Feeling lost in life, and like you don’t know who you are? Or know what to do with your life? And wondering how to find yourself?
The idea that we all have an ‘exact’ self we have to ‘find’ can be part of the problem. It can lead to feeling there is something wrong with us when there isn’t.
As humans we grown and change. We aren't puzzles to figure out with exact pieces, or a journey with only one route.
While we do have certain personality traits that we are born with stay the same, we are in other ways quite fluid. And some of us are more fluid than others. We might be born with the personality trait of openness, or adventure, and be more of a seeker by nature. Our path might involve more self evolution than that of other people. And that's perfectly fine.
Under the age of 21? Note that not knowing who you are is normal and healthy and part of human development.
Adolescence is the stage of growing up psychologist Erick Erickson, in his famous "Stages of Psychosocial Development" called “Identity vs Role Confusion". It's the time of life we ask, "Who am I? Who can I be? What do I want to be?".
We are recognising we don’t have to live our life with the values and beliefs of our parents. And this can mean we ‘try on’ different versions of ourselves to find the one that feels right.
An adult who tends to be a ‘shapeshifter’? This is more of a problem, and does point to identity issues or attachment issues.
If we tend to mould ourselves depending on whose company we are in? Change our beliefs and hobbies with each new partner we date? Then we have a poor sense of self.
This tends to come from a childhood where we were not allowed to have a range of responses and emotions but had to be ‘good’ or ‘responsible’ to get the love and attention we deserve.
We grow up an adult so used to judging and repressing parts of ourselves and aiming to please others with each thing we do? That somewhere along the way we lost sight of ourselves entirely.
So then how to find yourself when you are so used to just being what others want to fit in? Here are some tried and tested solutions.
If we don’t take time to figure out what really matters to us, deep down, and instead stick to the value system of our family and peers? It can leave us feeling disconnected.
Take time to notice what really fires you up. What would you fight for? If the world started to fall apart, and we all had limited time, what would matter to you?
Is it freedom? Stability? Adventure? Honesty? There are hundreds of values out there, but when you nail down what ones are yours and start to make decisions based around them? Life changes.
This can be the biggest identity mistake of all. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not at all who you are. And often they are just programming. Like a radio rehashing what you’ve seen and heard around you, or been told to think.
The real you is hidden beneath the chatter. A great tool here is mindfulness. Practiced daily, it quiets the chatter and allows a calmer, wiser voice to be heard. The You, capital ‘Y’, behind the ‘you’, little 'y'.
Perfectionism or fear of being judged are like cages that stop us finding ourselves.
A great technique here is to to try something you’ve never done or tried before and were bad at so avoided. For example, try oil painting or dancing videos at home where nobody is watching and let yourself be gloriously awful. Or maybe not as bad as you thought.
This opens up our curiosity for life, and we can start to notice things that interest us we’d totally overlooked. Or even people we might have more in common with than we realised.
Never know what you want? What about what you don’t want? Give yourself permission to write out all the things you actually hate. Go to town. Nobody else has to see it.
When we stop doing what we hate, we create space in our life for new opportunity. Which can suddenly see us recognising what we like after all.
The Western idea of independency bought a lot of freedom to our culture, but also a lot of alienation and loneliness.
Often we don't know how to find ourselves as we have a deep belief if we did find ourselves we’d be too weird or unacceptable. That we don’t belong. Or as we have some sort of belief we have to be different and special to have value.
The truth is that although we are trained to look at differences, one-on-one? We often have things in common with every person out there.
Taking time each day to notice these differences, no matter how small— you like the same colour, you too have been late and running for a train, or sad, or laughing— can help you start to feel that you have a place in the world after all.
Another way to achieve this is to volunteer. A study on volunteering in the UK found that as an added bonus, volunteers experienced raised self-esteem.
A lot of our memories are only memories at all as we’ve deemed them valuable enough to hold onto. This can either be as it was something difficult we still need to process, or as we really enjoyed the experience.
Write out your good memories, short form, in a list. What themes and similarities do you see? What do they tell you about your values? About what makes you feel alive? About what sort of people you like?
If you are on the type who is never alone, this can be a big part of the problem.
If we are always trapped in our families idea of who we are, or our friends' ideas of what is and isn't 'cool'? we can't see ourselves clearly.
We need time alone to meet ourselves. So be brave and get out there alone .Go to the movies alone, take a long walk around a city alone, dine out alone.
What decisions do you make when nobody is watching?
Or make that gap year trip or solo adventure you'll always talked about. There is a reason people say travel is finding themselves. It's because often it's the first time they escape their family and peers enough to have a chance to be themselves.
Need help to find yourself? Talk to someone who gets it and can help. Use our easy search tool now to find your perfect therapist and talk your way home to yourself.