The #1 Most Common Myth about TCK and Relationships

PART 4 – “The #1 Most Common Myth about TCK and Relationships”.

By Ruth Van Reken.

I want to look at one more issue you raise – the idea that you
can’t really relate to someone who is not a TCK. That seems to be a
growing myth among TCKs and likely from the line in our definition
that says a TCKs sense of belonging is to others of like
experience. This doesn’t mean TCKs can ONLY find a sense of
belonging with other TCKs but it was more to broaden the way we can
find our “tribe” by shared experiences in today’s world rather than
only the more traditional ways of defining ethnicity by nationality
or race alone.

While it is true we can have a more instant connection to fellow
TCKs because there are huge chunks of ourselves that we quickly
understand when the other refers to something like reentry or the
adventure of discovering new places with each move, that doesn’t
mean we can’t also be friends with others. While our feelings and
experiences have occurred within a particular context, many others
have similar feelings that have come to them in other contexts. One
reason it is so important for us to do our own internal work to
understand our deeper story is so we can transfer those lessons
learned and understand others as well.
It may take a bit longer to get to know the other person since you
won’t have some of these “automatic” connections you might with
another TCK, but it can be done.

These are some concrete suggestions I would offer:

1. Realize every person you meet is “the same” as you – TCK or not.
Sometimes we don’t want to look at that as we feel as will lose
something of our “identity” if we don’t maintain a distinct
differentiation between us and others so let me explain.

2. Before you were/are a TCK, you are a person. But so is everyone
else you will ever meet. In other words, every person in this world
is fundamentally made to be a relational being with emotions,
creative potential, the right to make choices, the capacity to
think, and a place where all the pieces of who I/they am/are come
together with some sense of meaning in a cohesive place. We are
physical and spiritual beings as well.

Because of these realities, we also have common needs. The need for
relationships, as I mentioned, but also a safe way to express our
feelings, to create new things, whether in artistic form or some
other way, like, for me, with ideas, for others, a new engineering
project, etc. We need a place to make choices for without that, we
are victims. When we have choice, we are empowered. We are living
out the wonder of being human once again. We need physical exercise
and a deep sense that our lives have meaning and purpose.

So what does this have to do with anything you asked about?

Lots!! If I look at any person I meet as someone who has some
fundamental places of “likeness” with me rather then looking first
at the “difference,” then I can also expect that we can relate at
these places despite the variation in details of our life story.
Being a TCK becomes a way to frame or describe my life experiences
but that it does not define my total identity.

So how does that work out practically?

In Part 5, we will conclude the series, and discuss how to connect with non-TCKs, finding
common themes in our life stories, and connecting the dots at these
emotional places.

Why unresolved grief affect your relationships?

PART 3 – “Why unresolved grief affect your relationships… and
what to do about it”.

By Ruth Van Reken.

For me, it was important to be willing to actually look at my grief
and name the actual losses. Truthfully, I didn’t even know that’s
what it was when I started the journaling that became my first
book, Letters Never Sent. I only knew something was driving my
behavior and responses that didn’t make sense to me. In doing the
journaling, I made a commitment that I wouldn’t stop the tears if
they came while I was writing.

And as I wrote, I re-experienced the feelings of that first night
in boarding school at age six, the moment when the plane carried me
away from my beloved Nigeria at age 13, and so on. As the tears
fell, I let myself stay in the moment and wrote furiously to try to
get the right words to name the feelings I was having.

I knew they were what I felt so many years before, but at that
point I had to survive them, not define them. It’s interesting how
those past moments are as real as if they were happening once more
and that’s why it’s so hard to let ourselves go back. Who wants
pain? And we’ve become masters at avoiding it.

I don’t know what others do when they have named the reason for
their tears and the ache in their hearts in such moments. For me,
when I have the language then I pray for the comfort that I would
need if, in fact, this was happening in “real time.” Others may
find other ways to express or release the pain through art, talking
with others, and so on. Often this is where a professional
counselor can also be of help to give a safe space where the grief
can come out. Counselors may not all understand your life
experience, but if you can name the losses, especially the hidden
ones, they will be able to help you process it, if needed. For me,
none were available so it wasn’t even an option but the journaling,
prayer, and friends who would listen were enough for me to release
the pain for that while.

By the way, it was important for me to also realize that I wasn’t
disowning my parents or my faith to look at these losses.

The reality is we don’t grieve for something we don’t love and I
had, in fact, loved my life as a TCK, I had loved
my family, and the grief was an affirmation of the very goodness of
these things or I wouldn’t have minded losing them. Even for your
brother, his sense of being abandoned is, in reality, an
affirmation of how much he wanted your parents because there was
the potential for deep relationship there that it seems didn’t
happen for whatever reason. In other words, we can even grieve for
the potential good that was missed in our lives.

