I don't want to hold back, I don't want to slip down
October 2, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

How do you let go of negative self-identify when it feels like letting go of yourself?

I imagine this is similar to what alcoholics, drug addicts, and those with eating disorders experience during recovery.

I grew up with some rough times -- severe depression, anxiety, bullying because of being overweight, poverty. In addition to low self-esteem, I developed a very negative self-identify - the sad girl, the lonely girl, the awkward girl, the girl people don't like, the girl everything goes wrong for. (There were also positive things, like self identifying as a smart, book-ish girl and as a darkly humorous girl.) It sounds miserable, and the experiences that led to it certainly were, but you revel in it to an extent and you find comfort, humor, and identity in it. (Singing along to grunge music, bonding with the other outcasts, feeling understood when you watched Daria)

Those times are long behind me now. Antidepressants have tamed my darkest days, the weight is gone and the years have been colored by friends and lovers. The self-esteem problems and negative self-identify remain.

But when I try to reframe myself inside, it feels jarring and strange. To give a concrete example: I'm recently single and find myself nodding and laughing along to "forever alone" rage comics. Then I think back to all the dates I've had and it doesn't fit. Oh, sure, sometimes my life does look just like Liz Lemon's but I can also flip it around and say it doesn't. It depends on what you see. So to keep myself from spiraling into a depression about things or feeling lonely I try to flip it, think of past boyfriends and dates and make myself think things like, 'Oh, I never have trouble getting dates' and thinking of myself as the girl that guys like. But it feels so foreign. It feels so strange to think of myself that way. In a way I don't feel like me when I do it. Trying to orient myself as a happy person as opposed to a sad person is even more disorienting. I feel like I'm leaving myself behind.

On the face of it this seems really simple: Being happy is more fun than being sad, so, duh, just think of yourself that way. But it's not that simple.

Any advice on how to deal and move past this? You can MeMail if it makes you more comfortable. Thanks.
posted by unannihilated to Human Relations (21 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, it's really all about empowerment. But not in that lame-ass chick lit way. Think about it this way: the world has no idea who you are. Unless you live in an epically small town, you can walk our your door tomorrow morning and be a British ex-pat (depending on your skill with accents) or a hard-nosed career woman or earthy-crunchy new ager. Or a sad, rejected, lonely girl. Or a vivacious, attractive, head-turner who delights every path she steps across. Totally up to you. Nothing's on file. No one's comparing you to your "record."

Sure, it'll feel like faking it at first. It'll be faking it, at first. So start pretending you are who you want to be, and treat the world like you are that person, even if your experiences totally don't warrant it. I've done this, and gone from a silent, awkward, depressive child to a natural leader/class president/accomplished public speaker. Is that who I am? Not really. There is no static identity for anyone, as much as it'd be safer if there was. But it is who I am in the world, and it's almost as comforting to be able to turn to that.

And don't think of yourself as "happy" or "sad." Those are states, not personality traits. You can be acerbic, or bookish, or optimistic, or careless, but you'll be happy or sad depending on how well those things are working out for you on any given day.
posted by libertypie at 1:30 PM on October 2, 2011 [17 favorites]

Make things. Do things. Learn things. Engage with things that have nothing to do with your "identity". Stop being so self-obsessed. There's a whole world out of fascinating stuff out there. Find something you love about it, that's not just a socially-constructed mirror that tells you how to define yourself. Daria and Liz Lemon are both cartoon characters. Don't worry so much about who or what you are; get wrapped up in what you are making, experiencing, learning.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:31 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Honestly? Therapy is what did it for me. Cognitive behavioral, to be specific. Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns gets recommended here a lot, but it gets recommended for a reason -- it helps. I'd suggest picking up a copy, it's a good jumping-off place to start with. I'll mull this over and see if I can add anything else...
posted by palomar at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2011

I have some similar issues myself though I'd never thought to frame it in this way.

