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....to not have a clue how to work out "who I am?"

(16 Posts)
NoIdeaWhoIAm Mon 18-Jan-16 12:43:48

Have been having counselling due to marriage problems. During my 1-to-1 sessions we've realised that I have a problem with attachment stemming back to childhood (I wasn't abused or anything, just the way my mother focused more on a sibling than on me after a family trauma). This carried through adolescence and into adulthood, and it's clear now that I have avoided attachment to others in order to protect myself (including my husband of 10+ years). I'm a dyed in the wool people pleaser.

Counsellor has suggested writing therapy to deal with some of the past emotional stuff but has stressed that i need to work out who I am and then tackle my dysfunctional relationships with other family members. I'm not far off 40 and have absolutely no idea how to work out who I am or how to have these conversations with family members in a way that won't cause hurt.

Can anyone help me? I feel so alone and lost at sea with all this.

Cressandra Mon 18-Jan-16 12:56:16

I have no idea.

I respect you for tackling it though. I am terrified of even trying counselling in case it results in me having to have a proper conversation with my mother. I can relate though, I'm so busy trying to bend over backwards for everyone else (not very successfully where my mother is concerned), I never seem to be able to develop an opinion of my own. My children get lots of practice at making inane decisions I was never allowed to make (what to wear, what colour bedroom, when to stop eating) in the vague hope it'll help stop history repeating itself. Here's hoping.

NoIdeaWhoIAm Mon 18-Jan-16 14:47:44

Thank you. Helps to know I'm not alone. It's fucking scary!

stairbears Mon 18-Jan-16 17:28:24

It's quite an esoteric, existential question isn't it? Is this a psychotherapy type counsellor?

In contrast, a CBT type counsellor would say you can be whoever you want to be - now what's currently holding you back? Lets work on techniques to change your mindset and behaviour.

You can't change the past, or other people but you can choose your own responses to the past, present and therefore future.

stairbears Mon 18-Jan-16 17:29:53

change not choose

Pannn Mon 18-Jan-16 17:38:25

This isn't esoteric or existential at all, OP. Well it's a bit existential but in a way just about everything is. It's a healthy reflection that people are very rarely encouraged to do i.e. who am I, what actually motivates me and how do I achieve contentment. Those childhood traumas are crucuial in determining our reslience and personality. And how we push things under carpets and people-please.
CBT isn't competing with this - it's just a bit more lite.

Pannn Mon 18-Jan-16 18:01:37

How to do it?

That depends on what you are comfortable with. Your consellor has talked about writing outlets, but also periods of meditation are useful. Not necessarily the full semi-lotus position with incense things smile but just 20 -30 mins of quiet time on your own with no distractions. And develop it on to longer more involved periods.
A friend of mine had started this as a process years ago and actually found a much nicer 'person' underneath all of the expectations that had been put upon him (which he had helped with).

Of course there isn't a requirement for you t oactually have those conversations with family members you know? You can have htem in your head - as long as the result is you being in a changed state and them recognising you as such.

Hygge Mon 18-Jan-16 18:22:37

I did some work with a life coach OP, and I found that really helped me.

Perhaps that is something to look at, to go alongside the counselling. Working with a life coach on your self awareness. The course I did was run through DS's school, and covered personal development, health and wellbeing, and self-awareness.

It was funded by Adult, Family and Community Learning, and we had a small group of six or seven people who went along.

We did simple exercises that made us think about who we are as people, what's important to us, what we enjoy, the good and bad bits of ourselves.

For example we were given a stack of magazines and asked to cut out words and pictures that represented us, that appealed to us for one reason or another. We had to stick them onto an silhouette of a person that was meant to represent us.

We were told not to put what we thought we should be, or shouldn't be, or what other people told us we were. Just to put the things we feel were absolutely true or which struck a strong cord with us, and then think about why.

It was a bit odd at first but once we got over feeling a bit daft playing cut and stick, I think all but one person got something really good out of it. The other person couldn't move past the things she thought she should put.

Doing that helped me to realise that I had for a long time been feeling bored, I used to be quite creative, making things and writing things, and for years I hadn't done anything like that.

Where the mouth should have been on my person, I had stuck the word 'think' and where the brain should be I had put words like 'learn' and 'discuss' and 'talk'. When I had to explain that, I said that it's important to me that people think before they speak, and so I always try to use my words carefully, and that I think best when I am learning and discussing ideas with other people.

We also had to complete a person made of jigsaw puzzle pieces, and write a word that described us on each puzzle piece. It could be a good word or a bad one, any word that we had ever used to describe ourselves or which other people had used to describe us.

I had one word that should have been the most obvious one to write on my jigsaw person, but it was a real sticking point and I didn't want to write it. The life coach was really interested in why and as I discussed it I realised it's a word that other people have always used to describe me, and so I grew up thinking it must be true. But when it came right down to using it on myself, I couldn't and didn't want to.

That was a breakthrough in a way, because it was the first time I had ever thought about that description of me and the first time I realised that I didn't have to accept it. It had been defining me and holding me back for years up to that point, and my reluctance to write it down was a very clear sign to me that working on my self-awareness was changing me, and helping to work out who I was rather than who other people said I was.

Because really I had no idea. If you'd asked me to describe myself I would have got stuck after telling you my age, my job, my marital status and the fact that I am a mum.

I think it's hard for people, because unless we make a real effort, when do we ever really think about ourselves or about self-awareness? People just don't do it, and it's difficult.

I wouldn't have done it without the help of the life coach, but being in that group and being guided by those exercises, I really had to think about myself and the way I saw myself and the way other people saw me.

Can you try something like that, or ask the counsellor for more guidance in the exercises at first?

Because of my experiences I am now back at college and training for a career I know I will love, I've been more aware of myself, more understanding with my DH and DS, I'm doing more things that I enjoy, I'm learning more and thinking more, standing up for myself where before I wouldn't have said a word, and generally just feeling a lot better about myself.

It is scary, and it's still not easy for me all the time, but if you can find your way then I think it will be worth it for you. But I do think I needed someone guiding me at first, with those exercises and the others that we did, and the discussions with the group. It's hard to start thinking about who you really are at first, when it's probably the first time you've ever had to do it. But it's worth it. I hope it goes well for you flowers

NoIdeaWhoIAm Mon 18-Jan-16 19:15:45

It's quite an esoteric, existential question isn't it? Is this a psychotherapy type counsellor?

In contrast, a CBT type counsellor would say you can be whoever you want to be - now what's currently holding you back? Lets work on techniques to change your mindset and behaviour.

She does both. I've spent 30 odd years being what others wanted me to be. I have no idea who I am really, so it's not that anything is holding me back. I suppose CBT may be helpful further down the line.

NoIdeaWhoIAm Mon 18-Jan-16 19:17:29

Thanks Pannn. Some useful ideas there.

Hygge thank you so so much for your post. It's really helpful (and I'm quite partial to a bit of cutting and sticking). I'll have a look and see what's in my area. Thank you, and well done with your progress too!

FindoGask Mon 18-Jan-16 19:34:35

This is interesting. I'm quite similar to you in some ways, in that I don't have a strong sense of my own identity. I am also a people-pleaser, good at blending in to different social groups etc. I guess the difference is that it doesn't trouble me as it does you, and I'm not sure I could ever possibly work out "who I really am"; in fact I don't really believe in the idea of identity as a constant thing anyway.

I definitely have a sense of self but I don't think that's the same thing - I know and feel that I'm experiencing the world through a filter of my own beliefs and assumptions and other, er, stuff. I could probably describe how I might feel or react in a given situation, but I don't think of myself as someone with a set of characteristics that someone could describe me by and other people would recognise.

No help to you, I realise, other than to say you're not the only one!

WhoseBadgerIsThis Mon 18-Jan-16 20:04:45

I'd suggest just start writing stuff down and see where it takes you - that's what works for me when I need to work out what I feel/think about something and don't know where to start or even what I think about the question. Start with things like what you like (eg food, hobbies, etc) and what you don't like. Maybe try writing what you'd like to be (eg assertive, a gardener, whatever) - afterall, if you don't know who you are, you must have a lot of potential to become whatever you choose.

HeyYouGetOffMyCloud Mon 18-Jan-16 20:29:06

I'd suggest trying to find something you like doing. Not something you ought to be doing -gym, cooking, learning something 'useful' but something you just like, look forward to doing and makes you feel good afterwards. No should or musts.

That's a good place to start. Allow yourself to make some false starts, mistakes and accept that it will take time. But doing those things will help reconnect with yourself.

Also kindness to yourself, space and calm will help.

Flamingo1980 Mon 18-Jan-16 21:01:43

Oooh l like this thread. Stamping my mark on here as it's ringing so true for me too.

Pannn Mon 18-Jan-16 21:17:34

It also depends on how 'analytical' you wish to be, OP, in 'who am I?'

The standard stuff available, that stands the test of time, is work on attachment as you indicate is an issue for you. Fortunately with the t'internet you can do a bit of research on context.

If you google attachment and personality you will be delivered to the research by Bowlby and Ainsworth from decades ago but it still works extremely well for contextualising issues.

Attachment matters are the basis of interventions in the difficulties experienced in young people in the care system and so in fostering and adoption. It's also pertinent in the Criminal Justice System for people who have done dreadful things and they remain clueless, when interviewed over time, as to why they have done them. It's also a basis for something we all have i.e role modeling and how we learn how to problem solve as a result.

NoIdeaWhoIAm Tue 19-Jan-16 10:39:08

If you google attachment and personality you will be delivered to the research by Bowlby and Ainsworth from decades ago but it still works extremely well for contextualising issues.

Ironically I studied this as part of my degree. Just didn't see secure attachment as something that I didn't have. sad

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