Sense Of Self


Another thread got me thinking (Danger, Will Robinson! 🤖) and rather than hijacking it, since we haven’t had a thread on this topic for a few years, and it’s sooooooo central to so many things PTSD/CPTSD in my experience; decided to see if it’s a topic people feel like kicking around & thrashing out.


I have complex trauma.

During PART of that trauma history, I shattered.

Which seems more complicated than ‘just’ my sense of self shattered? But may or may not be.

Rebuilding my sense of self, in either case, was a very core component of rebuilding both myself & my life. It took years and years, and still under certain kinds of stress or pressure I not only revert back to being “Nothing & No One”, but being Nothing & No One is the only way I can find any peace or clarity of purpose. Because nothing about ME gets in the way of what I need to do, or deal with. It comes along with a helluva lot of other problems, like not being able to want anything, but that’s a topic for another time.

For ME, rebuilding my sense of self meant defining or redefining
- What I love/like/neutrality-to-DGAF/dislike/hate
- What I Value
- My Beliefs
- My Aspirations
- My Boundaries & Expectations
- My Ethics & Moral Code
- aaaaand a few other things I’m probably forgetting 😉 that form the foundation of my character & personality.


So when I think of my ‘sense of self’? ^^^That’s what I think of. What I rebuilt, and how I went about rebuilding it.

How about you?

Some starting off Q’s… just because that’s where my head is at doesn’t mean it’s where anyone else’s is! So please feel free to diverge, ignore, bounce off of, etc. 😎

What does ‘sense of self’ mean to you?
Have you ever lost it, suffered damage to it, struggled with it, had to repair or rebuild it?
Has your sense of self been affected/altered by your trauma history?
Challenges, struggles, surprises, triumphs?
Thoughts in general?
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This is a good topic. Thanks for starting.

The shattered thing, I get.

I never knew I had a poor sense of self, because I think you got to have an idea about sense of self to work out that you don't have it!

So yes, for me a large large part of it:
My values and principles.
Because I put others views on trauma instead of my own. E.g mum thinking her various ways of causing abuse were funny. Me as a child feeling crappy about it but accepting her values and judgements on that for most of my adult life. Who knew that it actually wasn't funny and wiped my sense of self?

Other sense of self:
Learning to recognise my emotions
Learning to not be a vessel for other people's emotions and needs
Learning to say what I need, or even recognising what I need in the first place, i.e. that I actually have needs.

That's what I've come up with so far.
But this is helpful thank you.
Great thread @Friday 👏 👌 👍

My sense of self was completely fragmented and shattered. Whilst recovering, rebuilding and healing myself I kept sight of what I thought was important to me, a strong moral code, art and the way I communicate with the world. Practicing social skills and how to form and build good relationships (some of those skills were rebuilt from point 0).

I still make mistakes but haha! I'm human!

Whilst rebuilding myself I also had to be open to lots of things I wasn't aware of before about life and being an adult and a good citizen. Also, something that was very important to me was stopping smoking and drinking alcohol (which was f*cking painful emotionally and psychologically).

I have a history of complex trauma, recurrent depression and anxiety but with the help of medication, self will and good people in my life I'm 10x better and have built a new me! Much stronger at the core.
I sort of had a sense of self as a child as my grandparents were really important in developing that. What I realized was my mother "didn't like me" so I assumed there was something fundamentally wrong in some way and I took her comments to heart. Add the negative comments for 20 years of an abusive marriage and there was a little part of me that I was OK with, but everything else was nothing but a total mess.

Spent the better part of the past ten years creating a new sense of self and killing the negative tapes. Its been a slow process and I am at a point where I know who I am, what I want, what I am working on and learning to like myself. Still the tapes pop up, or I question myself to death, and a lot of other little things, but for the most part I'm getting there.
Brilliant thread!

I know the moment when my mind broke, and my sense of self changed dramatically.

Rebuilding meant trying to make amends for both what I did and didn't do by stuffing my life with places I could both be in control and make a difference. My sense of self became less about who I was and more about what I did.

On one hand I'm lucky that was the route I chose, because it allowed me to rebuild myself into someone who had the answers and was always willing to help. It helped me be successful, so I could look in the mirror and say
"yep I've got this! Nothing happened that was so bad I couldn't recover"!

Figuring out that was a lie meant rebuilding my sense of self for a second time and acknowledging that what I really wanted to be able to say to myself was
"you are not a bad person" "what you do matters" "you can be forgiven"

The second rebuilding has been harder - because it's required me to more honest and real with myself about what I know to be true and how I feel about it. It means acceptance and acknowledgement and vulnerability - not things I'm a fan of LOL

But it's coming along, little by little
I am currently struggling with this very much. I’m trying to come to terms with how much the trauma fragmented me and how for so many years I hadn’t had access to what it’s done to my psyche. My traumas hid from me for decades. I didn’t know I was broken for a really long time. Now that I have access to more information about myself, it’s been extremely difficult.

