Do you often feel that others have a stronger sense of self than you? And it secretly worries you?
We all grow and change as we age.
And not everyone is the solid, stable type. Some of us, for example, like to test our personal limits often. Whereas others are natural followers, more influenced by their peers.
So when does self identity go from a bit malleable, to problematic?
See if the following seem familiar.
1. If all your various friends got together? They'd all describe you differently.
Many of us are more relaxed around close friends or family than colleagues or strangers. But if you have a low sense of self, you can have a different personality for each social group you are in.
2. You have many friends, or almost none.
People who lack a strong sense of self can fear real intimacy, not wanting others to get close enough to see the emptiness they feel. So you might stick to surface friendships, having so many 'friends' you are rarely alone with one person. Or you avoid real relationships altogether.
3. You lose yourself if you do have close relationships.
You let your partner or best friend make the decisions, and find yourself suddenly liking their hobbies and interests, or even dressing like them. You dream of a future as if it is what you always wanted, even if it includes things you never used to like. And you might live in terror of being rejected or abandoned.
4. Your focus is on pleasing others or gaining attention.
Your focus is not on being yourself. It’s on being what others want you to be. (Or not be. Sometimes a lack of identity can manifest as always being contrary).
5. Your moods depend on what others think of you.
If someone criticises you, you can crumble. If someone doesn’t notice you when you want them too, you can feel worthless. And you can really look to others to give you a sense of stability, then feel disappointed if they don't.
6. You know, on a certain level, that there is a problem.
Most people with a weak sense of self have an inkling that they are less 'well formed' than other people, even if they try to hide it.
7. You struggle to say no to people.
Boundaries just aren't your thing. It feels easier to just say yes and go along with what others ask, even if you often end up feeling taking advantage of after the fact.
8. You don't like being alone.
When you are alone you might feel depressed, or afraid of the hollowness you feel. Perhaps you seek endless distraction away from your feelings, and the glaring truth that you are not comfortable with yourself.
9. You don’t trust yourself or know what you want.
You might suffer from indecision, unable to trust yourself to make a good choice. You aren't really sure what goals are, and you sometimes have dreams but then they change before you make progress.
10. You were an anxious child.
Many people with identity issues grew up in a household where they had an inconsistent parent. He or she might have had mental health issues, been an addict, or sick, or just unable to give you the acceptance and love you deserved. You had to tiptoe around and be 'good' or 'smart', or whatever it was that won you attention.
11. You are also an anxious adult.
12. Or you experienced childhood trauma.
Trauma ruptures a child’s sense of self, and it carries into adulthood unless you receive support to process your traumatic experience.
It's actually normal to not know who we are when we are a teenager. This is the time of life when we are trying to nail down our real values and interests.
And it's also common to go through a time of identity reckoning after a big life change. When we lose a loved one, for example, or a long held job, we can start to question our values and priorities.