When a Stiff Upper Lip Doesn't Cut the Mustard

Mar 15, 2021 11:54:29 AM Sarah Rymer

It hit me like a punch to the gut: news of another colleague moving on. However, rather than doubling over - the normal reaction to receiving a wallop to the entrails - I took a deep breath and turned to the next email in my inbox.

Canva Photo (10)

In the previous 12 months, I’d lost count of the number of coworkers and friends moving out of my sphere into others. After all, aren’t there innumerable reasons for transition: following a call or vision, promotion, expansion, consolidation, a change in circumstances, health needs, school needs, family needs, these days just about anything related to COVID?

We experience so much change it should just register as a blip on the radar, right? Not as a 7 or 8 on the Richter Scale. This is life. The nature of the work we’ve chosen. The world we live in. Par for the course. . . of course?

I’m an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid), and the longest period I’ve ever spent anywhere in my life to date was in the 10 years between finishing university and getting into my current profession. Even those 10 years were split between 2 jobs and 2 apartments and involved goodbyes to 2 roommates. Transition, not to mention an “itchy foot,” are part of my make-up, let alone my lifestyle. I’m regularly on the move, and if I’m not, there’s an antsy sensation at the back of my mind wondering if all is as it should be.

So why does someone else’s transition knock my own orientation askew like a rug being pulled from under my feet? And what’s the trouble with acknowledging that it does? What’s the problem with failing to pause and give yet another change more than a nod to the “normal”?

In spite of the hopscotch life I lead, I actually crave stability, familiarity, and the chance to sink my roots into something, someone, or somewhere. And I think we can all agree that that is normal, normal to every human being. In spite of being able to identify this contradiction of my lifestyle vs. my nature, it wasn’t until a conversation a few months ago when I finally realized that I need to treat each new “blow” as more than just getting the wind knocked out of me.

I need to take the step of naming transitions that feel like loss as “loss.” Because even small changes (i.e., a friend leaving my organization but not my town) have, indeed, hurt. And an accumulation of small changes can add up to real pain.

In their book "The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds,"* David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken discuss what they call “hidden losses,” which are "intangible losses tucked in amid the many benefits of a TCK’s life, creating a special problem for dealing with the grief related to each loss. Because these losses are hidden, they are the most often unnoticed. Because they are unrecognized, the TCK’s grief for them is also unrecognized – and thus often unresolved” (p. 167).

Not all of us are TCK’s or even “global nomads,” but we all experience change, and we all experience loss. Do we realize, however, that the former can be experienced as the latter? And is that OK? Shouldn’t we just “get a grip” and get on with life?

Pollock and Van Reken point out that when [individuals] have received the message to either “keep a stiff upper lip” or have been made to experience shame over grief brought about by a sense of loss, “they may learn that negative feelings of almost any kind, including grief, aren’t allowed” (p. 173). However, according to Seaman, “a pain that has been named and honored by the empathy of others can be let go of. . . Ultimately, coming to terms with grief means learning to feel at home within ourselves” (p. 318).**

Even if change isn’t the end, it can still feel like it. But strangely, as I’ve practiced the wisdom of Pollock and Van Reken of late, I’ve found that rather than enlarging the wound, acknowledging my sense of loss aloud to myself or to a friend is giving me hope to move into the future.

*Pollock, D. C., & E. Van Reken (1999). The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds. Intercultural Press.

**Seaman, P.A. (1999). The Long Goodbye: Honoring Unresolved Grief. In Pollock, D. C., & E. Van Reken (1999). The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds. Intercultural Press.



 About the Author: Kimberly is an IDEAS Associate and agricultural specialist. She works alongside local farmers in rural North Africa, giving them access to resources, techniques, information and hope. Enjoy other blogs by Kimberly, such as Daily Miracles on the Metro.


Related Articles