“I don’t know who I am”, Why You May Feel That Way

Loss of identity and self can manifest in many ways throughout our lifetime. Here is why it happens and what you can do about it.

By Varangi ~

I dont know who I am - Lifeism

If you are feeling like you do not know who you really are, it is okay. All of us feel that way at some point in our lives. The important thing to remember as you are going through this phase is that you are growing. When you begin to question your sense of self, it means that you have discovered that there is more to life than you originally imagined. This identity crisis is just a way for you to rediscover your purpose and shift your perspective of life.

There may be several obvious or underlying triggers that may make you feel like you do not know who you really are.

Why You Feel That Way

A major event that shifted your perspective

If you recently experienced a life-altering event that was sudden and unexpected, you may find yourself wondering who you really are. Loss of a spouse, parent, child, or sibling at any age, divorce, traumatic accident, physical disabilities, or other shocking news about your health can throw a wrench in your identity and lifestyle.

Certain lifestyle changes that may not be as traumatic but are also significant can have the same effect. When you quit smoking or drinking, change your job or profession, move to a new country, get married in a different culture, etc. can also have this effect.

For instance, quitting a high-profile job at a reputable brand (which was all-consuming and a big part of your life) and moving to a more low-profile job for a better work-life balance may throw you off a little. That job was such a big part of your life and your personality that you may begin to question who you truly are.

You are seeking a spiritual connection

Spirituality and religion have been a large part of our lives for centuries. When life throws us curveballs, humankind has turned to religion and spirituality for support and comfort. While we want to believe in cause and effect / 1+1=2 kind of a logical world, the reality is simply not so. 

There is an X-factor, a 6th dimension to life that we don’t fully understand. The only way we know how to access it is via spirituality. When we lack a spiritual connection, we also lack a connection with a part of ourselves. In some ways, we are unable to access that part of ourselves, which leads to a fractured identity.

You are breaking free from societal classifications

We are all a work in progress. A masterpiece in the making. As we go through life, we realize that many of our thoughts, ideas, and preferences are not our own. They were either borrowed for convenience, forced down our throats, picked up subconsciously, or were just something we needed to do to survive a certain situation.

When we become aware of who we want to become, and the freedom to become that person is available to us as a choice, it suddenly takes precedence over everything else. In moments like these, we often start questioning who we are. While we may have been a certain kind of person all our lives, this sudden urge to not be defined by society can often surprise us.

This distortion often becomes overwhelming when the people around us expect us to be someone we are not anymore. Especially when it involves our family, friends, partners, and loved ones. This creates a rift within us because our expectations are quite different from our reality, and we don’t really know how to truly be ourselves without hurting the people we love.

You are pondering the meaning of life

If you’ve been asking yourself existential questions, you may also be telling yourself, “I don’t know who I am” as a result. When you are questioning existence itself, and the meaning of life, the self becomes less important. When you are looking at the universe, everything else starts fading. The importance you were giving yourself suddenly seems silly and the way you used to define yourself may change unexpectedly.

This is especially true if you’ve discovered your true calling. The purpose of your life. While this has happened to many self-help coaches in significant ways, this calling may also be something simple. The decision to take care of a sick child, parent, or partner. Adopting a child in need. Quitting a well-paying job to work for a non-profit.

You are dealing with childhood trauma

Our childhood experiences define us in many ways. They sometimes affect us negatively. If we are lucky, we learn a lesson early on and are able to turn around our lives and live in grace and gratitude. Either way, our childhood experiences shaped us into who we are today.

When we go through a difficult childhood, we often carry that pain and hurt with us through our lives. When we face experiences like our childhood, it unearths deep wounds within us, leading us to question ourselves.

Your actions don’t align with your identity

When we cannot reconcile the differences between our consciousness and our actions it causes a rift within us. It feels like we are not true to ourselves. When our thoughts and actions are not aligned, we often pay the price of a distorted identity.

Lying to someone (sometimes ourselves), hiding something from the people we love, cheating, breaking promises, wishing bad for someone can all lead us to think that we don’t know who we really are.

Change is hard for you

If you have been resisting change in life, it can lead to questions about your identity.

If we listen carefully when we are resisting change, we often hear our self-talk repeatedly say, “I don’t know who I really am”. What we resist often persists. When this tension of resistance and persistence prolongs, we feel our sense of self eroding, slowly. Change happens anyway. It may not be external (the thing we are resisting) but it will be internal. When we resist change, we are pushing back against the force of the universe. This force can certainly make us question who we truly are.

What Can You Do About It:

What to do if you are questioning who you really are:

Get help

Facing an identity crisis can put a damper on everything in your life. Solving an issue, you are experiencing within yourself is hard. We recommend seeing a therapist who can guide you through the questions about your identity. You can look for help in person as well as online if you are not sure what to expect.

Alternatively, you can also hire a good self-help coach that can ask the right questions and help you find who you truly are if the questions you are asking are leaning towards personal growth.

