the fight or flight type.
Extrapolated to the migratory process, stress can be understood as the feeling that will not leave the displaced person indifferent. Faced with a new world, this person cannot sit idly by, he/she has to do something to move forward. Stress is what wakes her up and motivates her to find the resources to be able to adapt to the new land of origin.. As soon as she has succeeded in doing so, this stress, which has been fundamental to her survival, will disappear.
The problem with acculturation stress is that it can be a double-edged sword. As we have just mentioned, it is the motivator for the person to make an effort to be part of the place where he/she has had to live, using all the resources available to him/her. The problem is that their migration project does not always work, added to a possible rejection by the locals and the difficulty to adapt to the new traditions, language and other cultural characteristics..
This causes the acculturation process to be stretched out for a long time, making it seem that the person is unable to adapt to the new place of residence. As acculturation lengthens, so does stress, and this emotion, sustained over a long period of time, can be the source of all kinds of psychopathology. Migration is not a psychological problem, but it is a risk factor and, if the migrant's own experience is not well managed, this will generate depressive disorders, anxiety and psychosomatization in the form of fatigue.
In short, acculturation stress, together with migratory mourning, is the process that can motivate the person to become active in order to adapt to the new country, but also, if it is not properly managed and the migrant does not adapt to the new country, he/she will experience a loss of confidence in the new country, if it is not properly managed and the person does not have the necessary resources to do so, it can end in failure and subsequently become a great source of psychological and physical discomfort. psychological and physical discomfort. However natural and motivating the stress may be, migration does not cease to imply a great sacrifice for the migrant, and if the situation overwhelms the migrant, the sustained pressure will hurt him/her.
In itself, the pure and neutral definition of acculturation stress is simply the discomfort experienced when going to a place whose culture is significantly different from that of origin.
As mentioned, this discomfort is not bad per se, but it is upsetting, which will motivate the will motivate the person to look for strategies to reduce it and these strategies are focused on adapting to the new place of residence, that is to say, to be able to manage to carry out the new tasks in the new place of residence.In other words, to be able to successfully carry out the series of psychological, social and economic changes that acculturation implies.
This acculturation stress will be greater or lesser depending on different factors, among which we can find the following:
- Linguistic dominance.
- Different gender roles.
- Variation in family functioning.
- Intergenerational conflicts (e.g., 1st gene traditionalist vs. 2nd gene westernized).
- Loss of social and family support.
- Availability of employment and housing in the receiving country.
- Access to health and education.
- Migratory status.
- Difficulties in accessing nationality or residency.
- Racial, ethnic, xenophobic discrimination....
All these factors bring with them psychological problems if the person does not feel able to cope with them or if they harass him/her a lot.. It is clear that, in itself, learning a new language is not as complicated or difficult to manage as the fact of seeing how the inhabitants of the region where one has gone to live are not very friendly to foreigners, or if the state does little to help people feel comfortable with their new home.
This is why if these factors are present and the person does not have the resources to cope with them, sooner or later the stress associated with their attempts at acculturation will eventually progress to psychological problems, which will make it even more difficult to adapt to their new territory.
What are the consequences?
As we have already said, stress is not a bad thing in itself. It can be the "spark" that makes a migrant person to adapt to his new land, seeking support from the locals, learning the local language and becoming actively involved in the traditions and culture of his new country.
If the land in which he lives is very open to immigrants, although he will never be able to detach himself from his country of origin, he will not feel alienated from the place where he lives.. The main positive consequence of acculturation stress is that, to adapt.
But, as we said, if the process of acculturation is failing and stress, the same emotion that should help the migrant to wake up, far from helping him to adapt, what it is doing is to overwhelm him even more is when we talk about psychopathology. The person may want to adapt, but the environment he/she has had to live in does not welcome him/her with open arms. may not have access to resources such as health, education and money that would help them to move forward with their migration project..
Because of all this, the negative consequences are feelings of isolation, rejection, anxiety, psychosomatic disorders and depression. Moreover, these problems progressively wear down the immigrant's health, not only because the migration project continues to fail, but also because, either due to lack of money or a very low awareness of mental health, these people are very unlikely to receive psychological help.
Acculturation stress could be considered the step immediately preceding the experience of the Ulysses syndrome.. This picture, coined by psychiatrist Joseba Achotegui in 2002, arises from the forced separation from loved ones, which implies a rupture of the attachment instinct, a feeling of desperation due to the failure of the migratory project and the absence of opportunities, together with the struggle to obtain the basics, such as food and a roof over one's head. Many people arrive in their new country of origin illegally through mafias, which entails the constant fear of being deported.
Interestingly, acculturation stress does not only affect migrants. not only affects migrants, but also the locals.. Associated with culture shock, the inhabitants of the receiving land, both "own" and 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation descendants of other immigrants may see the newcomers as an economic threat or competitors for resources. It is at this moment that, due to intergroup contact, conflicts appear between these groups, reinforcing the preference for the ingroup and seeing the outgroup as dangerous.
- Urzúa, A., Basabe, N., Pizarro, J., & Ferrer, R. (2018). Coping with acculturation stress: Latino immigrants in Chile. Universitas Psychologica, 16(5), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.upsy16-5.aeai
- Urzua, Alfonso & B, Osvaldo & Caqueo-Urizar, Alejandra. (2016). Mental health and acculturation stress in South American immigrants in northern Chile. Revista médica de Chile. 144. 563-570. 10.4067/S0034-98872016000500002.
- Achotegui, Joseba (2014). The Ulysses Syndrome: The immigrant Syndrome with Chronic and Multiple Stress. ISBN 978-84-613-31116.
- Achotegui, Joseba (2006). "Borderline stress and mental health: the Immigrant Syndrome with Chronic and Multiple Stress (Ulysses Syndrome)". Revista Migraciones (Universidad de Comillas-Madrid) (19): 59-85.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)