The world is changing. Again. Widespread vaccination programs have got many of us poking our nose out of our burrows, twitching with hope of renewed human connection and a return of normal life. For Third Culture Kids, this might mean the tantalizing hope of airplane flights home to family, or even “just” a return of the foreign travel that helps us bridge the many parts of our selves – friends around the world and cultural contact that brings our souls to life. For people struggling to work from home and stay sane, the vaccination programs mean a return of colleagues, shared office space and easier collaboration. For those of us with friends or families with compromising health conditions, vaccines mean a slow expelling of that breath we’ve been holding for the last year.
But it also means anxiety, frustration and boundary work.
For people who’ve grown up with their fair share of compulsory vaccinations in their childhoods, the vaccine offers an uncomfortable return to feeling less that in control about what substances enter their body. As children who often felt lack of control in children, Third Culture Kids can struggle with situations in adulthood that return them to a state of feeling powerless or lacking in choice. And while many of us grew up with an appreciation of the value of childhood vaccinations, having seen close up the consequences when they aren’t available, the polarization of debate around vaccines can make it difficult to air personal anxiety alongside acknowledgement of public health needs.
Some of us are just plain frustrated, of course. If this pandemic has done anything, it’s shown us the wide variety of different people’s “comfort levels” around health safety procedures. Third Culture Kids can operate of such high degrees of empathy (hello cross-cultural exposure and early adaptation training!) that awareness of these different comfort levels can feel second nature. And as is often the case, when we do not receive the same consideration in return that we are working hard to offer others, we feel frustrated, hurt or just plain angry.
And anger of course, can be one of our most effect vulnerability covers. We can get angry when we feel vulnerable (Ever seen a squirrel who feels cornered? Those things are terrifying!) It’s not uncommon for Third Culture Kids to be operating off the belief that “everyone will leave”, which can be translated into, “no one really cares, I’m not anyone’s priority, no one is looking out for me.” So someone’s lack of consideration for our comfort level can quickly reinforce these long-held beliefs; “See! I knew no one really cared about me!”
Boundary work comes up a tonne with Third Culture Kids. We are so adaptive that we can see saw between “I’ll adapt to their needs” and “I can’t take their demands anymore, I’m out.” The moderate middle way is WORK. It’s the place we hold space for our own needs, and advocate for them. It’s where we communicate our needs as if we believe someone might take them seriously.
In pandemic, many of us have been issued guidelines, even laws, that offer external boundaries for us to respect regarding social contact. For many of us with difficulty generating our own boundaries in difficult relationships, this has been a sweet relief. “Sorry, can’t come to that event, guidelines!” We can put on pause our expression of discomfort of people’s behaviours, because coronavirus restrictions have boundaried them for us. And now?
Now, restrictions are lifting, and many of us are finding comfort levels being negotiated with. And negotiation requires that we have a starting position.
How many of us find it easy to identify our own preference? Okay, now how many of us find it easy to communicate that preference?
For those of us with relationships that are challenging, a lifting of restrictions is inviting a level of boundary work that is anxiety producing and/or frustrating. Even where it’s not relationships that are forcing boundary issues, our lives are invited to become busier, as more events and meet ups become possible. And an inability to say ‘no’ becomes problematic regarding our own emotional equilibrium.
Many people (TCKs included!) are eagerly sniffing the air for signs of freedom of movement. They can’t wait for life to busy-up. Excitement and hope are getting them through these last chilly months of pandemic.
But if you are struggling in this lockdown transition, you aren’t alone. You are in the company of many others, tip-toeing tentatively towards a world that feels quite demanding and overwhelming.
So what do you need?
Time to self-soothe – adaptation time and space to emerge slowly?
Space to consider YOUR OWN comfort levels? What social contact feels good to YOU? Okay, now how can you advocate for this, as if it matters as much as anyone else’s?
Self-compassion to deal with the frustration that rises, when it feels others’ lack of consideration is going to swallow you up?
You are not alone. Together we can sniff the air, pause and pay attention to our own pounding hearts, and then carefully negotiate our own small steps outside.