Okay, so first things first: As a Third Culture Kid who works with TCKs when it comes to identity and belonging, I don’t believe it did all go “wrong”. But the title of this post reflects the feeling that a lot of TCKs I speak to experience. We can get so confused by our own stories and experiences, so overwhelmed, that we can get a definite sense that it did all go wrong somewhere.
Perhaps you know this feeling? That you have no clear sense of who you are, that your identity feels very audience-dependent. You are unsure who to present to new friends and acquaintances, and perhaps the anxiety of choosing between your many selves makes social situations challenging and unsettling. You have a lingering sense of having “let down” one or other of your identities or communities, or perhaps you don’t feel you have a community at all. Anchorless you float between different social groups, nationalities, collectives, unable to bring yourself to the point of calling them your “own’.
One of the reasons I love my job is that I have the inexpressible delight of saying to people isolated by their sense of marginality, “You are not alone”. And I extend that to you now, as you read this. You are not alone.
You are not alone in your uniqueness – I do not believe that there is a personal dysfunction hidden within you that needs to be rooted out. Instead, because of the extraordinarily complex lives we lead, I believe that there are reasons – very sane reasons – why knowing who we are and where we fit in the world can feel as though it has all gone “wrong”. And our stories provide the key to understanding these reasons. And understanding these reasons, in its turn, provides the key to the next chapters of our story – written our way.
But let’s focus on the first step of this, the story so far. When we read books they are often written in chapters. When people tell me their stories, they use chapters too. Chapters organise our story temporally (this happened, then this) but also thematically (this is when I learnt x, this is when I experienced y). Erikson uses developmental phases to “chapter” the ways in which we learn the things we need to learn about the world in order to function as balanced human beings. He assigns a time frame (age) for an individual to learn the answer to a key question. Successful engagement with this question will add a “virtue” or quality/skill set to help the person move on through their story.
Erikson’s theory offers a framework for us to explore our stories and encounter some ideas about where identity and belonging got so hard for us. It presents our story as a serious of opportunities to learn something significant about ourselves and others. In this way we can start see where and when these opportunities were missed, complicated, delayed or simply hindered. And then we can revisit these parts of our stories, and re-ask those all-important questions.
Not sure how to hone in on those chapters where our identity and belonging was most complicated? Which chapters have questions that sting, prod and generally make us uncomfortable? These chapters can be where we begin to work.
There are eight “chapters” to Erikson’s theory, and I’m going to spend some time working through these in a series of blog posts with particular reference to Third Culture Kids – so stay tuned! My next post will spend some time on Erikson’s first stage at age 0-2, Trust vs. Mistrust, where the question asked is “Can I trust the world?”
For those of you interested in reading more about Erikson’s Psychosocial Development model, this page has a great breakdown.
If you would like to get in touch to set up a free consultation, I’d love to hear from you.