Affiliation: Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Unit, Mental Health Department, University of Milano, A.O. Niguarda Ca Granda, Via Besta 1, 20100 Milano, Italy.
Objective: This paper aims to explore the pathogenesis of often serious recurring psychopathological presentations in adolescent girls coming from immigrant families who were separated from their mothers in childhood and subsequently reunited with them at a later date. Method: We present two cases treated with psychotherapy: a Chinese girl in puberty, with selective mutism, and a South American teenager with an eating disorder and a history of family abuse, both of whom had immigrated to Italy to be reunited with their mothers. Results: The traumatophilic tendency, which has been observed in young immigrants, exposes them to the repetition of traumatic situations which are largely relatable to their parents’ failure to work through the trauma of migration. The reunification, for which the children are often unprepared, presents itself as a second trauma: the abrupt separation from the emotionally invested caretaker is often experienced as the action of an envious mother who deprives the child of a good relationship. Feelings of exclusion, jealousy and anger are acted out in the refusal and devaluation of maternal care, or through direct attacks on maternal femininity. The mothers themselves appear powerless to provide any sort of emotional containment, persecuted by guilt and paralysed by their own ambivalence and disappointment. Conclusions: Working in parallel with the mothers and teenagers can provide a second chance to achieve a coming together based on mutual understanding. At the same time, the acknowledgement and acceptance of the traumatic experience which can be achieved through therapy, contributes to the processing of the migration shock and can provide an opportunity for new modes of development.