When we have named our losses and allowed the grief to be expressed
at long last, and found a place and way to be comforted in that
discovery process (yes, comfort from somewhere or someone is
essential for healing of grief), then we will realize we can
actually make new choices.

One friend with a story similar to yours of always moving in hopes
of finding the magical and elusive “it” began to name the high
amount of mobility and thus the ongoing
losses in her life. In the end, she felt those “itchy feet” again
and started to talk of moving when it occurred to her for the first
time, “I like it here! I have a good job, good place to live, have
just begun to make some friends. Why is it I’m wanting to move
except from habit?” For the first time she realized she could make
a choice to stay!

For me, as I began to recognize the patterns of withdrawal I threw
into my marriage, in particular the days before one of us was going
on a trip, I could make a choice in a new way. I could see the
behavior for what it was…a protection…and make a choice on
I wanted to withdraw and lose this time as well as when my husband
or I would actually be gone, or if I would choose to stay engaged
and kind during the time we did have, and not fear crying like mad
when we were finally apart. Ironically, instead of making the
leaving worse, it made it better as I didn’t have all the regrets
of how badly I had been behaving to go through.

In Part 4, I will discuss a growing myth among TCKs and likely from the line in our definition
that says a TCKs sense of belonging is to others of like experience.

Looking forward to helping you.

Kind Regards,

Ruth Van Reken

How Do I Find Relationships That Are Meaningful?

How can Third Culture Kids find relationships that are meaningful?

This Part 2 of the 5-Part Email mini course “TCK Relationships and Grief”. You can download it here.

By Ruth Van Reken

First, let’s validate the fact that the desire for close relationships is real for at our very core, we are made to be relational beings.

All of us have a deep need to know others and to be known by them in a way that transcends discussions the facts about our lives alone. It includes a knowing of how each other feels, thinks, and operates. This includes non-TCKs as well as TCKs.

It is part of being human.

But getting to know others beyond the surface takes time. That’s why high mobility in our lives matters.

When we, or others around us, keep moving from one place to another – whether because of our parent’s career when we were children, or now by choice as adults – we don’t have the time needed to establish those types of relationships.

The inability to feel connected at some point, however, transcends physical mobility alone. Many of us have put up barriers inside where we have consciously or unconsciously made a decision to protect against future hurt by “not caring” or simply not engaging.

One twelve year old TCK told me so in plain words.

After I had talked about one of the possible challenges of mobility being the pain of losing, this TCK came up to me and said…

“I used to mind when people came to our area for a short time and then left again. Then I decided not to care and I’ve been fine since then.” …And I thought, “Come see me in twenty years when you won’t know how to let yourself care enough to let anyone in to those inner spaces.”

In my own story, I couldn’t understand when I got married, why every time I felt especially close to my husband, I seemed to start a fuss about something small… who was going to take out the garbage.

Eventually I saw that I was so terrified of losing this person I loved, it seemed safer to keep that last bit of distance between us so it wouldn’t hurt so much if he was killed in an accident or left for any other reason. Thankfully, we’ve been married almost 41 years so far, but it took a long time to let that barrier down.

So this is where I see the problem with finding connections with others often beginning to also tie in with the grief issues.

For you, it has seemed easier to “try again” in a new place and keep hoping for the magical cure for this inner restlessness and longing rather than to risk getting close enough to someone who may leave once more.

Ironically, we can sometimes unconsciously have self-fulfilling prophecies, e.g. “I know I’ll never get to close to anyone so I”ll leave first.”

Your brother may get angry to keep others, or your parents, at bay, even while wanting to be closer to them.

We are all such strange creatures, aren’t we?

While all of these protective mechanisms serve a useful purpose to get us through extremely hard times emotionally, when we get trapped in them they become our prison. I liken it to physical shock. When the body is severely wounded, it will go into shock mode, where the blood vessels in our extremities constrict so all the blood is sent to keep the vital organs working. It is called survival mode. But if a body stays in that mode forever, the person will still die as ultimately our extremities also need a blood supply.

So it is for emotional “shock.”

The methods you and your brother picked up to survive kept you basically internally intact to this point. That’s good. But it’s not where you want to stay for by now these same coping mechanisms are starting to keep you from living the very lives you are meant to be living.

The question for us all, of course, is that we can recognize these things, but then what do we do about it?

In Part 3, I will share examples on how I have dealt with grief, advice on relating to
someone who is not a TCK, and how this works out practically.

Looking forward to helping you.

Kind Regards,

Ruth Van Reken

This Part 2 of the 5-Part Email mini course “TCK Relationships and Grief”. You can download it here.