Maybe your choice is not between "FOREVER ALONE!" and "No trouble getting dates here." Probably what's true for you is something more complicated and in between. Because both of those statements are simplifications ... not the whole truth or even most of it for anyone out there.

Like you, I have a tendency to spend a LOT of time in my head trying to sort everything out. But focusing on action rather than identity might be the way to go. Rather that "who am I?" - "what am I going to do, right now?" might get you where you want to be.
posted by bunderful at 1:34 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You want to change your discourse and open up all the possibilities for who you are, not just spend time thinking about the sad girl--but the vocabulary you have is limited. Look for the times you experienced the opposite of the sad girl--it can't have been 24/7. Are there people in your life who would be surprised to hear that description of you? What do they see? What would they say about you?

For example, someone who's been in 5 accidents might call herself a bad driver--but she's been driving for 10 years and other than those five times, she's been a good driver! She can choose which one she identifies with. If she (and her family and friends) spend time talking about what a bad driver she is, then she gets in the car expecting to be bad --- which makes her nervous and drive badly. If she thought about the 3645 days she drove well, she'd feel more confident.

Read up on narrative therapy, and if you want to spend time working with someone who would completely "get" what you're saying, look for a narrative therapist. It's about finding the alternative stories in your lived experience, the ones you didn't pay attention to at the time because they didn't mesh with the sadness you were (had to) pay attention to, that provide evidence that you can become the person you want to be.

You'll start seeking opportunities to live the person you'd like to be--it can be really fun and hopeful--it doesn't even have to be a lot of work!
posted by vitabellosi at 1:38 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was and am all of those girls. Most days I'm the happy one. But on the days that I'm not, I'm not the dark, depressed and miserable one anymore either. The highs are higher and the lows aren't nearly anywhere so low. It pushes the whole baseline up.

But don't be afraid to be whatever label you want to be, in whatever relations to those old labels you used to be, and for whatever new or old meaning they hold for you. Some days I'm the angsty girl all day long and that isn't even right. But it's just another day and I maybe don't feel like doing 'identity work' that day...it's comfortable to stick to old habits. Other days, I take on the challenge. And even others, I change my mind mid-course, even if I've left the house wearing all black and worn-out shoes. I put on a grown-up smile and it comes through. Shrug.

I guess my advice would be, just keep moving along. You'll shed the old skin when it no longer makes sense to carry the bulk of it around. Awareness and introspection is great though, and you've clearly got that.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:41 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The way you perceived yourself in the past, your 'default' image of yourself (a less happy, past tense version of yourself) is obvious to you now in light of things that have recently happened. It might just be a matter of time and adjustment. The comparison you draw to recovery is interesting and spot on. It's every familiar thing one has to re-learn how to do without (insert default measure to deal with stress here), as one encounters everything they ever did, again, in real time, no matter how mundane.
Lots of good suggestions here. Maybe journaling would help you see your progress more clearly down the line.
posted by marimeko at 1:47 PM on October 2, 2011

I feel ya.

I've found help & inspiration in meditation and Buddhist teachings. Letting go of self-identity and meeting the world in a more direct, immediate, unfiltered way — that's also happy and peaceful — is what it's all about, it's the ultimate goal of the whole thing. Meditation teaches by letting you become truly intimate with things that are very real, very personal, yet pointing directly to here-and-now: your breathing, observing feelings closely, etc. I and many others find immense value in seated meditation, but it's just as nourishing in all situations to just stay anchored & present.

In Zen they have nice chants with stuff like this, from Hakuin's Chant in Praise of Zazen (zazen = sitting zen):
If we turn inwards and realize our true nature,
that true self is no-self,
we go beyond ego and clever words.
Now that our thought is no-thought,
our singing and dancing are the voice of the dharma.
It might be nice just to know that you're so unalone in this that actually your question points almost directly to the core problem of suffering identified by Buddha. If your heart is with another religion, you might look at their meditative traditions. And of course there is also a massive amount of entirely secular meditation teaching.
posted by mbrock at 1:51 PM on October 2, 2011

Hm. I think it's ok to like things, or to go 'yeah!' while being aware you're not really the same as the, well, fictional "you".

