TCKs are often referred to as cultural chameleons. They have a wonderfully complex ability to morph into the present culture, environment, and situation. They blend in in a way that makes them look like a native, though they are often anything but.
This trait is a valuable form of protection. It keeps them from always looking like the outsider (though it may not keep them from constantly feeling like one) and it helps them to be successful and accepted in any culture.
I have noticed in my work with TCKs, that it is typically between the ages of 13 to 25 that they take on the most chameleon-like form. In this time period, they are uncomfortably aware of the peering eyes of those around them (real or perceived) and they are simultaneously not yet comfortable in their own skin.
OR, they don’t even know what their own skin looks like because it has changed colors so often.
While this adaptability can be helpful, I have realized in my own life that the reason behind it, especially during those years, went far deeper then just wanting to fit in.
I was a chameleon because I knew that to be exposed, to change to the wrong color at the wrong time, to momentarily forget (or genuinely not know) how to go about life like a competent young adult in my passport culture would be incredibly shameful.
The underlying reason for mastering the trait of adaptability was shame.
For many teenage and young adult TCKs, this shame dictates their life. They put an incredible amount of energy and emotion into looking like they belong out of fear that they will be found out. Out of fear that they will misstep and someone will see it and mentally shame them for their cultural faux pax. Out of fear that people will silently applaud the inner voice that tells them they truly will never fit in.
Shame is not often talked about in the TCK world, though I believe that it is a significant issue for this growing population.
If you are a parent of a TCK, or are working with TCKs, consider bringing “shame” into your vocabulary. Spend a significant amount of time helping your TCK to wrestle through the things that are core to who they are. How do those core traits play out in their life? What do they do because it is a part of who they are, and what do they do out of fear of not blending in with everyone else?
As TCKs mature, they begin to discover their color - the color that doesn’t change out of fear of being found out, but instead the color that they are proud to be wherever they are.
Because of their diverse background, this identity may not look exactly like any one place or people, but it is instead a beautiful and healthy mixture of all the cultures that have made them who they are.
In my own life, this shedding of the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors has been an incredibly shame-reducing, self-esteem building process, but it had to begin with realizing the true reason behind my chameleon nature. Shame.
Let’s work together to expose and tenderly love-out the hidden shame of the TCKs in our lives.