Confusion about who I am

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what my problem is. I will start with a short background (side comment, as I sit here, I keep getting bursts of “this is ridiculous, I don’t have a real problem” popping into my head.)

In high school, I was not exactly the most popular kid. Oddly enough, I was okay with that. I was proud of my nerd status, and me and my nerd friends all had our own little lives worked out. We were happy with who we were. I was the “leader” of the group, and the one everyone looked up to. I don’t know why, maybe I just had a certain confidence about me, looking back. My best friend said this to me once: “people just talk to you differently.” Referring to people I know in general, but also to one of our shared better friends who is very self-confident, but for some reason respected me quite a bit. Anyway, that was my life.

Toward the end of high school, my best friend and I got jobs at the same retail store. Halfway in, we both met a girl who was unbelievably nice and unbelievably pretty. I still remember seeing her in the orientation group, and then thinking, “she’ll never talk to me.” What’s strange is, she did. She was super open with me right off the bat, which was a first in my life. I didn’t feel afraid to talk to her, and we became friends relatively quickly. Naturally, I developed some very strong feelings for her, as I have NEVER been in a relationship (I had been half-heartedly looking until that point.) These feelings I had, they were powerful. I gained a huge burst of motivation and every time I thought about her, I’d just smile. And I let my best friend in on this information. Well, sure enough, he developed feelings for her too. And then, in spite of knowing that I was just beside myself when it came to her, asked her out behind my back. I can’t even describe how hurt I was; I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I FINALLY had a chance to be happy and it was taken away from me. This, on top of the fact that I’ve shared my relationship frustrations with this friend in the past. He’s been in several, and had actually just recently gotten out of one. Long story short, he ended up going out with her, and they still are. I have LONG since gotten over being angry at my friend, but I had to destroy myself in the process. It took a lot of mental bludgeoning to get myself under control. But I did it, for better or for worse. This was the beginning of my problems. I never gave up hope that maybe somehow I could get her to like, or love me. It’s been almost three years now, and while I’ve made a lot of progress, I still can’t seem to completely move on. The number of times I’ve decided that I was wasting time being obsessed with her is in the double digits. I’d make a decision, but I’d always come back. It’s like I didn’t and don’t have the willpower to be consistent and remember what I decided. What makes it even more difficult is that we’re very good friends, all three of us. Recently I’ve told her that I used to like her, which was supposed to be a huge relief, but when I got a non-reaction out of her, I didn’t know what to think. I was ready to talk to her about it and let it out and end it there, but it didn’t. She’s not always very open, which is probably the reason that happened.

During all of this, I did some introspection and got very interested in MBTI. I discovered I “was” an INFP, and relentlessly destroyed my old personality in pursuit of the ideal “me.” Which is foolish, looking back on it, but it happened. It took me months to figure out that’s what happened, but I weakened my closest friendships in the process. They’re still not what they used to be. For the whole year or two after that, nothing has been real. I experimented with generosity, giving everything I could to everyone. I tried to be the best person I could, but it came with a gallon of depression, so it wasn’t real. It was like, I have no hope it myself anymore, so I will dump all I can dump into trying to provide for other people. My friends got sick of it, and it damaged our relationship. On top of all that, I was faced with the inescapable truth that it was all my fault. Which, to be honest, is true, but it didn’t help me recover any faster.

So. Here I am now, a fraction of my former self. I’ve gotten out of trying to give everything to everyone else and make everyone around me happy. Another side note, I can’t remember much from several months of my life during that. I would apologize for EVERYTHING and always try to clarify anything I thought could be interpreted in the SLIGHTEST way. And now I have faint recollection of it. It’s almost like it was a dream.

What I’ve been trying to do since is work back to my former self. It comes and goes; some days I’ll feel like me and others I won’t anymore. It’s frustrating and mentally taxing. My mind runs at a million miles per hour when I’m not my “old me,” I don’t see much of my environment because I’m constantly in my head. Even if I try to make a point to notice things, it’s like trying to read a book that you’re not that invested in. You see it, but you don’t see it. But then I will get flashes of my former self. If I can mentally work through a huge chain of thoughts, sometimes I can get there again. However, as soon as something reminds me of my “gray” me, it’s like a chain reaction and I slip back in. It just makes me want to give up sometimes. I’ve contemplated suicide as a means of escape now and then, but I’ve always had enough hope that I can get through it SOMEHOW and be back to my normal self again. I just need some advice. I will never, ever kill myself simply because I value life too much. But I can’t imagine living like this for the rest of my life. Nothing is real, and things don’t have the emotional impact on me that they should. It’s all filtered and analyzed and impeded by my own thoughts. I wish I could just BE, like I always used to be. Just experience. Just let it in, and let it out. I was the most animated and livid person I knew back then. And now, when I try to get that back, it feels fake. But everything feels fake.