I recently discovered that the part of me who I truly believed for years and years was the “real me”…was just one part of me. Not all of me. Not the person I’m meant to be moving forward. And that realization was devastating. So much so, that this part of me actually “died.” It’s weird, I know. But somehow it also makes sense.

I have some extremely polarized parts who have very different perspectives, beliefs, desires, boundaries, ethics/morals, etc. and coming to grips with that has been a huge challenge. I sometimes wonder how all these contradictory things can be true all at the same time within the same person. It’s so weird, but then I consider my trauma and then it also somehow makes sense. These parts were necessary in order for me to survive in those different traumatic contexts.

With where I’m at in my recovery, I’m still very focused on trauma processing as my primary objective, but on a smaller scale I’ve also spent a little time trying to figure out what is is that I want and who it is I really am…and to be honest it’s scary as f*ck. And overwhelming. And usually drives me to suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, and defeat.

I hope once I’m finished processing my trauma figuring out who I am will be easier, but I don’t know for sure if that will be the case. I realized as I rebuild my life, I have to consider all my parts now (and that is stressful). I realized striking some balance/compromise between my parts is difficult. I really have no clue where I’m going with this and that scares me.

I’ve also realized I have to mourn the loss of “who I thought I was” and the “perfect life” I built after the trauma ended…and also come to terms with all the parts of me that together make me a whole person. I know deep down in my bones that in doing so, it’s likely my life will be fuller and richer and better overall. But having to face reality and tackle the process itself is really, really scary.
My thoughts are kind of jumbled but I am curious about this topic so I will join in.

This topic makes me think of enmeshment and codependency.

There used to be a thread going called, “How to build a sense of self if you never had one”

The idea that it was impossible (if you were abused and neglected as an infant or in utero) resonated with me a lot and would lead me down dark paths of despair.

So T took the spiritual path with me, with reincarnation and child of the Goddess and nature and all that jazz. Combined with the reparenting it became enough for me to find a base self.

My first name on here was “SearchingForSelf”, then “Self.In.Progress”, then “SelfDetermined”. Only after I could acknowledge that the abuse had actually happened could I consider the consequences of enmeshment and codependency.

When I didn’t have a self I believed that my purpose was to serve—my Catholic Christian religion reinforced this. Believing I was a bad person felt right so that was a feedback loop toward SI. Erasing my sense of self would lead me toward unity with Jesus so I did a lot of goofy things that further isolated me from people. And the abuse dynamic with my dad was acting on a subconscious level. I did not know I had merged my ego with his.

So for me when I became aware of the abuse some things I did to develop my self:
1) Understand what it means to say No. My Yes was meaningless if I couldn’t say No.
2) Allow myself to physically move away from people who made me feel uncomfortable rather than “shine the light of forgiveness” on them.
3) Consider what I like. This was really hard. I had developed a complicated OCD counting system to erase any choice in my life. By eliminating preference no one could ever judge me for my “choice”, and if they did (either positively or negatively) it was easy to dismiss, and maintain the “Nothing and No One” mentality.
4) Wear clothes that affirmed my gender. I dressed androgynously “to save money” 🤷‍♀️ and deflect from my appearance. I didn’t want to appear as though I wanted attention in any way. My ex’s jealousy reinforced this drive to be invisible.
5) Tell people when I did something that made me happy. Along these same lines, tell people when it’s my birthday (still hard) and ask for help, even if I don’t think I need it.

something I find common with people who lack support, is this idea that someone somewhere eventually will take care of me.
This was from another thread (sorry MnM) but it fits in (and it was on my clipboard). I believed I would be dependent on my parents and husband for my whole life because I believed I was developmentally disabled. So shifting to a belief that I was capable of taking care of myself reaffirmed a sense of self.
I am laughable
I am not real
I am to sacrifice myself for others
I do not deserve to say I or Me.
Nobody can assault me anymore than they could assault a plastic doll. It's not possible.
I can fix you.
I am empty.
I can accommodate anything.
I don't own anything and I've never really lived in this house.
I don't deserve feelings. I am an actress.
Sorry to quote you from another thread Skate, but this was on my clipboard. All these statements tie into the concept of no sense of self, I think. Particularly the words I and Me. I wonder if not feeling you can say them is tied into the concept of them shattering. And it is interesting to me how
I shattered.