Get to know yourself

While the pandemic has taught us all the art of being with ourselves, we were not truly by ourselves. We were accompanied by our devices and were living in the virtual world. Being with our thoughts, and truly by ourselves without any distractions, can be uncomfortable for most of us. Start by having a meal alone without technology or people around you. Notice what you are thinking and feeling. What thoughts dominate? Another way of spending more time with yourself is doing a solo workout. Go for a run, swim, row, or simply use the elliptical for 30 minutes. Working out solo is not just good for your body, but for your mind and soul, too.

As you begin to get comfortable with yourself and spend more time doing nothing in your company, start with a mini exercise. Make a list of things you know you like/dislike for sure. Start with the easy things. Food, weather, colors, etc. Then move on to more difficult questions like people, events, etc. Notice what questions are difficult to answer. Are they important questions for you? Make a list of the things that are important but those you are unable to answer. Maintain a separate list of answers you are sure about. When you are questioning who you really are, take a look at this list. This is who you are.

Now describe the kind of person you’d like to be. If you really don’t know who you are, then why not take the opportunity to define who you want to be, and become it? Once you are happy with the kind of person you describe you want to be, put it up on a wall where you can see it often. Read it every day and affirm it.

Practice spirituality

Spirituality is acknowledging that there is a power greater than yourself and that you are deeply connected to it. It is also a way we seek and connect with the world inside of us and outside of us. When the connections that power the inside and the outside world for us come alive, we feel alive and awakened.

There are countless ways to practice spirituality. Some find meaning in caring for those in need, others find meaning in simple daily activities like cooking, gardening, painting, etc. While there are many directions you can take, practicing spirituality is deeply personal.

However, if you are looking for a starting point, we recommend practicing mindfulness for a few minutes every day. Guided meditations with binaural beats can really help in finding peace and calm. With a multitude of apps and tunes available for free, this may be the easiest starting point.

Bring new experiences in your life

By bringing new experiences into your life, you are peeling the onion of your personality. Any new experience helps in understanding who you are and what types of things make an impact on you. You can start by taking a new course. This does not have to be a traditional course at university. There are many courses ranging from 20mins to 10 hours that can be as short or long as you want them to be. Several of them are free or cost next to nothing. Domstika, Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, The Great Courses, etc. are all wonderful places to start. You can take a course about photography, social media, block-printing, statistics, accounting, entrepreneurship, and many other topics.

Another fantastic way to bring new experiences to life is to travel. While that may not be possible for everyone because of COVID-19 or even budget constraints, there are many ways to discover the place you live in. Simply try a restaurant in a different area of town, go for a walk on a new trail, find a museum in the vicinity, or just shop at a different grocery store. Notice the things around you. Observe the differences between your old routine and the new one.

Do the right thing

Often, our sense of self is distorted when our actions are not in alignment with our personal values. Be it a trivial lie or a large digression, when we feel like we are doing something that we don’t believe in, we feel like we are not true to ourselves. The only way to resolve this is to do the right thing. Set things straight. Whether you got away with it or got caught in the midst of it, do what will bring peace to you.

This may be something that happened recently or something that has been bothering you for years. Do what your conscience has been telling you all along. It may be difficult to face the consequences at first, but you will feel at peace after. This step is hard but can bring incredible peace and develop fortitude within.

Resolve the past

Doing the right thing also includes resolving the past. It means you make an effort to reconcile the differences and speak your part. It means you are ready to forgive and let go of the hurt and it is not dependent on the actions of others or on their forgiveness. 

Doing this sounds easy, but it is difficult to practice. Especially if you are trying to resolve childhood trauma. Don’t get bogged down by the number of emotions that show up. Experience your feelings as they arise. Don’t repress them, feel them. And then let them go. When you treat your feelings in this way, you can let go of the emotional baggage and experience life without any filters.

Confide in someone you trust

Dealing with an identity crisis, however big or small, can be lonely and confusing since you are feeling and analyzing at the same time. If getting professional help is not available to you as an option, confide your feelings and doubts in someone you trust. Someone who does not judge you and accepts you for who you are.

Just talking about your experiences and feelings starts the process of either accepting reality or letting go of the past. When you talk about your concerns, they lose their power over you.

Accept that change

The pace at which our world is changing is unprecedented. Our ancestors experienced very few changes in their outside world in their lifetime. But today, change is coming at us in leaps and bounds. Our bodies are changing, air, water, soil, climate, technology, etc. – all at once. Sometimes, these changes are not good for us, and sometimes change demands a decision without giving us time or foresight about the consequences of our choices.

Resisting that change will only distort your sense of self further. Do the best you can with the information you have at hand and then trust the universe to take care of you. Don’t get bogged down by the enormity of your choice. It will only lead to indecision and self-doubt.

Don’t overthink it

If nothing is working, then it's time to get out of your own way. Stop overthinking it and live your life as the person you want to become. This is especially true if you are dealing with the fallout of your past actions. If there is nothing you can do about it, then there is no point in worrying about it. If there is something you can do about it, then just do it instead of worrying about it.

If you are still constantly thinking, “I don’t know who I am”, we highly recommend you get professional help to resolve the internal conflict.

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