7 Spot-On Ways TCKs Deal with Grief

One thing all TCKs have in common? Grief.

What is the most common reason adult TCKs seek counseling? “Unresolved loss and grief,” writes expat counselor Kay Bruner in her article “Ask a Counselor: How do we Process Loss and Grief?

You see, TCKs attend many funerals. Hidden, heart-level funerals felt in the depths of our hearts. With each transition in our lives, we experience the “death” of friendships, houses, lifestyles, routines, and traditions.

Some of these losses are significant. Others don’t appear grief-worthy. Who knew I would cry tears of longing over smells? Sights? Sounds? Tastes?

“But eventually, all of these little things pile up,” one ATCK in her mid-twenties told me over coffee one recent rainy afternoon, “until you feel huge, heavy loss that you don’t know what to do with.” When the loss is great, most TCKs search for a hasty escape from this burden of sadness.

In an effort to appear as though everything is “just fine,” they deal with their grief in one (or many!) of these seven ways:

#1 The Stuffer

The Stuffer’s primary thought is “I don’t go there.” They refuse to deal with the emotions in their hearts that emerge from loss and grief.

The Stuffer End Result: Their grief manifests itself through anger until they can’t contain it anymore. They eventually reach an “exploding point.”

 

#2 The Denier

The Denier’s primary thought is “That didn’t happen to me.” They refuse to acknowledge or talk about their losses.

The Denier End Result: They eventually become caught in unprocessed experiences and unspoken sorrow.   They also tend to hide their TCK upbringings from non-TCKs.

 

#3 The Numb (er)

The Numb(er)’ s primary thought is “I don’t feel that.” They refuse to feel grief, detaching themselves emotionally.
The Numb(er)

End Result: Because emotions are numbed collectively, they can’t just numb their grief. In their efforts to quench their sorrow, they also numb their joy.

 

#4 The Dweller

The Dweller’s primary thought is “I’m stuck. I can’t move forward.”  They become too attached to their losses. They refuse to acknowledge them, grieve them, and then move on.

The Dweller

End Result: Always looking back, they can’t grow new roots in new locations. They tend to talk incessantly about their TCK struggles. Accepting their current circumstances can be extremely difficult.  

 

#5 The Forgetter

The Forgetter’s primary thought is “I’m excited. Forget the past and dive into the future.” Throwing their energy and focus into their changing circumstances, they’re too busy to grieve.

The Forgetter

End Result: About six months to a year after this transition, they are typically overwhelmed with massive amounts of unexpected grief and regret.

 

#6 The Faker

The Faker’s primary thought is “I’m not supposed to be sad.” Usually, they feel as though they don’t have permission to grieve.

The Faker

End Result: As their grief piles high, they hide behind a false façade of enthusiasm. But they soon grow accustomed to shoving hurt or pain behind this always-ready façade instead of expressing and processing sorrow.

 

 #7 The Tougher

The Tougher’s primary thought is “I have to be strong. I don’t want to be an annoyance.” They choose to ‘suck it up,’ refusing to show their grief for fear of appearing weak, too sensitive, or bothersome to others.

The Tougher

 

End Result: Their unresolved grief becomes stifling. They soon build a wall of bitterness around their hearts, showing irritation or impatience towards those who openly express their grief.

~

TCKs have become experts at not grieving. We’ve forgotten that the act of grieving keeps us connected to the things we’ve lost. We’ve become accustomed to banning grief. We treat it like a game of Hot Potatoes—tossing it up and away from us for fear of getting burned.

Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than mono-cultural individuals do in a lifetime,” said David Pollock, a pioneer in TCK research.

And deep inside us, beyond the fear of being misunderstood or of appearing weak, we fear that if we open our hearts to this grief within, we will be overwhelmed by it.

But healing doesn’t come when we ban grief.

Healing doesn’t come when we stuff, numb, deny, dwell, forget, fake, or tough our losses.

Healing comes when we choose to feel grief.

Which of these ways do you deal with losses? Do you find yourself banning grief? 

