How many Selves do you have? Most human beings operate with multiple roles, or persona, depending on the contexts in which they find themselves. I behave differently when I’m ‘daughter’ mode than when I’m in ‘parent’ mode, for instance. Sometimes our roles, or Selves, experience conflict. Me as daughter wants something that me as parent thinks is a bad idea, perhaps. Mostly, however, we navigate these Selves in relative peace, shape-shifting a little but holding enough consistent form for the people in our world to continue to recognise us! For those of a relatively settled background, originating and developing in a consistent culture, the pieces of their Selves come together to form one picture of a consistent Self. The different pieces contribute different elements and expressions but cooperate to build one picture. The Puzzle is mostly complete.
However, the Third Culture Kid experience of multiple Selves is typically more complicated. Personally, I have, at any one point, five cultural points of reference (comprising passport, host, and organisational cultures) with which to shape the piece of myself called ‘daughter’, or ‘parent’, for example. For those who have formed roles or even simply observed (and experienced) roles performed differently by different cultures, there is a good chance that the pieces of their Selves do very little cooperating. Instead of slotting together, they collide with one another – each culture trying to contribute their pieces to the picture of Self that makes most sense to them. The result is more Picasso than Da Vinci. Beautiful, but more than a little decomposing. Yet there is a deliberateness in the placement of all Picasso’s elements; unexpected it is, chaos it is not.
A lot of my work with Third Culture Kids orients around spending time exploring the cultural points of reference my client has been exposed to, and the ways in which these find expression in their values, beliefs and behaviours. Rather than sanding down the edges of our puzzle pieces to force them to fit (or more aptly, to deny their resistance to one another) we spend time offering understanding and compassion to their form. Of course they will have different, conflicting yet ultimately equally valid ways of perceiving how they feel they should be a good ‘daughter’ or ‘parent’. They have experienced different, conflicting ways of being these in different cultures. Accepting and valuing the impact of these on the shape of their pieces is a crucial element of valuing their own Self.
Once my clients can sit with and accept the unique and often-times awkward shapes of themselves, they can start to let them breathe… We explore creatively how we can lend voice to our different pieces of Self. We understand our own ability to act as mediator between roles in conflict and move forward towards cooperative expression.
It’s exciting stuff. How’s your Picasso looking? How can you make some time to understand your own component elements? Perhaps you want to explore how reconfiguration and some cultural compassion and creativity can move you towards a more peaceful expression of self. Get in touch here and talk me through your creative journey!