Poppy Field

Reflections of a TCK Researcher: TCKs' Sense of Loss from Reciprocity with People, Places, Nature, Objects as They Move

August 10, 2019

In interviewing an adult TCK on the multiple connections she had in different countries growing up, she described this well: “Though I feel grateful that I feel like I have two homes that I feel a sense of belonging for (America and India), I also miss one when I am in the other.” There is a conflicting sense of loss and missing out wherever she is specifically located. She explained that it is hard for her to say goodbyes, as to her, there is a unique dynamic that is created only when the particular two persons comes together in a relationship—this is reciprocity explained.


Unbeknownst to TCKs, the located-reciprocal parts of their core selves can be buried or hidden when they adapt to new places. In order to fit in and be understood, they often engage in the process of deliberate code-switching (e.g., languages or cultural norms) that they lose those parts of who they are ‘reciprocated’ in the previous contexts they lived in. This naturally leads to identity confusion or deep sense of losses for TCKs when they do not feel a sense of connectedness to particular places or cultures that they are expected to feel connected to. I have come to see that explanation of identity confusion could be approached from using the reciprocating self concept, that the confusion is due to the loss of an identity inspired when the self interacts with these places, culture, objects, and people who belonged to places they have left behind. Somehow, people, and TCKs, have difficulty accessing certain parts of their core selves, which could be consciously or unconsciously suppressed, when they are no longer in those physical spaces.


For TCKs, frequent relocation processes can create significant hidden losses and unresolved grief, which were concepts discussed in Pollock and Van Reken (2000). The grief of TCKs is complex and remains unresolved for years mainly because they were hidden, and difficult to articulate. I would add on to propose that hidden losses are intangible losses which could stem from losing the ability to access to who they are when TCKs are no longer in those locations of their significant memories. That is why, it is so life-giving when TCKs meet other third culture individuals, they connect so well via a shared third culture-ness. I believe, TCKs find themselves being able to be in touch with who they are again, when they meet people or see places, objects that resembles what they miss, helping them recover and relive those intangible parts of their core selves again.