A common goal in life as we age and grow involves beginning to develop a solid sense of self; this is the development of identity, values, and self-worth that become stable over time. It is not something that is inherently developed, but often takes time and involves a process of learning and accepting yourself by making various decisions and discovering the way your thoughts process, how they affect how you feel, and ultimately how you behave as a result. Having a solid sense of self means being able to take in information about others’ opinions and thoughts about us but separating that from the things we think and believe about ourselves. It also involves being able to separate yourself from the various roles you possess as a person; being able to detach yourself from your role as a mother or father, a romantic partner, a child, etc. is important to help maintain your identity, even in the most intimate of relationships. This requires a lot of work and often people will become enmeshed in their roles and relationships with others and can find that they have lost sight on their own wishes, dreams, and desires, leaving them to feel unfulfilled and sometimes resentful of their life and those around them.
Here are some signs that you may be experiencing struggles with maintaining a solid sense of your own identity and sense of self:
- You have no “me” time
- Often when a person begins to lose their solid sense of self-worth, they begin to surround themselves with others and do not give themselves time and space to be alone. Having alone time can be helpful, as it gives a person the ability to decompress from social pressure and can allow a person to think their own thoughts without the pressure to conform to another person’s point of view. Having separate interests, activities, and time apart from loved ones also enriches the quality of time that is spent with those you love.
- You transform yourself in various settings
- People losing their sense of self and their own identity are often malleable in their preferences, likes, interests, and many other parts about their life depending on who they are engaging with or interacting with. We see this often with intimate relationships, where a person will emulate the interests of their partners and almost transform into different people based on the partner they are with. This lack of solid identity can make it hard to be truly intimate and vulnerable with others and can complicate a person’s ability to truly love and accept themselves.
- You’ve lost passion for things you used to value
- When a person begins to feel a sense of worthlessness or decreased ability to feel confident in themselves, it is common that they decrease pleasurable activities or disengage in things that make them happy and give them a sense of purpose. People will often notice that they become more socially withdrawn or decrease their participation in activities that they enjoy, thus increasing their feelings of discomfort about themselves and who they are.
- You’re constantly seeking approval from others
- A person who struggles feeling confident in themselves may often seek out approval from others, thus surrounding themselves with people who reassure them that they are good and worthy of attention or love. The problem with this is when a person is unable to internalize this approval and cannot approve of themselves separately from the approval of others. When a person is unable to accept and love themselves, their constant approval-seeking can strain their relationships with others; people can become resentful of a person who is always needing approval and appreciation and not returning the favor or seeming to accept it as well.
- Your self-care is minimal
- Self-care is often the first thing to go when a person feels stressed, and can cause them to neglect all of the needs that their body and mind may have. Prioritizing physical and mental health is important and acknowledging the signs the body gives of stress is an important component of learning to love yourself. Addressing your physical and emotional needs can help you love and accept yourself, thus improving your ability to develop and sustain a positive and solid identity.
- Your thoughts are filled with negative self-talk
- Struggling with negative self-talk, or negative internal messages about yourself and your worth, is a common phenomenon that happens throughout development. While it is normal and natural to have skeptical thoughts about yourself and your abilities, if more often than not your thoughts are critical and self-defeating, this can create a cycle where you begin to feel hopeless and worthless, thus deteriorating your ability to have a healthy identity or solid sense of self.
If you feel like you are struggling with any or all of these things, getting help from a mental health professional could help. A professional can help unpack the various patterns that you have developed that are decreasing your ability to feel connected to yourself and help you to develop your own solid sense of who you are.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events