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Lack of identity / sense of self

(47 Posts)
Gesu Mon 21-May-18 12:32:12

I've been reading various books around self esteem / complex ptsd etc as part of my journey of trying to undo the affects of my crappy childhood

One of the things that has come up is that I lack self identity. When I first came across it it was like a revelation. It took me aback and I was quite shocked tbh and saddened too.

It got me thinking about myself and who I am as an individual and what makes me me. And quite honestly I don't know.

Due to events in my childhood I sort of lost myself along the way and never really carved out a defined sense of self. It's almost like I don't know myself. I don't know who I am as I have suppressed the real me to such an extent that she's lost. And i don't know how to get her back.

I don't know if any of this makes sense to you ( it didn't to my DH!) but it's making me really sad and I don't know what to do to help myself.

I know this is a bit rambly and I don't even know I anyone will eventually understand negative on earth I'm even talking about!

ProzacAndWine Mon 21-May-18 12:41:20

Makes perfect sense to me (I also have complex PTSD), and I can totally relate to it. Sorry you're in the same boat. I wish I knew how to fix it, as it makes me feel quite superficial in a way.

I find it hard to even think of simple things like what's my favourite colour/food/music/whatever. Nevermind more complex opinions and a sense of where I stand and who I am. I think I had from childhood felt I needed to adapt to those around me to the extent that fluidly I took on their stuff (for acceptance? for a sense of belonging with them? for fear of being wrong?)

It's been easier to start finding out things that I am NOT, things I don't approve of, things I don't like. With therapy, I've even started building good boundaries around these. It seems like a start.

ProzacAndWine Mon 21-May-18 12:46:54

To ramble further... I have dissociation issues. Not the kind of DID or multiple personality disorder stuff you see in films or the like - it's much more subtle and inside my head than that. But I've discovered (again, in therapy, and by actually paying close attention to what goes on in my head - something I've not been that good at) that whatever my personality is, it's very much broken into various "bits", call them parts or whatever. I can attribute all kinds of positive and negative (and contradictory) personality traits and likes and dislikes to these "parts", and that all fits and seems right. Much harder to try to get a feel that these are all actually ME.

Gesu Mon 21-May-18 17:27:53

ProzacAndWine thank you so much for your message. It's so reassuring that there's someone knows what I'm talking about. YY to the not knowing what your favourite things are / opinions. As a child I have just gone along with what everyone else wanted to prevent myself from being mocked and ridiculed which is what happened. As adult I'm the same.

There's so much other stuff that I have noticed about me that lead me back to how things were as a child and it makes so much sense. Its taken alot of self awareness which wasn't easy and I'm still discovering things along the way.

I have done all the "work" on my own as I didn't get any success with the NHS, unfortunately and can't afford private.

flowers for both of us!

ProzacAndWine Wed 23-May-18 05:56:52

flowers indeed.

It's really a pity you haven't been able to access therapy. If that ever becomes a possibility, I can't recommend it enough!

It's great you've become aware of this on your own, though. There must be some books about this out there, which might even suggest some ways to start working on it. I've tried to have a search on Amazon around their trauma related books, and haven't really stumbled into anything that looks just right.

One thing that's helped me a bit with this has been to try to be creative. I'm not sure why that is, but especially making collages has been something I've done at times around this. Just the process of gathering different kinds of magazines and materials and sitting down to cut out things that somehow "feel right", and then putting them together to reflect something personal has been good. Not sure if that's helpful at all for you, and not sure how exactly it's been helpful for me, but an idea anyway.

OlBitey Wed 23-May-18 06:01:07

I worry about this too.

The thing is, if you were to ask others to be able to describe you, I bet they'd be able to. So really it's a self-perception issue, rather than a lack of identity. You have a personality!

Try just paying attention a bit more. Sometimes other people will remind you who you are. You could try writing out a brief bio of yourself too. Do you remember those old MySpace quizzes? You could do one of those as a fun little exercise.

RussianBluee Wed 23-May-18 06:37:32

I think it was codependency for me. Look into codependency and self identity.

CanIGetARefund Wed 23-May-18 06:53:14

I can also totally relate to your post. I am starting to unpick these issues now my children are older and I have the mental space. I can recommend the Self Therapy books by Jay Early for an easy, do-it-yourself approach if you want psychotherapy but can't afford it. One of the best self-help books I have read is Conquering Shame and Codependency by Darlene Lancer. I would also recommend journalling. Which is just a fancy way of saying get your memories, thoughts and feelings down on paper when they come bubbling up. It starts to give you a more solid sense of who you are.

Gesu Wed 23-May-18 13:19:27


If someone was to describe me, that would be my idea of a nightmare. Memories of my family come to mind of how they have described me and still describe. It's not nice. That's one of the reasons I've not been able to be myself as I guess I am ashamed of who I am. It sounds stupid I guess but that's how I felt about myself as a child and it's so strongly rooted that I don't know how to think about myself in a truly positive way.

