Social Affairs

Borders and belonging

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The rhetoric around issues of migration, particularly in the UK, has increasingly taken on a vitriolic resonance within media reports and political discourse. People migrating to the UK come from all over the world, made up of students, workers and those seeking asylum.

Most of the hostile language is reserved for this latter group, with refugees alternately referred to as “illegal immigrants” and even “aliens”. This is sometimes the case even in mainstream media which claims to be politically neutral. 

Individuals who travel from unsafe environments, whether from sexuality-related persecution, war-related threats to life, or other reasons, are met in the UK with the requirement that they must prove their right to asylum.

Like all people within the UK’s immigration system, refugees may typically be held in intake centres whilst their claim is screened and then moved to insecure housing for the duration of processing this claim. They are supported with an allowance of £5.66 per day and have no access to any benefits system, nor are they permitted to undertake paid work until their right to remain status has been established. 

The reality is that migrants to the UK are frequently forced to live in precarious circumstances – a consequence of the Hostile Environment policies implemented by the Conservative government in 2012. The message is clear: even if you arrive safely in this country, you must remain on the fringes. The crossing of the geographical border has been made an incredibly perilous task, but the crossing of the socio-political border requires a further toll. 

This process bears interesting parallels with the development of the human psyche. In establishing our own identities, psychodynamic thinking proposes that we go through a process of splitting – essentially, recognising both negative and positive elements and establishing a firm boundary between the two.

In early childhood, we tend to attribute the positive aspects as belonging to ourselves but project the negative aspects outwards, either into a particular part of the environment or more commonly into another person. Thus, the child who experiences hatred and rage when they aren’t fed quickly enough will refuse to accept that they have a hateful part of themselves but instead behave as if that hate belongs to another, perhaps a sibling or parent. 

As our psyche develops, we gradually take back those projections, learning to accept that our identity is made of many parts, some of which we like and others which arouse feelings of shame or disgust but which we nonetheless recognise as parts of ourselves. In this way, the early (and entirely normal) fragmentation of a child’s mind develops into a balanced and integrated whole.

This integration allows us to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, building connections with others by also recognising them as complex individuals possessing both good and bad aspects. This means that we can acknowledge our mistakes and forgive the errors of others, and it means that we are able to take pride in our achievements and hope that others will do well too.

Significantly, it means that we can celebrate another’s success and acknowledge feelings of envy without being overwhelmed or needing to act out in an aggressive way. The process of reintrojection – or accepting back one’s childhood projections – essentially allows us to function appropriately, to cooperate with one another and to access curiosity and creativity when engaging with the world around us. 

If these parts are not accepted back, or effectively disavowed, it is plausible that a narcissistic identity will develop, with beliefs of omnipotence and a deep-seated fear of encountering the negative aspects which have been cast away. 

When we think of the attitude expressed by the UK towards migrants, this is the identity which is revealed. Whilst on an individual level, we can recognise that people within the UK all hold different attitudes towards any number of issues, including that of migration, it is undeniable that the governmental approach is one of exceptional nationalism.

The UK government has repeatedly expressed a desire for strict laws and hard borders which will keep out aspiring migrants, who are labelled criminals by the Home Office to justify perceived threat. Migrating people are positioned as the unwanted negative parts of humanity, who cannot be allowed into the UK for fear of revealing that the UK’s omnipotence is merely illusory. 

The truth is that humanity, just like the individual psyche, is comprised of complexity, not split into good and bad people. If we are to function effectively and find fulfilment, it will be necessary to integrate all the different parts of our species.

We must forego our infantile narcissism and accept the many facets of humanity if we are to learn to cooperate and create a successful future where all can thrive. After all, Narcissus, looking too long into nothing more than his own reflection, exchanged vibrant life for a limited existence.

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