It’s true that most of our self-identity is formed as children and teens. As children we imitate those around us, and then as teenagers we challenge all that we have been imitating until we find what identity works for us. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson called this adolescent stage ‘identity vs role confusion’.
But then life challenges arrive,and we learn new things about ourselves and the world that change us. So yes, our self-identity can fluctuate.
It’s okay to not always be sure who you are, or to question yourself. As long as you are coping with daily life and are resilient enough to handle challenges and navigate relationships, your sense of self is probably fine.
Emotional neglect means that we didn’t receive proper ‘attachment’ as a child. This means you didn’t have a caregiver you could rely on to love and accept you no matter what. You learned to adapt yourself in order to receive love, hiding your true thoughts and feelings.
The result is we grow up into adults who are so used to being what others want, we no longer know who we really are.
Trauma, on the other hand, damages our sense of self because it destroys our capacity to trust not just others, but our very selves.
Then work on yourself-compassion, a shortcut to better self worth. How could you treat yourself more like you treat your valued friends?
The fastest way to a sense of self?
If we experienced neglect or trauma as a child our sense of self can be so damaged we need support to find our way back to ourselves.
Working with acounsellor or psychotherapist is then highly recommended. They can create a safe, non-judgmental space for you to process any difficult experiences and repressed emotions that are blocking you or leaving your overwhelmed. And they can be a mirror that reflects back a version of yourself you have overlooked, with resources and strengths you’ve secretly had all along.