My guess is, I dug myself into a massive hole when I beat myself down for years of my life. I destroyed my old personality in the process and tried to create a new one, because my old one wasn’t good enough. I managed to do that, so why is it so hard to get back to where I was? And why do I have flashbacks of my old self? Sometimes I’ll even go to bed feeling great, like I’m just taking in the world, and wake up thinking about other people and being stressed again. I need a way out. I need a method that works. Telling myself something is different from believing it.

A recent problem related to this is a new girl I’ve found that I actually am more attracted to, periodically, than the old one that I spent so much of my life wishing on. She values many of the same things I value, whereas the old one does not, and she is fun and nice, and isn’t afraid to accept help when she needs it. These are all impossibly rare qualities, especially in my generation, it seems. However, I will uncontrollably revert back to hoping that the old girl will like me again. She’s my friend, and she’ll go through spurts of being more friendly to me, and those always lead me in the wrong direction. I’ve tried identifying a pattern and catching myself, but I’ve had no luck.

I owe it to myself and to this new girl to be myself, and to be consistently attracted to her. I KNOW I am. I KNOW it’s there. Sometimes I just lose sight of it, but I wish I could hold on.

Please, help me. I need my life back. I need reality back, and I need to feel loved and respected again. I need to love myself, and I need to really see the world and love it again as well. And I need to do all of this permanently, because I can’t deal with this temporary crap. It’s too stressful to be content one minute and then beyond stressed the next, just because I can’t seem to be consistent with myself. I don’t think it’s DID and I don’t think I’m bipolar. I just don’t know what it is.

Thanks for your concern, and I hope you’ll be able to help me out. I’ll keep working on it in the mean time.

A: You’ve written a powerful letter. I’m not sure that an answer in a column can do it justice but I’ll try to at least give you a few impressions that might be useful to you.

You’ve been on quite an odyssey of self-discovery and self-exploration. Sadly, the experience with the girl hurt you at a time when you were particularly vulnerable. Having shed some of your “old skin,” you hadn’t developed enough of a new one to manage the emotional pain of rejection. So you got stuck. In effort to protect yourself from more hurt, you obsessed about the girl who chose your friend instead of venturing out to try again with other girls who might have responded to you. You worked on every aspect of yourself except the part that was hurting the most, the part that wanted so much for that relationship to work out that you couldn’t see past it to other possibilities.

The fact that you are trying to get back to your former self worries me. Your former self is years younger and less experienced. It may look like a better way to be because it is clouded with nostalgia but the fact is that that style also set you up for disappointment that was so big you couldn’t get beyond it. If you were in my office I’d be asking you what is so wrong with the person you’ve become? You’ve been shaped by some experiences. You’ve learned a lot about yourself and others. You have grown and matured. You have more perspective on life. Further, the person you’ve become is the person this new girl is interested in. She’s not longing for your old high school self. She likes the person she’s met in the present.

My best guess is that you are afraid to take the emotional risk to get closer. Why wouldn’t you be? There’s no shame in being like the millions of people in the world who get scared when they meet someone who counts. It’s a statement about the potential you see that you fall back into your old protective mechanism. It’s what you do next that matters. If you start obsessing with the past you are in danger of protecting yourself right out of your present. It will take courage and commitment to move forward instead.

It may be that you’ve run to the limit of your ability to be your own therapist. Although you’ve done a really good job so far, it might be more helpful at this point to have someone to talk to who is more objective and more able to offer you alternatives. I agree with you. I don’t think you’re bipolar or that you have DID. I think you are stuck. Once you are given some new ideas to work with, a person of your intelligence and sensitivity will run with them. Give it a chance.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Confusion about who I am. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/28/confusion-about-who-i-am/