Dear Ruth, I’m still searching for my “home”…

Dear Ruth,

I am a 29 year old TCK and am still searching for my ‘home’, mostly
by traveling as far away from everyone I know whenever I get the
chance. I feel very isolated in most places simply because I don’t
end up in areas where there are TCKs to relate to. Although my
parents are becoming more aware of TCK issues, they still do not
understand the grief that was involved in our lifestyle for myself
or my brother and this has lead to many issues that we still cannot
resolve in our lives. For my brother it is breaking off
communication in a form of rejection that is not
intentional but subconscious to pay back my parents for a time he
felt they abandoned him. For me it is moving as often as possible
to the next place that will finally make me feel whole, but it
never does and I am
finding it harder and harder to make meaningful connections in my

These are my questions:

1. What is the best way for TCKs to go about trying to make deeper
connections with the people around them when they find themselves
in situations where they are the only TCK?

2. How can a TCK come to terms with grief that has not been
resolved after many years when they don’t have a support system
around to help them deal with that grief in a safe way?

Signed: Wondering


Dear Wondering:

Thanks for the questions. They reflect so many of our stories.

To begin, let me say that it’s great you realize the behavior patterns you see in yourself and your brother are reflections of deeper realities in your life.

This is a huge and positive headstart – to not blame the circumstances you’re in per se for your reactions.

Once we recognize, as you have, that although our circumstances may change but our responses do not, we can begin to look for the choices we can make within our circumstances to bring about the changes we long for.

That’s why I love your questions because what I really believe you are asking is, “When I am not feeling my needs for relationship are met and I don’t know what to do with my grief, what other choices besides running away do I have to try to meet these needs?”

What a perfect place to begin.

Although it may seem to some that you are asking about two separate things – a lack of connection and unresolved grief – my sense is you already know they are connected.

For many TCKs, the pain of losing so many relationships in their lives results in a certain guarding in future relationships. Consciously we long for the very intimacy we unconsciously run away from for fear of one more loss.

It’s a rather amazing paradox, isn’t it?

In Part 2, I will make a couple of points on the issue of “How do I find relationships that are meaningful?”, such as the emotional “distance” we put between the people we love, before we move on to talk about grief and how the two are related.

You can download the full series for free, here.

Looking forward to helping you.

Kind Regards,

Ruth Van Reken

P.S: Please reply to this post and let me know what you think.

Table Of Contents for the 5-Part mini-course:

Part 1 – “Dear Ruth, I’m still searching for my “home”…”

Part 2 – “How do I Find Relationships That Are Meaningful?”

Part 3 – “Why Unresolved Grief Affect Your Relationships… And
What To Do About It”

Part 4 – “The #1 Most Common Myth About TCK And Relationships”

Part 5 – “How to Relate to Non-TCKs”

Welcome to Ruth Van Reken’s “TCK Relationships and Grief” Mini-course

Welcome to the Ruth Van Reken 5-Part mini-course entitled: “TCK Relationships and Grief”.

In this mini-series, you will discover some great tips and ideas that will help you improve your relationships, and fully develop the gifts you received from this TCK experience.

Download the 12-page mini-course series in PDF format.


Table Of Contents for the 5-Part mini-course:

Part 1 – “Dear Ruth, I’m still searching for my “home”…”

Part 2 – “How do I Find Relationships That Are Meaningful?”

Part 3 – “Why Unresolved Grief Affect Your Relationships… And
What To Do About It”

Part 4 – “The #1 Most Common Myth About TCK And Relationships”

Part 5 – “How to Relate to Non-TCKs”

What is this TCK Class?

About the TCK Class

We are very excited to announce our newest offerings for the entire TCK community, kindly sponsored by members of TCKID Private. Since debuted in November 2007, members have been asking us, “What are some things that you can recommend to help us better understand the TCK experience?

Well, we have been listening to your concerns, and quietly in the background, we have been creating a dynamic program that we hope will excite and encourage provocative dialogue on.

We’ve gathered an impressive list of prominent leaders in the TCK and Cross-Cultural Transition community for a series of intimate and powerful conversations and teleclasses to help you better understand and make practical applications of the gifts of your lived experiences. Adult Third Culture Kids and Cross Culture Kids, Parents, Educators, Counselors or anyone else living and working within our diverse community are welcomed to join us.

We are officially announcing them with a special offer of a free 5-part series from our very own, Ruth E. Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids: the Experience of Growing up Among Worlds and Letters Never sent.


Ruth Van Reken


Consultant, adult TCK, co-founder of Families in Global Transition, co-author Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds and Letters Never sent. (more)

Paulette Bethel

PhD (ABD), MA, LMFT is the founder of Brighter Pathway International, PLLC, a consultancy and a global executive coaching agency… (more)

To register and have access to our upcoming teleclasses, visit this website: