How do I cultivate a sense of Identity at 35


hi @mods, I wasn't sure where I could fit this one.

Hi there dear forum dwellers.

I’m still around, as it turns out I was hesitant to leave the forum. And now I know why: I still have some "minor" things to comb through. My question of the day is this. Is there any way you can get (back) in touch with your sense of identity when you’re in your thirties, or older for that matter. I feel that I "failed" to build one. Not judging myself.

Background: I was badly abused by one violent parent and one cowardly parent. And my reaction to that has always been your classic teenage response. You know, classic Rage Against the Machine, "F-you, I won’t do what you tell me... for wearing the badge... they’re the chosen whites...". That’s all fine, but I built my identity around a Huge Wall. A Trump-like, orange Wall. My identity basically consists of being a teenager, and sitting on the wall and yelling "get off my lawn". That’s it. And also around fear of having somebody traverse that wall.

I’ve been harassed by violent phobias recently. The phobias are telling me that I should budge for whatever comes through the wall. For example, polluted air. If polluted air gets through the wall, into my system, then I feel as though I need to defend myself against it. The fear is that I will "become" the pollution, if I engage with it in some way. Even if it is a very minor way. I feel that if I breathe it in, I will "become" physically polluted. I have the (distorted) core belief that I will "become a copy of" the pollution, if I breathe it.

The same goes for the character of people around me and their behaviors. If they engage in lewd behavior, then my immediate urge or feeling is "I need to protect myself, or I will become just like them". It is about not feeling physical enough, as well. My entire sense of identity is built on negation. "I am not (at all) like you". I am always hell-bent on identifying where I do not resemble the other thing. But I never value "who I actually am" - I feel as if I do not exist behind the curtain of negations. It is just a curtain.

At the moment, my biggest questioning is "how do I actually care about that which I AM?". How do I try and start bringing attention to that, instead of the do I start bringing my identity inside? How do I get out of this "dissociating" identity? How do I start overcoming the belief that I must "not have an identity" (or that I must exist only in Wall-shape - and thus pretend that isolation is who I am). And is it possible for a traumatized person to move to a true and tangible identity?

Thank you very mucho,

I feel your post. I literally feel it. It is like reading my biography. I just turned 48 with the same thing going on in my head. For me, I am starting over with what makes “me”. I have no idea what that is because I have been creating images or masks for each individual person in my life. It is exhausting. I am now starting with the very basics - food, music, tv - to see what I actually like versus what I will accept. And I am not apologizing for anything I like or I don’t like. This is very challenging but I am finding it freeing. And it is a beginning. To finding who I really am after filtering out the trauma that has defined my life for so long. I hope this helps. And if not, I hope you find what works for you. And i do believe a traumatized person, even severely, can have a tangible, unique, healthy, and happy identity. It is not easy but it can be obtained.
The weird thing is, I know my likes and dislikes, and my character is pretty well defined. But I can't seem to internalize my likes, my values, etc. I can't seem to believe that they really belong to me. For example I have had a couple of major accomplishments in my life, and I cannot feel proud of them or even feel like it was me, who did those things. So I always return to that state of isolation. So I guess I´m wondering;
- how do I make those things embodied,
- how do I get a sense of "I am"
That sounds like imposter syndrome - which I am working on right now as well. And it seems to be a common theme with cptsd as I learn more. That is the reason I am starting over. From the very beginning. Likes, dislikes, what I am good at, what I have actually achieved on my own with my own knowledge and training. So I can claim them and own them. I am reading a book (The Imposter Cure) that is helping me deal with this and I am doing ART therapy (eye movement) to help with the negative stuff that is stuck in my head on a loop.

Meditating is also helping me find a sense of self. It is forcing me to focus only on me - which is very uncomfortable - and what I want to achieve, what I want, how I want to feel. This is a very difficult practice for me but I am not giving it up. It does seem to help.
my reaction to that has always been your classic teenage response. You know, classic Rage Against the Machine, "F-you, I won’t do what you tell me..
Sounds pretty much like one big drawn out "fight" repsonse from the fight/flight/freeze/fawn spectrum, which I can very much relate to.

I think for as long as we're stuck in one of those survival responses, stuff like "identity" just doesn't really matter - while we're in the middle of surviving, that other stuff slides way down on our list of priorities.

I've been getting into the Polyvagal Theory lately and it's finallyyyy starting to make sense to me... To sum it up clumsily from the perspective of someone who's got PTSD, I'd say Polyvagal Theory is all about that (for us) elusive state that's NOT fight/flight/freeze/fawn... That regulated, safe, warm, happy state that is basically a mystery to many ppl who've developed (C)PTSD cos of complex trauma during childhood.

So, anyway, my advice would be to figure out how to get into that state and then issues like identity will start to fall into place, cos only in that non-survival state can we really give them a priority.