Which seems more complicated than ‘just’ my sense of self shattered
you separate “I” from “sense of self”. It was enough to make me search up the difference between them and I found this research article (I know you like nerdy stuff Friday) about the difference between I and Me. I couldn’t keep my attention on it to get through the whole thing but what I did get was that “I” is classically considered the subject or Thinker, and “Me” is considered the object or Phenomenon of Experience. And that both are under the umbrella of “sense of self”. The author seems to be arguing that “I” can be *either* subject or object. The point being that these concepts are fundamentally different, subject and object. Now modern feminist theories, such as put forth by Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble, argue that women can never achieve the position of subject due to language and psychology, but we’ll put that aside.
being Nothing & No One is the only way I can find any peace or clarity of purpose.
This reminds me of some Buddhist schools of thought, of which I know very little. I remember hearing that there is one school which encourages connecting with the Nothing and another that encourages connecting with the Everything. Which brings us back to the binary and the concept of shattered/whole. I wonder if “shattered” is wrapped around the concept of “nothing” for you?

The funny thing to me about the Nothing/Everything binary is that there is a whole spectrum between the two ends. So a binary could be seen as a set. Between (0,1) are actually infinite decimals. Which means that the original self and the recovered self are the set which includes the shattered selves in the middle and perhaps we only approach original/recovered without ever reaching them, like limits in calculus. Though with I/me and subject/object I am unable to see anything in between?

Maybe with I/me it is “you” that forms the spectrum. Because we can adopt traits of “you” in order to shift our sense of self. When we recover is it “I” or “me” that changes? Maybe both. Like when I said “my yes was meaningless without a true no”. The thinker is who puts forth the yes and no. The me is who experiences the results of that shift. And that’s probably why the person in the article said that “I” must be both subject and object.
What does ‘sense of self’ mean to you?
Believing that I am a person with needs and desires separate from other people’s. And being able to reflect that off of other people. When I had no sense of self I believed it didn’t matter what anyone said to me that was positive, yet I would wilt if they saw me as anything other than the image I was striving to project.
Have you ever lost it, suffered damage to it, struggled with it, had to repair or rebuild it?
I thought that I never had it. Psychedelic type experiences (whether from drugs or exercise or intense moments) hint to me that there is a self that is timeless somehow.
Has your sense of self been affected/altered by your trauma history?
I experienced it the other way around. My sense of self was affected by my recovery.
killing the negative tapes.
This is such a huge part of my own recovery. The word recovery seems related to self. Re-cover the self. Or is it Wreck-Over! 🤣
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Good topic.

What does ‘sense of self’ mean to you?

I had to Google what 'sense of self' means, so that's a good start.

My perception of the collection of characteristics that define me. That's a real struggle for me. I guess it means my values & what I stand for. I don't really know what I stand for, which is an uncomfortable answer. I guess it shifts based on who I'm with. My sense of self has been based on others because I don't value myself.

Have you ever lost it, suffered damage to it, struggled with it, had to repair or rebuild it?

I don't know if I ever developed a sense of self. I felt like my purpose was to support my family & be there for them. This was certainly the case during my teenage years when my Dad was in abusive relationships. A large part of my purpose became supporting him through these relationships & keeping a watchful eye over proceedings. When he returned to the abusive relationship I pretty much torched my life to the ground & became an addict.

Has your sense of self been affected/altered by your trauma history?

I certainly see things differently having been through addiction & PTSD. I used to be judgmental whereas now I try to be more compassionate.
Just watched a video by Sam Vaknin on YouTube about self. Set me thinking, realized my self is very weak and close to non-existent. The way I understood it is that the self is about boundaries, - and with the implications of good boundaries: knowing what you want, saying no, and not being a people-pleaser. (major handicap for us fawn types).

Paradoxically I am a strong personality, but a weak self. Now that I know about it I will integrate this into my journey to recovery
The thing with me is that I can recite many definitions or paragraphs about complex trauma and when it comes to sense of self or even trying to see my face in a mental picture its like an image from an old black and white television set with a lot of static and distortion.

Good topic and I will try to answer the questions. :)
I keep coming back to this thread. I hate it, honestly. Of course I know who I am. Right? Well, sort of. Part of what happened with my abuse is that I just let myself turn into an appendage of my abuser, and when I got out I had no idea who I was outside of that relationship. I tried on different things but discarded them completely and cut all ties with them PTSD-style if something didn't work the way I wanted it to.

When I got married again I tried very hard to disappear into my marriage the way I had before, but ironically enough my wife wouldn't let me do that. Then for many angry years I could only define myself by what I wasn't. It wasn't until I had a real PTSD freakout and realized I had to do something about it that I feel like I was able to rebuild an identity for myself.

I think it wasn't until I decided to go back to grad school that I truly felt like a person again. That was a huge decision and one I made on my own, by myself (but with support from family). I have passion and an intended direction, two things I've never actually had before in my life. Things are still hard sometimes but I can always look at my passion and direction and know that those things are mine.