Single Blog

Third Culture Kids And Separation Anxiety


The diagnosis Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) pertains to when an individual feels excessive anxiety at the prospect of being separated from people or places that they feel a strong emotional attachment towards.

Although understandable considering their age and vulnerability, toddlers, for example, often display signs of separation anxiety when left at pre-school and so do dogs when left alone in the house.


Amazon Echo
Book An Online Therapy Session
For Third Culture Kids & Expats!
Consultation (15 min) = 25 USD
Session (50 min) = 70 USD

Book Appointment

Safe and Secure. SSL Encrypted.


Adults displaying the same level of anxiety at the prospect of being separated from someone close to them, or a place they feel a strong attachment toward, is however problematic and they are therefore diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder.

So how does this apply to Third Culture Kids?



How Separation Anxiety Is Formed In Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids are children who have spent a majority of their formative years in a country different to that of the passport country of their birth parents.

A lot of Third Culture Kids are children of bankers, diplomats, army personnel and the like and are therefore likely to move around a lot.

The life of a Third Culture Kid can therefore be seen as fertile breeding ground for separation anxiety.

Not only is there an anxiety about being separated from relatives in the home country such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, but there is also an anxiety about being separated from friends in the country in which one is residing.

There is a possibility that one’s close friends are forced to move because their parents are being deployed to another country or that they themselves have to move because their parents have found work elsewhere.



Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, there is an anxiety related to temporary separation and permanent separation.

Often, summer and winter vacations will be spent in the passport country and autumn and spring semester will be spent in the country of residence and each time one travels to either place one leaves friends and relatives behind.

From a child’s perspective even a short amount of time can be long enough for bonds of friendship to weaken and for people to change.




Therefore, when one is faced with the prospect of leaving a place albeit temporarily, one is met with anxiety at the thought of people changing whilst one is away.

The same can be applied to places.

Separation from ones home country or from the country one is residing in can be painful whether it is temporary or permanent.

Not only does the anxiety relate to certain places within the country such as hangouts, school, shopping malls etc, but also to the home itself and to one’s bedroom. There can be things one cherishes that one has to leave behind.

For Third Culture Kids who have lived in several places throughout their childhood there will be a strong connection to each and wherever one goes one will feel anxiety at leaving those other places behind, even if it’s temporary.


Depression Test

Take a short break from reading this article to fill in my depression test! I’ll suggest treatment methods, articles and podcasts based on your results. Also, you’ll get free access to an online mental health course!


How Separation Anxiety Is Displayed In Adult Third Culture Kids

Separation Anxiety in Third Culture Kids is often mistaken for death anxiety.

A lot of people report anxiety related to death. This is of course by no means uncommon but a lot of Third Culture Kids report death anxiety as a permanent fixture in their daily lives at a very young age, even as teenagers.

Another strong indicator of separation anxiety in Adult Third Culture Kids is a willingness to form strong bonds with people at an early stage in their relationships.

ATCKs are eager to make new best friends, new “family members” or new boyfriends and girlfriends quickly as a way of making their relationships seem more permanent than they have been until then. It is a way of reassuring themselves.



How Separation Anxiety Can Lead To Depression In ATCKs

Untreated Separation Anxiety can lead to depression in the same way all other forms of anxiety lead to depression.

People suffering from anxiety often feel ashamed at not being able to control their feelings and try to overcome this by looking for weaknesses in their personality and trying to change them.

This type of controlling behaviour only serves to emphasise the anxiety’s power over the person and this in turn becomes a vicious circle of self-hate and anxiety leading to depression.



Next Article: When the Pillars of Third Culture Kid Lifestyle Fall

Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock provide numerous theories regarding the cross-culture lifestyle in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Amongst them is the theory about identity anchors or pillars (sometimes called tent-pegs). The theory relates to the Third Culture Kid’s capability of transitioning between three distinct cultures during their daily life; home culture, school / work culture and the local culture. …. READ MORE




About The Author

Was this article helpful?
Invalid email address

Comments (0)

© Copyright 2024 - Wherapy