Third Culture Kids and Responses to Pandemic

by | Mar 29, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

So how are Third Culture Kids doing in the current pandemic?

I’m hearing varied answers from TCKs during this pandemic so far. Some of us are feeling pretty calm, as though we’ve been prepped for this by previous chapters of our stories. Others of us are feeling horribly triggered… more loss, more uncertainty, more unknowns. Many of us are feeling some combination of the two. On top of this, I’m getting the sense that a lot of us are feeling that our response to coronavirus is yet another piece of data demonstrating that we are, in fact, very different to our non-TCK peers. And how do the significant non-TCKs in our lives understand our responses? What impact is this having on our relationships?

In this post I’m just going to walk through some of what I’m hearing from Third Culture Kids – and unpack why ALL of it is okay, “normal” and most definitely allowed. Our responses are so impacted by our previous experiences that we simply cannot expect ourselves to respond in the same way as people with different stories to our own. Let’s make some space for these different experiences, and different responses. Here is some of what I’m hearing…

I feel pretty prepared for this by my Third Culture Kid life

Many of us have encountered elements of this pandemic before. Whilst for many non-TCKs around us, disaster experienced on this scale is unprecedented… we’ve had precedent. Whilst often protected by our sending organisations to a certain degree, status, relative wealth, we have nevertheless often had exposure to some of the uncertainties and upheaval experienced by populations all around the world.

This might have included riots, blackouts, famine, high levels of infant mortality, government overthrow, curfews (formally imposed or culturally expected) or the prevalence of illnesses (and the devastation they cause) such as malaria, typhoid, dysentery. We may have grown up where not knowing what the supermarkets were stocking this week was just the norm. Certainly, many of us learnt early on that the future couldn’t always be predicted, often couldn’t be relied on, and that our plans were to be held oh so lightly.

I’m feeling triggered by all the uncertainty of this pandemic

Within our Third Culture Kid stories often lies trauma. And you find it’s being triggered by elements of circumstances now. Your brain is joining dots all over the place, and feels it’s recognising red flags and danger signs and is screaming at you to pay attention. Feeling trapped? Exposed to a danger to your bodily safety? Kept at a distance from family, friends, therapists, and other supportive individuals and groups? A sense of communal fear on a national scale pressing in on you from your phone, radio, TV? Financial security compromised? Access to sunlight restricted? There is a lot for your brain to go work on here…

I’m doing just fine and it’s weirding people out

We might be familiar with a sense of ‘weirding people out’ but that doesn’t make it comfortable necessarily. While we might understand why we are responding differently to our non-TCK peers in this coronavirus pandemic, it can feel alienating. People tend to draw comfort from shared experiences and by not sharing feelings of dread, horror or even panic, we can find ourselves being perceived as uncaring, distant or even dismissive.

In one conversation with a Third Culture Kid about this pandemic this week, we spoke of having a different sense of scale with regards to social and emotional catastrophe. It’s not a case of dismissing this disaster as being less significant than any other, but many of us have a different sense of the sheer number of significant disasters out there… and so it becomes one of many on our scale of awareness, rather than coronavirus feeling like the only or most significant one. But this can sound dismissive to the ears of others with different stories, different perspectives. And this can be hard to hold in our relationships.

And how do we respond to our responses – if you’ll excuse the phrasing?

“I feel pretty prepared for this by my Third Culture Kid life”

  • What skill sets have you picked up throughout your TCK story? Name the ones that can help you here… dig deep and see your resources stack up.
  •  Hold patience for those around you without your skill sets. They didn’t live your life. If there are skills you can share, share away… people need your abilities right now.

“I’m feeling triggered by all the uncertainty of this pandemic”

  • Reach for the most compassionate, generous parts of yourself, and apply them lavishly to yourself.
  • If your frontal lobes cooperate, can you note down all the ways this trauma is different to previous experiences? Try and bring into conscious awareness the resources you have now that you didn’t have then.
  • If you frontal lobes are not cooperating, give yourself recovery time from particularly triggered responses… it’s exhausting. We can train our bodies to help them recover faster, and even create some emotional muscle memory to help them ‘automate’ recovery aids – so we can bypass too much cognitive thinking when we are emotionally flooded. This website has been set up to support NHS key workers but there is a lot on here about breath work that is worth building into a daily routine… it lays a smoother path to recovering equilibrium again.
  • Create a morning and evening routine that you find motivating/soothing – whatever gets you in a good, balanced feeling place. We can create rituals using activities we enjoy, and again this ritual helps us to build emotional muscle memory we can lean into when our frontal lobes and rational thinking feels compromised. Consider combining activities such as yoga (YouTube have some great ‘yoga in bed’ videos if you need time nested in a ‘safe place’ first thing), lighting candles, playing a dedicated playlist using an app such as Spotify, burning incense, journaling, colouring, meditating, and quiet reading.

“I’m doing just fine and it’s weirding people out”

  • It’s okay to feel the way you do. You aren’t a monster. Nor are you superior in having a “broader perspective”. Just different. Again (!) But if you can, hug yourself close, and remind yourself that you make sense.
  • If you feel able to with your nearest and dearest, and they are expressing confusion about your responses – have a go explaining it to them. If you don’t feel able to, hold tight. Your relationships have survived other differences between you.
  • Some people might express to you their own sense of shame about their fear/panic reactions. They might be tempted to hold you as a model for how to ‘cope well’. You can gently remind them that you have different stories and what ‘coping well’ looks like will differ for each person. We’ve got to find our own ‘wellness model’ that works for us. Our reactions are so heavily based on our prior experiences that it simply doesn’t makes sense that people with different stories would mirror one another’s responses. Instead, our responses make most sense within the context of our own Story.



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