Gesu Wed 23-May-18 13:22:48

RussianBluee I have read briefly about codependency but not sure it's relevant for me. The bits I've briefly read are about being in a codependent relationship with someone with substance abuse issues. I shall do a bit more googling about it. Thanks for suggesting it.

whatifwhatifhwhatif Wed 23-May-18 13:24:42

I think I have this can't make up my mind grin so I am following with interest.

Gesu Wed 23-May-18 13:28:49

CanIGetARefund thanks for the book recommendations. I think I definitely need to read up on codependency.

I have tried journalling before but that was usually during moments in my life when I have felt really bad, during very dark periods. It sort of helped me to sort out my thoughts and break things down to prevent myself from becoming overwhelmed. It was definitely useful then but haven't used it as an everyday tool but might start it again.

Gesu Wed 23-May-18 13:29:34

whatifwhatifhwhatif haha. Welcome to the club!

MinaPaws Wed 23-May-18 13:31:56

Gesu, you could try something I found incredibly helpful - far more so than I thought when I started doing it. Do something you've never done before or something that scares you (but isn't self-harming) every single day for a set period of time. You could try a month or even a year. I did it for a year, and developed a stronger sense of self (and of self worth) than I'd ever had in my life. When I stopped, the positive effects dipped quite a bit but didn't disappear.

I don't really understand how or why it works, but I guess it's a way of self-discovery that is active rather than contemplative. So you have something to show for it. And in trying loads and loads and loads of new things all the time, you discover what you do and don't like - which helps develop a sense of who you are or might be. It also helps develop an understanding of what you are capable of. I really did start that year in bed with fatigue and end the year working on a new project for five times what I'd ever earned before, using a skill I'd acquired during the year of trying new stuff. I know that sounds like some cheesy online clickbait but it really worked. And best of all, it's fun. Far more fun, imho, than all those years of reading self help books and trying to sort myself out from the inside out. Outside in can be just as good. If you like the idea, PM me and I'll send you some links to books and websites I used to get inspiration.

MinaPaws Wed 23-May-18 17:25:43

Links to stuff that got me started on doing somehting new every day:

KendraWright great list to get ideas to try. Aslo look at her blog. She had a childhood illness that had her in leg braces and in and out of hospital for years. She finally thought sod that and made a rule to do things that scared her

Also bought I Dare Me by LuAnn Cahn which is about overcoming a mid life crisis by doing new stuff.

I looke donline for ages for lists to give me inspiration and found these ones useful
High Existence (Should point out that this group is hard core hippy movement pro hallucinogens and starving/giving up possessions to gain enlightenment - none of which I tried grin but their basic plans which were on free trial when I did them were really interesting and eye-opening.
Tal Gur 's e-book. It's translated from German I think and sometimes he forgets to translate bits into English (just tiny bits - you don't lose much) but he was interesting because he turned his life around.
Danny Dover Life Listed is similar.

And I read heaps and heaps of bucket lists on line. At the time I was just trying to kickstart myself out of the worst depression I've ever had, and I have life-long depression. I couldn't get out of bed. I remember one of my first goals was just to stand my a window and feel fresh air on my face for one minute. The reason I think this stuff might be relevant on this thread is that in the past when a severe depression kicked in, I felt like I didn't exist. I just wasn't a person. I used to not eat because I rationalised there was noone there to feed inside the body I carted around. I was a total feeling of lack of identity.

None of the people here had that problem. They just wanted to life more richly and fully and achieve goals and get out of ruts. But I did have that problem and found their examples helped me feel much more present and real and whole. Hope that makes sense. If it just looks like a pile of people braying about their bucketlists online, please ignore it all. I just was deeply surprised by how much it helped me to just start a journal and record in it one new or scary thing each day, from removing a spider from the bathroom, to trying a new cafe. Those tiny steps made me feel like a person. But I don't know why or how.

Gesu Wed 23-May-18 20:44:08

MinaPaws haha yes it did sound like an internet clickbait thing! Wow you came so far in your journey in just 12m. That's really amazing! Out of curiosity ( nosiness!) what skill did you pick up that lead to your job! It's ok if you don't want to share.

Thank you so much for putting up the links of the websites and the books. I've very briefly looked through them and I think I might give it ago alongside the other stuff that im trying to do. Did you make your own list of a few hundred things and tick rhemmoff as you went along?

I like that there is a mixture of scary and new stuff. Inrrallt could do with stepping out of my comfort zone in alot of areas.

One thing I am not sure of is if I will stick to it. I have a tendency not to go through with things till the end and give up. How did you keep motivated?

Mogleflop Wed 23-May-18 20:45:39

I've always assumed this was normal - is it not? How would you know if you had a sense of self?

ProzacAndWine Wed 23-May-18 21:23:06

Mogleflop - I assume it to mean you have fairly set ideas of your own values, likes and dislikes, attitudes towards things in life in general etc, which will all of course change as you grow and experience life and are exposed to new things, but will feel your own, and not completely fluid constantly. I might be wrong with my definition. A lack of it isn't considered totally normal, really, as it's something a person is supposed to develop during their younger years, and the lack of it is a diagnostic criteria in some mental health conditions.

