What Made Me the Person I Am?
BY ANITA MARTIN
"I married at a young age and I don’t know the person I’ve become." One sentence tells the story of lost identity. For many, this observation sparks a process of reconnecting with oneself and may become the catalyst for significant life changes such as divorce, new careers, relocation, and more. Often, the transition is a sort of review of one’s life that lead to this pivotal moment. At times, it occurs around middle age, but may appear at any point of life dissatisfaction. Some find ways to adjust while others choose to walk away from a past seemingly incapable of coexistence with a new life. Still, we may want to understand how we became unrecognizable to ourselves.
The formation of self-identity is a complex process. Most of us expect a clear answer to the eternal question “What made me the person I am?” Self-identity is formed by everything you have or have not experienced. It’s tangled with genetics, family expectations, religious background, culture, and individual perceptions. Self-identity is further influenced by close family members. Why? Most people spend the greatest percentage of their time in a family context. Each family member is affected by shifting relationship dynamics. If you have lost a clear sense of who you are, you may consider some of these factors as you work to rebuild.
So, how does an individual lose him or herself? Identity formation ideally occurs in adolescence. Sometimes circumstances interfere and we miss this opportunity altogether. Alternatively, our identities may be fragmented, incomplete, or affected by trauma. At other times, self-identity may have formed fully, but was interrupted later by unhealthy or abusive relationships.
If you feel estranged from yourself, you may notice that you have difficulty knowing your preferences. You may have trouble understanding your food, clothing, relationship, and career choices. You may subject your needs and desires to the preferences of those around you. Your confidence may be unsteady. You may try to convince yourself that life is good this way and that you are content. And, you may struggle to take decisive action.
You can become reacquainted with yourself, regardless of the length of your separation. You may want to consider therapy, depending on your individual or family needs. If your family relationships are complex, a clinical social worker or family therapist can be helpful. Individual therapy is one good way to begin refocusing on yourself. As you work toward this goal, you may need to examine multiple areas of your life and sift through what is and isn’t true for you. You might reconsider your beliefs and values and make adjustments. You may realign activities, commitments, and responsibilities in accordance with your new priorities. And, you may discover new hopes, dreams, and passions. Remember that where you are today is not where you will be tomorrow. Each of us is on a personal journey. You are the only person who is capable of knowing and developing the deepest parts of you and bringing those unique qualities to the world.