Identity Loss From Past Family Dysfunction

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My family became dysfunctional when I was 13. It took 5 years of my life away from me. Coping during those times was difficult, especially with school. I never told anyone how I was treated at home or what went on, because I was embarrassed. This made me feel lonely. I also had no positive relationship with my family, which only added to my feelings of isolation. The dysfunction altered my personality in noticeable ways. I became introverted, depressed, stressed, angry and irritable. I lacked self-esteem and feared people. I was very fearful of judgment and rejection. Through my adolescence, I used art and writing to survive. My peers eventually labeled me an artist. I worked extraordinarily hard to solidify my skills. I even wanted to pursue a career in the arts or publish a book. Today, I am 19 years old and my family has made changes for the better. But we still don’t recognize or discuss what happened in the past, as if to keep it a secret. Things aren’t perfect, but I do have a relationship with my family now. The dysfunction finally stopped sometime after my high school graduation and when I was hired for my first job. But we do fall back into our old patterns from time to time, without really noticing. My current problem now is not my family, but myself. I have been maturing and growing as a person, which is giving me lots of stress. I have lost a lot of my enthusiasm for art and writing. This is really hurtful, because I feel that I am losing something that I put so much effort and love into. Now, I’m not sure what I want to do for a living. I don’t even know myself anymore. Perhaps the artist persona was only protection from my family. I was hoping that you could help me with this identity crisis. I really want to start college, but haven’t yet because of this issue. My mom is very involved with the church now, which makes me stress over my purpose even more. I worry about being a good person, the meaning of life and spirituality, because I’ve never been that religious. I desperately want to know if I’m doing things right. Another issue I have is my mental health. I still struggle with lingering emotions from the past. I can be stressed, irritated, or depressed from time to time. I really want to get better, because I am tired of hurting. I can hardly focus at my job or communicate with others. Thanks for reading my great big long story. I hope you choose to respond. Your advice will be treasured!

A. Throughout your letter you reference a significant life-changing family incident that occurred five years ago. It was apparently traumatic because it impacted your life in a negative way. However, you have omitted that key piece of information from your letter. Without that information, it is difficult for me to provide you with specific advice.

With regard to art and writing, it is possible that you did utilize them as a way to cope with strong emotions. Art and writing, as a creative outlet, may have served as a form of psychological protection. That creative outlet may have prevented the development of serious psychological problems.

Art and writing served a psychologically healthy purpose during your tumultuous teenage years but those particular outlets may no longer be necessary as an adult. In other words, the needs that you had during your teenage years are different than the needs you have in your current phase of life. You may like art and writing and still want to engage in those activities but you may no longer feel the “need” to do it. Try not see that change as something negative. It might be evidence of psychological growth and development.

As one grows and develops, change is evitable. Change may be frightening and disorienting but it is a necessary aspect of psychological growth.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for individuals to write poetry during their teenage years. Few individuals are destined as adults to become poets, yet poetry writing among teenagers is seemingly universal. The point here is that many teenagers engage in some type of creative exercise which they will ultimately abandon as they mature.

You could greatly benefit from counseling. Many of the issues that you are struggling with, including traumatic history, confusion about what you want to do with your life, dealing with life transitions and identity development, are the prototypical reasons why many individuals enter counseling. You would be a great candidate for counseling. I would highly recommend it. The find help tab, at the top of this page, can help you to locate a therapist in your community. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
@DrKRandle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Nov 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). Identity Loss From Past Family Dysfunction. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/11/09/identity-loss-from-past-family-dysfunction/