Woah, so it’s been a month since I last blogged about Third Culture Kid identity. I’m sorry about this, because communicating as much as possible of what I’m learning (definitely present tense!) about our marvellous band of TCKs is really important to me. Some of what I communicate about will resonate with you more than others, and I’m hoping this series will be something that you can refer back to at various points in your life as offering insight, empathy and above all – power.
What Erikson does with his eight stages of man theory is to offer us the power that inevitably accompanies self-knowing. If we use his framework to ask of ourselves the sequential questions we encounter throughout our lives, then we begin to see how successfully or unsuccessfully we have collected the ‘virtues’ that he observes as vital to healthy, peaceful and content adult lives. In the last post we looked at the question of “Can I trust the world?” and the virtue of Hope that we gain as we experiences ourselves as safely able to trust the world around us. If the care we receive is predictable, reliable and consistent (i.e. trustable) then we grow up with an expectation that the world is predictable and consistent and essentially will deal with us fairly and positively.
Erikson’s theory is largely applied to understanding why and when people develop certain beliefs about the world and themselves that do not serve them in the pursuit of happiness – ie: where do our early experiences set us up for later unhappiness and/or unfulfilled lives? What I’m doing in this series is saying that for Third Culture Kid identity, the developmental experiences and sequences are complicated by both mobility, and their diverse cultural experiences. So, we can ask Erikson’s questions differently – “Were my caregivers all communicating care for me in a way I would have experienced as consistent, reliable and nurturing?”
Given that our caregivers may have come from different cultural backgrounds with their own philosophies of child-rearing, and that we may have experienced ruptured relationships with caregivers due to mobility, it’s perhaps no surprise that for many TCKs trust and Hope are complicated notions later on in our adult lives. But with this understanding comes power; if we identify this pattern to be true of our story we are now able to contextualise our current mistrust in people to stay or good situations to last.
We understand WHY we operate out of a place of mistrust or pessimism, and this knowledge in itself might be enough for us to begin to see other options for our behaviours and beliefs. If we lack trust and hope because of early experiences of instability or inconstancy, we can gift ourselves trust and hope now by intentionally opening ourselves up to data that suggests there is stability and constancy out there – should be choose to acknowledge it or engage with it.
There are new chapters in Third Culture Kid identity to be written, and it’s by returning to the early ones that we can clarify where we want these new ones to take us.
Ok, so that’s me all caught up and excited about Erikson’s theory! This post is looking at years 2 to 4, and the question Erikson identifies here is; “Can I do things or must I rely on others?” As a side note, there are differences of opinion about the ways the years parcel up and you’ll get different sources dividing them up different ways – I’m using this one as reference.
The virtue that Erikson says we are aiming for at this age is WILL, a sense of our own abilities and autonomy. So we can expect to see children at this age eager to ‘do it myself’! This is the age of trying everything oneself, and children will quickly pick up on any shaming they experience when they occasionally (or even often!) fail to achieve the independence they are reaching for.
It’s a tough time for parents, wanting to encourage their children to try new things and develop new abilities and skills, but still being very much needed to facilitate a sense of ‘the trying hard was worth it’ when children need help.
Now, take a TCK child and ask yourself of this child – what happens when they move country at this stage? Perhaps this was you? What happened when YOU moved countries or cultures during this developmental stage?
Were some of your newfound skills rendered redundant in your new environment?
Was it possible that your parents became more protective or more permissive with your change of country or culture?
What impact would this have had on your sense of ability and independence?
Were skills expected of you in your new environment that you had not yet consolidated or even encountered a need for?
Feeling safe enough to try and fail, and feeling confident that effort and ability will eventually bring success and skill – well, Erikson calls this the virtue of WILL. We know we have a sense of WILL when we find ourselves okay with knowing how to do somethings and not others, because we are confident we can learn if we need to. We have no particular fear that we will fail at life because we learnt, long ago, that we are people who can do things. We trust our abilities and feel no particular shame at our limitations, because we understand our abilities to outweigh the latter.
Do you trust your own abilities? Do you feel pretty in control in your everyday life? If your answer is no, or even if there is some hesitancy there, I would invite you explore what was going on for you at the time it was so important, according to Erikson at least!) to learn you were a person who can effectively wield personal power and self-control to obtain the outcomes you want.
Because there is always something we can do when our stories do not run smooth. We listen to where they gurgle or splash, disrupted here or there by diversions or blockages, interrupting our flow. And we revisit these places, gently, tenderly. And we give ourselves the opportunity to learn anew how to flow smoothly and collect the skills we desire along the way.
What can you do to strengthen your Third Culture Kid identity, your sense of personal control and autonomy? Can you see areas in your life where you give power away to others, asking them to do what you don’t feel able to do yourself? There is great strength in reaching for help – that reach uses muscles too – but where we overreach our arms, our legs may begin to atrophy… and our fear of falling keeps us paralysed.
I’m talking about emotional physio here – in what areas do you need to gently move those muscles of self-will and confidence? Are their skill sets that you find yourself crossing the street to avoid? What would you need to build confidence in engaging in these areas? Options might include taking measured risks, setting small, sequential goals, practising a kinder internal voice to use to encourage you through errors or mistakes.
If one answer is personal, one-to-one, empathic support from another TCK, do get in touch with me here for a free consultation. I’d be honoured to hear your story and explore your Third Culture Kid identity together, strengthening you along the way.