Third Culture Kids — what’s in the “programming”?

I recently finished reading a fascinating book by Dr. Bruce LiptonBiology of Belief. Among many very interesting things, Dr Lipton touches upon the difference between sub-conscious and conscious minds.  He goes on to say that during our adult lives in 95% of the time we operate according to the programmed habits and beliefs that are stored in our subconscious mind.  And that programming of the subconscious occurs mostly between the ages of zero and 6.

That got me thinking about my own parenting, the messages that my daughter had downloaded into her subconscious in the first six years of her life – and how being a third culture kid affected those messages.  I realized that as we raise our kids in cultures that are foreign to us, we unknowingly pass on – without thinking – all the negative messages that come up in us in response to stress of adjustment, relocation, and simply being a stranger in a strange land.

If you think back to times when you moved with your kids at the time when they were young, what messages may have escaped your lips?  What behavior may you have exhibited in moments of stress that perhaps became recorded in your children’s subconscious?  What cultural misunderstandings may have influenced your reactions to things?  And can you now see those beliefs coming up in your children’s lives?

According to Dr. Lipton (and to many others), re-wiring the downloaded programs in our sub-conscious takes a lot more than affirmations and positive thinking.  Since our subconscious mind is our habitual mind, the only way to change the program is to engage in a completely different habit time and time again.  That’s not an easy preposition, but it can be done.  The best strategy, of course, is not to create those beliefs to begin with.

Your thoughts?

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7 responses to “Third Culture Kids — what’s in the “programming”?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Third Culture Kids — what’s in the “programming”? | "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" --

  2. I don’t have any experience to draw upon with examining how it affected them (since this is our first go at this) BUT I think there is also lots of GOOD programming that can come from expat living ….

    (the one negative thing that keeps replaying in my head is what my children witness in me (behavior wise) based on a stressful situation from living in India. Working hard to reverse those and have fewer recorded moments in their brain from here on out!)

  3. globalcoachcenter

    Absolutely, Naomi! There is definitely a lot of good programming that come from living in different cultures — appreciation of diversity is the first one that comes to mind. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  4. Oooh interesting thought. I work with TCKs in Beijing. I definitely see connections between my kids’ instinctive responses to stressors and how I see their parents relate to their adopted environment (at least, when I know the parents well, that is). It never occurred to me before that these kids are absorbing their parents’ reactions to culture shock, new-country adjustment, and the stresses of everyday life in a different place.

  5. AHA! This is me! My British Mum hated being in the U.S. She referred to Americans derisively as “Yanks”, and generally denegrated everything about the U.S. constantly. Since I was 3 1/2 when we moved here, I was exactly the age that Dr. Lipton is talking about. The confusion about my identity and never being “English enough” has been with me throughout my life (and I’m in my late 40s!) Even worse, I have a huge amount of resentment about having had to absorb my Mother’s unhappiness which I still struggle to let go of.

    There is so much to love about the U.S., and I’m glad I live here in Alaska. But, I still feel that I’m not quite as I should be, and that’s rather sad.

    Thanks for letting me chime in.

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing. It’s really hard to know that things could have been different if it were not for the situation we got stuck in as kids. I definitely can relate having grown up in a less than ideal situation as well. And, at the same time, it’s great to be able to recognize the sources of our unhappiness and begin to work on them. Dr. Lipton has a couple of other books on how to re-program our “programming” so I’d invite you to Google his name and check if any of those resonate. For me what helped was turning bitterness into gratitude and reminding myself daily of what I have and what I can be grateful for in my life. Every evening I think back to my day and pick 3-5 things that I feel lucky to have and/or to experience. I’ve started that a couple of years ago and it has made a huge difference in my outlook. Good luck!


  6. I am age 24 going on 25 soon and I am a third culture kid. I used to dislike my dad’s job before and blamed him for all the lost friendship I had over the years. Now, I start to cherish the childhood I had and see it more of an asset to myself 🙂 It always takes time for this realization to come though…

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