Who Am I?
Many people claim to have had a great or ideal childhood - until they look a little deeper and realise that they didn’t FEEL unconditionally loved, valued or deeply connected with.
Q. I know it probably sounds weird but I don’t really know who I am. I mean, I now facts about myself but I don’t know what I think about things, I don’t have much of an opinion and I’m sure people find me boring. I’m a loner anyway, and I prefer my own company or just my pets for friends. It feels like I go through the motions in my life but never really ‘live’ it. It’s like I’m emotionally numb, watching what’s going on but not feeling a part of it. It’s hard to describe, but then again I find anything emotional hard to put into words. Am I crazy?
A. I certainly wouldn’t say that you’re crazy – just that perhaps you haven’t been encouraged to develop your own identity and a robust sense of your own power and agency to direct your own life, or to form rewarding relationships … yet.
(I’m assuming that you’re not taking any medications, recreational drugs or have had a brain injury or autism which may have caused your feelings of ‘de-personalisation’ and ‘dissociation' - those feelings of being ‘separate’ from your life and your body.)
You haven’t said if there was any intentional abuse towards you in your childhood, and so I’m also assuming your difficulties have arisen from what you didn’t experience, rather than what you did.
I’d hazard a guess that if you’ve felt like this for a long time then it’s the result of your parents/care-givers not paying you enough attention and not tuning in to your emotional needs. They should then have given your feelings a name, and helped you to understand, cope with, and express them.
There was perhaps a lack of interest in who YOU were as an individual with your own unique personality and character.
This won’t have enabled you to develop enough emotional intelligence and literacy, or a robust self-concept, or a deeper emotional connection with yourself and others.
I wonder too if you might have ‘Alexithymia’ – which is an inability to describe emotions, even though they are felt. If so, this will require some work too (see my suggestions below).
That’s not to say that your parents did this on purpose. Maybe they were pre-occupied and distracted elsewhere, and we’re not blaming them for what they didn’t give you. Parents tend to do the best they can with what they have and know.
Many people claim to have had a great/ideal childhood, until they look a little deeper and realise that they didn’t FEEL unconditionally loved, valued or deeply connected with.
The good news is that you can become better acquainted with yourself - and this will in time allow you to develop better emotional skills, and to connect with other people in a more rewarding way. You will have to be discerning about who you choose to connect with though - as should we all.
There’s also a need for you to ‘belong’ and to be IN the unfolding drama of your life rather than watching it from sidelines.
Please get yourself a notebook, pen and a magazine.
- Look at a four different images of people you see in there, and write down the emotions you think they are each feeling – from what you can see in their faces and body posture.
- Now close your eyes and recall each image in turn. Focus upon what YOU are feeling in your body as you mimic those facial expressions and body postures.
- What are the feelings and sensations like that come up for you? Give them each a name.
- Be clear about what are body sensations (such as warmth, tingling, tightness etc.) and what are emotions (such as love, compassion, excitement, fear, anger, anxiety, fear, sadness etc).
- Are these pleasant feelings or not?
- Deliberately change them from pleasant to unpleasant and vice versa by imagining different images that bring you different feelings, sensations and emotions.
This will help you to identify, accept and manage your own feelings. sensations and emotions, as well as building up your emotional ‘library’.
Repeat this often using different images.
One feeling I really hope you can grow within you is compassion – for yourself and your struggle to ‘be’ in a world that seems alien to you. As you come to know how you feel and why, you will become clearer about what you think too. From that comes your own opinions about things - and your choice whether or not to share these.
In this way you can slowly start to ‘warm up’, rehearse and then ‘show up’ on the centre stage of your life – directing the chosen cast in your own drama, instead of being only an observer hiding in the wings.
Please don't forget to be kind to the little child who still hides inside you, and encourage her to come out to play and to stand up for herself and what she wants and needs - and what she doesn't! Healthy boundaries are essential for better relationships.
Listen to and talk with your ‘inner child’ in comforting and supportive ways and you will ‘re-parent’ yourself along the way.
This will be the greatest gift you can give to yourself - and then to others as they get to know you, and see you glow in your own spotlight.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR
www.maxineharley.com - WHERE YOU WILL FIND LOTS OF FREE RESOURCES to help you to recover from your childhood, get your emotions in balance, and to create peace of mind and a new and more rewarding future for yourself.
www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk - where you will find 10 self-help online workshops - one of which is called 'Understanding Yourself'.