Illustrations by Sydney Murray


16 thoughts on “7 Spot-On Ways TCKs Deal with Grief

  1. This is so me as we repatriated to a different area of the US from which I had previous experience. Coming from ten years overseas and piggy backing that return after the death of my father and all of our kids not wanting to move, all this is valid. THANK YOU!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I’m somewhere between #3 and #5. There have been points where the losses pile up and overwhelm me, but I generally throw myself into work to deal with it or live in that mid range. Great post! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t you think any TCKs deal with their grief? I have experienced several of these myself and see some in my children. But I also think there are healthy ways of grieving and I think at least some TCKs do learn how to do it well. Would you be willing to explore this topic? I don’t mean prescribed ways but actual, experienced ways in which we can and have learned to grieve well. Thanks.

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  4. “Healing comes when we choose to feel grief.” YUP……BUT….grief also cries out for someone(s) to walk thru it with you. To be wiling to sit with you quietly sharing the pain. Too often, the tck’s lifestyle leads to disconnect and alone-ness. Or those around you are also practicing one of the 7 above. Compounds the grief.

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  5. I do echo what I read from Sherry, there does seem to be an assumption that no TCK can manage grief, or deal with loss, or cope with an identity crisis, whereas it might be more instructive to find out those who have and what it was that helped them through those processes.

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    1. Mark and Sherry, Thank you so much for your comments about TCKs and grief. You are right that many TCKs do know how to grieve well. I completely agree! I never meant to imply that all TCKs don’t grieve well. But many of the TCKs I’ve met don’t realize that they are actually grieving internally. They don’t realize that they are coping with their grief in one (or many) of these seven ways. My intention for this article was help TCKs realize the ways they are personally coping with their grief, so that they can then learn how to cope with loss in healthy ways.

      Your comments have inspired me to research this more thoroughly! Thank you again for connecting and sharing your thoughts. And be on the lookout for Grief Post Part 2: Healthy Ways TCKs Can Cope with Grief! 🙂

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  6. As a counselor for many years, I can testify that these same principals apply to anyone grieving. It is additionally hard in another country. Sometimes a funeral in the U.S. has to be missed by the whole family because they are on the field and just are not able to make the trip for the service.
    Having a “name” for what they are feeling I believe helps tremendously for people who are”stuck” in one or more of these processes and can’t seem to move on after a period of time. Not understanding why they feel angry, lonely and a range of other emotions makes the process of grieving difficult.
    Journaling, praying, crying out to God, reading scripture that applies to grieving, talking with a trusted friend and understanding God is not leaving us to deal with our loss alone are some ways to begin moving the process of becoming “unstuck.”
    Everybody grieves differently. God will take you through the grieving process in His time. He neither leaves us, nor forsakes us.
    This article was great. Thank you for presenting the message so clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for this. I have two TCKs, one in college and the other in American high school for the past year. This was very helpful and a good reminder of their struggle! I feel like I struggle with some of these things as well after having lived overseas for 15 years!

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    1. So happy to hear that this was helpful to you, Kim, as you thought about your and your two TCKs’ journey with grief. A few months after I wrote this, I wrote a post titled “5 Key Steps to Walking Through TCK Grief,” which was inspired by the feedback I received from this post. When I read your comment, I thought you might enjoy reading it. If interested, here’s the link: https://taylorjoymurray.com/2016/06/13/5-key-steps-to-walking-through-tck-grief/ 🙂

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  8. I’ll re-read but I’m missing the ‘ghoster’ the complete and utter denial of someone’s existence from the moment they leave even though they were best friends. The only way to ‘cope’ is to stay out of touch. This is what my TCK daughter has done with some. We will work on that not happening anymore, but it’s difficult, you can’t máke someone stay in touch much if their harness is some form of denial (of someone’s existence) and internalized sadness. I worry about her.

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    1. Loss can be so, so hard, Maria. My heart goes out to your daughter! Praying for her right now as she struggles with how to cope with the grief of losing deep friendships. I wrote a book when I was 13 titled “Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition.” It’s geared toward TCKs, with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I thought of your daughter when I read your comment. If you think she might enjoy reading it, here’s the link to purchase it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-My-Heart-Cultural-Transition/dp/0985219254/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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      1. Thank you, Taylor, we will look for your book. My daughter started early as a writer too, she published her first novel at age 9! She’s resilient, I just don’t always agree with her strategies.

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