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Immigrant’s Guilt – When Love Masks as Hate


“Can you believe that story in newspaper? Every time I read something like that, I don’t want to go back to India.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this remark. In coffee shops, at water coolers, on online forums and so on. The news in question changes. The ultimate conclusion remains the same. “I don’t want to go back to India.”

I always felt there is more to these words than what seems on face. Then one day I read about immigrant’s guilt. The sense of guilt and shame an immigrant person feels. I have always felt that. But I always thought they were my personal feelings. I never thought they are so broadly shared. It makes sense in retrospect that this feeling is so common.

This reminds me of an cognitive dissonance experiment I read a while back. Some researchers made a group of people do a boring job for a while. Then the group who did this job, were told to lie to other group and tell them that the job was exciting. The first group was paid to lie. Different people were paid different amounts.

What was funny was, those who were paid least were most likely to lie very forcefully and convincingly. Those who were paid more were less forceful in lying. Isn’t it ironic? If you are paid more to lie, shouldn’t you feel more incentivised to lie emphatically? No. If you are paid enough, your mind has a rational justification for lying and lying feels less conflicted. If you are not even paid properly, your feeling while lying are very conflicted and you are more likely to make yourself believe your lie to minimize the conflict and thus result in more forceful lying.

The same principle is applicable here. If you are immigrating from a war torn country, you are at peace with your own decision of immigrating. But if you are coming from a reasonably stable country, you feel more conflicted about immigrating and you are more likely to highlight the negative aspects of your home country and reinforce them in your mind, so as to justify your own immigration to yourself, so as to cope with your conflict.

But there is something unfair about these comments. We should face up to the feelings of guilt and conflict upfront and work on them constructively. We should not hide behind the coping mechanisms. We should admit that the more negative we feel, it’s because stronger the conflict. The conflict is strong because we have a strong bond with our motherland. So in a very ironic way, the more critical our comments are about our motherland, the more love we have felt. It’s love masking as hate.

2 Responses

  1. So true,
    Very few people have the courage to speak up the truth.I met a lady in London,who had migrated from Sri Lanka during the Tamil troubles who told me, that even after 25 years of living in the UK I can’t accept this as my home. I always miss Sri Lanka.

    • Thanks for the comment Kasturi. Yes. It’s sometimes hard to know the truth and even harder to speak it up.

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