Re. codependency - a concept that I've found hits closer to home is enmeshment. It's definitely been an issue with me and one of my parents. Maybe worth reading up on, Gesu, to see if it's something you've struggled with?

MinaPaws Wed 23-May-18 23:42:39

Gesu - I'll PM you as the skill is a bit specific.

I kept at it by writing a long list of new things to try and of small and big things that scared me, but also being open to any accidental stuff along the way. At the beginning my life was so scaled down I was almost agoraphobic - I hadn't been in our garden for almost a year, so I started by having a morning coffee in the garden, then a yoga stretch in the garden in bare feet, then filling the bird feeders etc. I went to new cafes on my own and ordered drinks I'd never tasted before, instead of scuttling into Pret's for the same choice of coffee I;d been drinking for ten years.
There are days when you don't feel like it, and on those days I'd just have a stash of really easy things to do, like play a song I loved on YouTube and then listen to one from the sidebar of similar suggestions but by a band I'd never heard before. I also signed up for an email delivery of a poem a day from some USA poets organisation, so that if nothing else, I read a poem I'd never read before. But bigger stuff came from that. Loads of the things i did were tiny but some weren;t - and the small ones put me in the right frame of mind for the big ones. I also wrote a bucket list - much bigger stuff, and I definitely haven't crossed everything off that yet, but have made a start and done stuff I'd wanted to do for decades.

MinaPaws Wed 23-May-18 23:47:02

Gesu forgot to say how I kept motivated. I started a private blog. I made loads of pages with links to all the stuff I linked above, and other linked pages toanything else I found online that helped. Then I checked in most days and logged what new things I'd tried and scary things I'd done and how they'd helped. The blog really motivated me, as when I had bad days (which I still did and do, a lot, that's depression for you) I could read back over the blog and see how far I'd come - how I had actually made progress and achieved stuff.

On days when I felt demotivated I just read through the lists that had originally inspired me and picked something off them, or watched a Ted talk or something. Anything other than just wallow in my own head.

villageshop Thu 24-May-18 00:12:00

Dear Gesu

I haven't read all the answers you've received so far but just wanted to say yes, I do know what you mean.

The thing that helped me the most sounds simple, too simple to make a difference you might think, but for me it was a breakthrough,

Picture yourself as a child at the age you most needed a friend (I chose me at 8). Really visualise yourself back then until it becomes real again and you are you age 8. Then as you are now, go and visit yourself in your mind.

I used to picture me in bed age 8, and I would go (as I am now) and sit on the edge of the bed and talk to me. I would reassure my 8 year old self that everything would work out fine, and although she felt very alone she was not alone, I was with her and would always be with her, and I would always be her friend and she could talk to me whenever she wanted. She could trust me and I would trust her as I knew it was hard for her but I had faith in her - she was a lovely, kind- natured girl - and I told her that her inner strength would help her through until we could be together as one.

It will probably take several visit and friendly chats, but each time you visit your child-self you will discover more about her (of course that's you) and slowly, the forgotten bits of yourself - who you were and who you are - will become familiar again, and you will begin to form a real sense of yourself and with that a growing awareness of the limitless potential of you. Authentic, strong and fully yourself.

I think it's important that you spend time on your own if you can while you work through this. I used to go for long walks in the countryside to allow plenty of time on my own without distractions, with just nature as my balm.

It worked for me, and I had a lot of trauma to process, with no idea who I was or what I wanted or what I was like, or what I liked or didn't like, with no boundaries and a lot of guilt.

Good luck. I hope this helps.

villageshop Thu 24-May-18 00:17:51

MinaPaws , what an inspiring post, it sounds like you've come a long way. flowers

Writing things down was a real help for me too. Actually, it turned into a book by the time I'd finished which in itself was cathartic.

MinaPaws Thu 24-May-18 08:21:41

Thank you, village. Truth is, I did come a long way, then relaxed a bit and slipped back. Which has shown me it's a bit like losing weight. You have to stick to it. It's not a thing that is done and then you keep it. It's a process. But in comparison with how I was when I started - God, yes, I'm way ahead. Much more confident. Out in the world. I have a strong social life again (had none at all at the time) and lots of tools to manage not slipping back into that bedridden rut. But loads of way to go still on physical and mental health and earning power.

MinaPaws Thu 24-May-18 08:22:53

village did you do anything with that book? What sort of book? I'm intrigued by people who can make a book out of their progress (like th epeople I've listed above.) I'm really grateful to them that they lead the way like that.

MinaPaws Thu 24-May-18 08:25:52

village that's a lovely post about visiting the child you were. Not sure I'd dare. I have zero desire to go backwards in life. I never dare to return to the difficult times and face them head on - much easier (for me) to just look ahead and keep going. That's very brave of you.

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