I am the ugly duckling.
Or, at least I thought I was. For years, I thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me because I just didn’t fit in with the other ducks.
There was some solace in the discovery that I was a Third Culture Kid–knowing that I actually wasn’t a duck, but something else entirely. That there were a whole group of others out there who, like me, didn’t fit into the mold of someone who had grown up in only one country. But, unfortunately, that knowledge didn’t take away the desire to fit into the “duck world” and it certainly didn’t take away the hurt of being rejected by the other ducks.
Some TCKs who feel this way rebel. They want everyone to know, “I do not and will not fit in!” “I AM NOT A DUCK!” They find their way into the other crowds of misfits. Often, those crowds are the troublemakers– the anti-conformists who rebel against the rules of society and their parents.
Others, prefer to attempt to blend in as stealthily as possible. For me, this meant not talking much, wearing neutral colors that were sure to not attract attention, and watching closely in order to strategically act like a duck; hoping to fool people into thinking that I was one.
While most TCKs encounter the “ugly duckling syndrome” at some point in their life, for some it evolves into a more serious, long-term issue: terminal uniqueness.
I first heard the term, “terminal uniqueness” in a college psychology class. My heart seized up a little. I know that feeling. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have been healed from that diagnosis in the years between then and now. There are two things that happen when you feel terminally unique:
1. You resolve that you will never fit in, never belong, and never be understood
2. You judge those who don’t share in your uniqueness (aren’t TCKs) and decide that you didn’t really want to be like “them” anyway.
This dilemma typically arises in high school or college, when the TCK returns to their passport country for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, I have observed many TCKs who, as adults, still feel terminally unique. They feel that they will never really belong in a duck world and defensively decide that the ducks really aren’t worth fitting in with anyway. This strange combination of poor self-esteem mixed with arrogance becomes a stumbling block for far too many TCKs. When the uniqueness truly becomes terminal, it can be incredibly debilitating.
So, how can parents and caregivers of TCKs prevent the “Ugly Duckling Syndrome” from manifesting into “terminal uniqueness”?
Next week, I’ll continue this conversation and explore practical methods of preventing and overcoming this common challenge.