Those easily forgotten: the impact of emigration on those left behind

Fam Process. 2012 Sep;51(3):376-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01407.x.


Much has been written about the experiences and stresses of those who emigrate. By contrast, little attention has been paid to the experiences of those who stay behind-family members and friends who for various reasons do not to join their loved ones in the destination country. In this article, I describe the experiences of some South Africans whose families and friends have emigrated. This study forms part of a larger research project focusing on the impact of emigration on South African family life. Twenty-one participants were interviewed by means of a semistructured interview at least 6 months after one or more family member(s) and/or friend(s) left South Africa, to explore participants' experiences around their loved ones' emigration. A thematic analysis of the data reveals that those left behind experience various emotions, ranging from emotional ambivalence to anger and distress. Emigration is mostly experienced as a vast loss, almost akin to a "death," bringing about significant changes in social networks and relationships. The therapeutic significance of the findings for those working with emigrant families is also explored.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bereavement*
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Family Relations*
  • Friends / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology
  • Siblings / psychology
  • South Africa
  • Videoconferencing
  • Young Adult