If you find yourself wondering why “I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” you’re not alone.
This is one of the most common issues that arises in therapy. Yet when a person acknowledges in therapy that they have lost themselves they often feel embarrassed.
Why It Makes Sense You Feel “Like I Don’t Know Myself Anymore”
There is nothing wrong with you if you feel like you don’t know yourself anymore. Or, if you find yourself thinking, “I’ve never felt like I’ve known myself” this is understandable too.
Many people lose themselves, or never felt like they knew their authentic self to begin with.
From the time you were born, you have faced pressure to fit in for approval and acceptance. This happens, of course, in our friendships and communities. But many of us were also born into families that expected us to play a role instead of being our true self too.
Your Family May Have Pressured You to Fit In
Family roles include being the “perfect” one but also being the “bad” one. These roles are called the Hero and the Scapegoat. There’s even a family role for the neglected or ignored child. This role is known as the “Lost Child.” You can see these roles clearly in The Simpsons. Bart is the Scapegoat whereas Lisa is the Hero. Finally, Maggie is the Lost Child.
The more a family struggles with addiction or mental health issues, the more the children in these families must play a role. This contrasts to how children get to develop in functional families. In these families, children are allowed to grow, evolve, and make mistakes. This helps the child develop a clear sense of knowing themselves.
Family Roles Limit Self-Awareness
Sadly, when a child must play a role in their family, they don’t get to discover their authentic selves growing up. This self-disconnection tends to continue in adulthood.
The Hero may grow up as the perfectionist who “does it all.” Her authentic self gets buried underneath all the ways she thinks she “should” look and act.
Or the Scapegoat may feel hopeless and like they are destined to be a failure. This can lead them to self-sabotage rather than discovering, and nurturing, their authentic gifts.
The Lost Child may become an adult who is codependent or doesn’t know who they are without a relationship.
The Roles You Play
If you feel like you like “I don’t know myself anymore” or never did know yourself, you may have played a role in your family. Commonly, when you read about these roles you will just “know” that this fits how you were treated in your family.
It’s also common to play different roles for different parents or caretakers. For example, you may have been the child who could no wrong to your dad (hero) but frequently criticized by your mom (scapegoat). Playing multiple roles only intensifies your sense of not knowing who you are – and feeling bad because of it.
Discovering the Pressure You Still Feel to Fit In
Commonly, when a person has experienced a lot of pressure to fit in either in their family, by their peers, or by both, they struggle to know who they are.
One way to begin to connect with your true self is to identify the messages you have internalized to fit in which affect the way you act now. Then you can begin to explore your true values and set boundaries on unhelpful messages.
Throughout your life, you have picked up messages that your authentic self – your true thoughts, feelings, or desires – are not “good enough.” These messages are your “should” statements. You may see they come from your family, friends, religion, culture, and even social media.
Should Statements and The Fear of Not Fitting In
Any time you think, or say, you “should” do something you are reacting to a message you picked up that impacts your sense of self-awareness. You then are often compelled to act the way you “should” out of fear of rejection or abandonment if you are more authentic.
“Should” statements are a cognitive distortion. Thinking mistakes or cognitive distortions are thoughts that we think that are not based on facts and always worsen our emotional states. The concept of cognitive distortions comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a highly effective treatment model for various concerns including depression, anxiety, and codependency.
Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself
There’s an old therapist joke that every time you say you “should” do something, you are “shoulding” on yourself (as in pooping on yourself). Every time you think, or say, you “should” do something, you become more disconnected from your truth. Therefore, to reconnect with yourself, it’s helpful to identify your personal “should” statements.
Once, you name them, then you can tame these thoughts. You can begin to explore if they resonate with your authentic values – or not. Once you explore your true beliefs in contrast to your should statements, a pathway emerges guiding you back to your true self.
To help you identify your should statements, you may download a free worksheet here:
How to Rediscover Your Authentic Self
The first step to learning who you really are is to notice your should statements. Use the free worksheet to help you gain clarity on how you “should” on yourself.
The next step is to begin to explore if these “should” statements align with your authentic values. Ask yourself if this “should” statement resonates as truth for you.
You will likely feel tight or closed off if this “should” statement doesn’t resonate with you. Or if this statement does align with your authentic beliefs, you will likely feel open or loose. Try not to overthink this process as this step alone is allowing you to reconnect with yourself.
Gaining Clarity on Your True Values
If a “should” statement resonates with you as truth, then you can consider this a value that comes from within. No longer are you faced with the pressure to fit in here because this is an authentic belief. When this happens, reword your “should” statement as an authentic choice.
For example, if you notice you do agree that you “should” donate money to charity regularly then you can rewrite this. You can say “I choose to donate money to charity regularly because this feels right to me.” Notice how the sense of pressure alleviates when it’s a personal choice rather than a “should” statement.
Your Authentic Differences
Sometimes, a “should” statement won’t align with your beliefs such as “I should be a doctor.” Or “I should always be happy.”
Now, comes your opportunity to learn more about yourself. Ask yourself now, “If I didn’t believe I should [insert the should statement], what would I believe instead?”
Here you have an opportunity to discover your authentic interests, values, and passions. You may discover, for example, that you want your job to make your happy not impress others. Or you may notice you believe that sadness, anxiety, and anger are a part of being human so you can’t be happy all the time.
Then you can dig deeper. Keep asking questions such as “Now that I notice I believe [authentic belief] what would that mean for how I choose to act or live my life?” The answers won’t always come right away but that’s ok – this is part of the self-discovery process.
Your Authentic Self is Still Here
This process of reconnecting with yourself takes time. As long you stay committed though, you are guaranteed success. Your authentic self is only hidden away for now.
“We can never lose our authentic self, but it can be hidden from us under layers of stress, pain, obsessive thinking, anger, or trauma. Still, there is a clear pathway to connection, even if you have never discovered who you are. We have an innate wisdom in our body about who we are and what we value if we learn to become mindful.
Expressions such as ‘follow your heart’ or ‘trust your gut’ highlight this truth. In the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, the main character, asks why he should listen to his heart. In response, he is told ‘Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeated to you what you’re thinking about life and the world.’
No one in the world knows you better than yourself.”
Your Authentic Best Life
Taking the steps to reconnect with yourself to live more authentically takes courage and commitment. This is especially true when you’ve been told for years that you “should” be different than who you are.
But it’s worth the hard work and the courage because the whole rest of your life is better once you live more authentically. Your relationships improve because they are healthier and more intimate. You love yourself more because you are honoring your true self rather than trying to make others happy. Finally, the world improves because you will naturally be sharing your authentic gifts more deeply as you become more authentic.
Thank you for taking the steps to reconnect with yourself. You are truly capable!
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
She is currently working on her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to email@example.com to submit your question.