I've been finding the audiobook by Deb Dana called "The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy" very helpful, as I can listen to it as often as I need to for the concepts to start to make sense to my brain.
The weird thing is, I know my likes and dislikes, and my character is pretty well defined
It’s fascinating how little personal preference & character applies to identity, when It feels as if it should be the other way around, amirite???

They say, identity is a complicated construct.

I expect they’re right, in that the simplest things are often the most complicated.

I’ve had a bit of a hard slap across the face, in terms of identity, this past year. Something that was so core to WHO I am, I didn’t even realize it, until it was taken away. Being physically able to do what I want to do. And I’m not just talking about being fit. I’ve spent enough of my life hurling myself at it, that I’ve been on the sick & injured list probably more than most, but less than I likely deserve. I’ve spent years and years in physical therapy following various mishaps. 2 whole years, at one point, relearning how to walk. But I always did it. No matter how bad I’d f*cked me’self up this time? Pain & hard work would see me through. Was always able to rebuild my body into something I could, not necessarily be proud of? But be thrilled by. I don’t care what my body looks like, I care what it can DO. But? Over the past 11 months I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that this time? There may be no coming back. Which I couldn’t talk about right now, if that hard reality hadn’t been -possibly- put off till later. Touch wood. Fingers crossed.

Being American, or at least half, far too much of my identity is tied up in my work. My job. What I’m paid to do.

I’ve always been pretty good at never letting that bit consume me, but it IS still a driving force.

And if the past year has wrecked my physical identity? (Which is deeply tied up in every form of employment I’ve ever taken, as well as most of my play. Not being physically fit means I have no way to make money, and little way to enjoy myself). The past 10 years has completely shredded all of the “other” things I do. Hobbies, passions, interests, list goes on. (See link below, about what one values, for a better understanding of what’s that cost me; not being able to live by my own values. Although the entire thread is a fantastic read, in and of itself.).

If I was asked “What do you do?” when in America? I’d tell the person asking my job.
If I was asked “What do you do?” when in Europe? I’d tell the person asking my passions, interests, hobbies.

2 sides of the same coin.

But neither sums up WHO I am.

What makes up identity?

Sure, my character & personal preferences make up pieces of that. How I employ my time (for money, or for myself) make up a couple more pieces of that. My personality adds another piece or three. But it’s still not the complete picture.

A long long time ago, I had to create who I was, from what was left of me… instead of being able to rely on who I had been, or was told I should be. A smallish benefit from having been broken, and being completely on my own. Starting from scratch. Getting to pick and choose. Getting to create.

I ended up liking that person, very much. As well -in time- as the freedom to be able to do so.

This time round, it’s a different sort of difficult. As I’m not starting from scratch. I’ll figure out a way to make that fun, but I’m not there, yet.

The AI might have some more concrete ideas as to pillars & facets of identity.
I'm not qualified to diagnose anyone in any official capacity, but a lot of this sounds like OCD (fear of contamination, fear of coercion, compulsive checking and re-checking and re-thinking and re-analyzing and re-engaging) and intrusive thoughts, rather than your personality. A personality is just a set of fixed and stable traits, meaning the way you are most often "like." You may not be aware of what this is, because you may lack psychological insight, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist - or if these traits change on a regular basis, it could be an indication of dissociative disorders or a personality disorder like BPD. But in my opinion, you seem to have a well-defined set of fixed/stable traits, you are just obsessing about moral contamination, which is a big feature of OCD.
i was formally diagnosed with imposter syndrome in the mid 70's and second @silverlinings1069 's notion that it sounds like the symptoms which earned me that badge.

i used "grammar therapy" and this very post is several steps down that very path. "grammar therapy" is still not an official thing, but it works for me. awareness and modifications of my verbage has a powerful impact on how i approach my current day. the words, "i'm not. . ." are the heart and soul of my imposter syndrome. when i catch myself using the words, "i'm not. . ." too often, i am once again placing more importance on what i am not than nurturing what i actually am. i gently and compassionately nudge myself toward speaking/writing positive affirmations of what i am. i am a healing warrior. i can and i will. it sounds easy enough, but old habits die hard. half a century into practicing grammar therapy, i still find myself measuring my worth by what i am not more than what i actually am.

my belief that you are already several steps into using "grammar therapy" because of your level of awareness and articulation of the post. building that awareness and finding words for ^it^ are all-important first steps. should you decide to use this tool, you have already laid the groundwork.

just opining. . . don't accuse me of experting.
steadying support while you find what works for you.
Thanks for replying you all,

I'm going to take a better look soon. I'm exhausted today. @Weemie is completely right: I do have OCD, never really had proper treatment for it though. When I went to have the OCD examined they said "well, you don't compulsively polish doorknobs, so you're fine". And they left me with serious compulsive issues. However, I'd like to think that aside from the OCD I also have a tendency to externalize everything about myself that is good and valuable!

The post titled "how do I connect with what you value", might just be a nugget of gold! Thanks Friday, saving my butt again after all these years. ;-)

Gwaihir (previously known as Rad)