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Third Culture Kids And Separation Anxiety

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 to. Although understandable considering their age and vulnerability, toddlers often display signs of separation anxiety when left at pre-school and so do dogs when left alone in the house. Adults displaying the same level of anxiety at the prospect of being separated from someone they are close to, or a place they feel a strong attachment to, are likely to be suffering from 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 you yourself have to move because your 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 the other 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.

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.

Philip Andersson

Life Coach

Cross Culture Therapy


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Philip Andersson – Life Coach

Philip Andersson is a life-coach who is currently studying to become a psychotherapist. He treats people suffering from depression, phobias and anxiety. Having been raised in Hong Kong and having lived in England and Japan as an adult, Philip also treats people who are overcome with feelings of displacement and rudderlessness associated with a global-nomad lifestyle such as Third Culture Kids, Cross Culture Kids, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.

What We Do!

Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions to people suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety as well as to people who suffer from displacement issues associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (i.e.Third Culture Kids – people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture – and Cross Culture Kids) Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 3-sessions or 5-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.

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