I know I’m lucky. I know I’ve had a very privileged life, full of wonderful experiences. In fact, I sometimes describe myself as a collector of experiences, like others collect precious gems. But I have collected one experience along the way that weighs heavy; hidden loss. Perhaps you recognise this one too.
I am a Third Culture Kid. And with every move I made, I gained… and lost.
I lost languages.
I lost friends.
I lost the ability to trust in continuity of affection and relationship – I came to believe that relationships wouldn’t last.
I lost homes.
I lost intimacy with my extended family.
I lost educational opportunities.
It can be hard to acknowledge this loss. It can simply feel a lot like whining. A phrase I hear a lot in my TCK clients is, “I struggle so much, but after all, I am fortunate – I know”. Awareness of our own privilege can easily block our ability to acknowledge the presence and significance of loss in our lives.
Another block to acknowledging the losses we have sustained is the feeling that doing so will blame the people or institutions (or God) that were behind the decisions that kept us moving, kept us from staying. Acknowledging our pain might feel tied up with needing to know where to assign responsibility for it.
And so the pain lurks on, in the back of our minds, in the dark and lonely corners of our hearts. Unnamed, unwelcome, unacknowledged.
Why name loss ? Why acknowledge it?
Because our loss makes its effects felt even while we try to dismiss it. When we try and catch the rising tears, unbidden and frightening in their ferocity – there is loss. Another relationship comes and goes, reminding us that people always leave – there is loss. Feelings of hesitancy to enjoy even a few moments of peace and contentment, because we cannot trust this feeling to last – there is loss.
Naming our losses, does not need to detract from our gains. Acknowledging the pain of the hike doesn’t need to sour the beauty of the views. No either or, just a fuller picture. A more real picture, one with shadows as well as highlights. A story with depth, grounded in our actual experiences, rather than in the ones we feel we were supposed to have.
No blame pain
I believe the notion of “no blame pain” can be a very useful one here. While understanding and acknowledging the impact other people’s decisions on our lives is important, we can lay that down for a moment if its getting in the way of noticing our own pain. There are many times when we have felt losses at the hands of those we love, and this complicates our ability to acknowledge that hurt has even occurred. It may well be that blame for certain losses is entirely appropriate, laying responsibility at the doors of those inflicting pain is an important part of many healing journeys.
But sometimes, the burden of this is enough to stop us even acknowledging our pain, for fear that doing so will require us to have to ‘do something’ with it. “No blame pain” says, it is simply there. Let’s just acknowledge that it is there for now; I feel loss and pain. I lost things/people/places and it hurts.
What are your hidden losses?
Do you feel lurking, hidden, unacknowledged loss?
What impact is this unspoken loss having on your life?
Can you coax your pain our of the shadows, to be seen… perhaps even comforted?
Get in touch if you would like support in doing this – sharing a story of loss is a powerful experience, and it would be an honour to walk with you as you seek to bring depth to your story – the shadows and the light.
“Acknowledging the pain of the hike doesn’t need to sour the beauty of the views. No either or, just a fuller picture. A more real picture, one with shadows as well as highlights.”
Thank you so much for reading, Sharon – means a lot. I’m so glad it spoke to you.
First, a relatively petty comment: Things . . . I lost things. Back in the middle-50s when I left Nigeria for good, it happened (with the least possible amount of notice) a month before boarding school let out for the year. No telephones; slow mail. My father showed up at school, we packed our stuff and left (with never a stop back at the mission station where my wonderful “things” lived while I was at school). I’m not sure why the timing fell so wretchedly; perhaps some other family had to cancel their booking, and the opening fell to us . . . at a time when bookings may have been difficult to land. I don’t remember saying ‘goodbyes’ . . . more on that in a bit. Kind of a rushed situation, at any rate. People usually say something like, “Oh, they’re just things. You can always replace things.” Because of my collector nature, things mean a lot to me. In particular, books, minerals, and stone weapons and tools. It cut me deeply that I didn’t at least get a chance to choose my favorites to keep. The decision was made by my parents in my absence; most everything of that nature got left behind. To this day (I’m almost eighty), things mean a lot (likely too much) to me. I’m way too attached to them, to put it more bluntly. We’ve made an attempt to not leave too much “stuff” for the kids to have to deal with when we’re gone. We made a valiant effort. Not too surprisingly, we reached a point where it was too painful to release more. Made the decision that the kids would have to toss what they didn’t want to keep, but we weren’t going to dispose of any more of it at this point. When and if I have to move to a more space-limited living situation, selecting just a few items to go with me will be one of the painful aspects. But at least I’ll have some choice (I hope).
The other comment will be about “good-byes.” Since I went on forever about the first point, I’ll try to be briefer now. Because of the way we got yanked out, with virtually no farewells, for many years I tended to avoid goodbyes. Then, some decades later, it devastated me if there was not a goodbye at a leaving. More recently, I still very much want farewells, but not quite as desperately.
My attribution of the reasons behind some of my loss-feelings above may not be spot-on, but they do seem plausible to this old AMK.
Not petty at all! Things really, really matter. We can be so quick to dismiss them in an attempt to eschew materialism… but they matter. They are externalisations of our identities – we leave them, we leave parts of our selves. I too am not somewhat of a collector. I find comfort in having things around me that are full of memories and significance. Goodbyes matter too. We need emotional rituals that remind us that we are leaving, and that in some way affirm that we were ever ‘here’. Without a goodbye, do we leave without a trace? And how does it feel to leave no trace upon the world? You raise wonderful points, as ever, Dan. Thank you so much for reading!
Dan, I’m so sorry to read about the way you departed Africa. Very tough. I wasn’t able to bring all my “special things” but some of them (leave the bow, take the arrow, etc.)
True of me i have attachment and commitment issues among emotional issues. Easily depressed, anxious. Thankyou for this article
I’m glad you found this helpful, John. I’m sorry you struggle with these issues. I’ve experienced myself, and noticed in other TCKs too, that attachment/commitment issues are a common challenge for us. I hope you are getting the support you want with these issues?
Wow. This spoke volumes
Thank you so much for reading! I’m so glad it spoke to you…