Um, ok this is going to sound really weird, so bear with me....

When I was like, 11-12 and didn't even have a clue about boys (what are they for?), forget being unlucky in love, I was like, "YEAH!" when I listened to Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough. Not like, 'this is a cool song'-- I felt it! I felt it to my bones~! Yeah. (See, to this day.) I loved Daria. I loved 'My So-Called Life'. Hell, I was never really gothy, either-- nor that dark or gloomy (though I was certainly depressed and often a temperamental teenager). No matter how happy I'll get, there'll be a part of me 'forever Daria', and that's just my history, and therefore a part of my identity. I could become, y'know, not broken, but identity formation during our 'formative years' leaves a stamp that you can never erase. And why should you? The Wonder Years, you know. This is what you love. It matters! Don't forget it. It's a treasure, these things you cared about, that let you survive the hard times. That doesn't mean you always have to be 15.

And, as I implied with the whole Patty Smyth song thing-- sometimes we feel things because these emotions-- pain-- is ever-present and universal. I think as an artist, writing angst will always come easiest to for me because, well, it's angst! Drama. On the other hand, in some ways I can write it best when I'm feeling good, you know? Because I can distance myself just enough to see my work objectively and not get carried away with crap. It's ok-- it's good-- to have a pocket of yourself you dedicate to who you've been, to who you could be, to who you'll never be again, and never have been even. It would be so dull to always be 1:1 exactly as you have been and can imagine. Aren't those sorts of persons kind of boring?

Go ahead and stamp your feet to angsty songs, and cry over feelings you haven't had for the last 5 years-- it's better than crying over feelings you had last week (say), and just not being depressed doesn't mean you can't feel pain, especially within the confines of art and culture. There's a reason why people don't stay who they are...
posted by reenka at 2:24 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is an exercise that might help. Find a list of adjectives that describe various character traits. (For example there is one
here. Circle all the ones that you think describe you. Put a star next to the ones that you want more of in the your life (could be things that you already identify with or things that you wish described you).

Then, on a separate piece of paper, write "Sometimes I can be..." and list of the adjectives that you circled. Below that write "I am becoming more..." and then list the things that you want to grow into doing more. Post your lists where you can see them. Even if you do nothing else, I bet this will help.

If you really want to work at cultivating the attributes that you like, each week pick one to work on for that week. Make an effort to behave in a way that is consistent with that attribute. At the end of the day, journal what you did and how it felt. Next week, pick another. When you have gone through them all, go back and spend another week on the first one and so on.

No one is perfect, no one is going to be any specific way all or even most of the time. But you can focus your attention on what you like about yourself and practicing doing more of it. By this way, if you want to read more in depth, this is a variation on the Mussar techniques for developing character virtues. Alan Morinis of the Mussar Institute wrote an excellent and practical book on this called Everyday Holiness. i recommend it!
posted by metahawk at 3:05 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

This isn't comprehensive advice, just a fragment. This phrase jumped out at me:

Being happy is more fun than being sad

Recognize that your mind doesn't naturally seek what is fun; often it opts for what is familiar, what has worked in the past. The "sad girl" is a persona and world view that you used for many years to cope with pain and stresses. Whether or not it makes you happy, it works for you, in the sense that it's a comfortable pattern that doesn't require energy to change. It can be very difficult to retrain yourself to move past those old behaviors and mindsets. It's going to feel weird and there's an element of "fake it 'til you make it" when you approach the world with confidence and balance.

I believe that experience is the most potent means we have of reprogramming ourselves. You can't just think yourself confident. You reach out to the world in a confident manner and you gain the immeasurable benefit of living the result.
posted by itstheclamsname at 4:04 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I developed a very negative self-identify - the sad girl, the lonely girl, the awkward girl, the girl people don't like, the girl everything goes wrong for.

The thing I notice is the creation of your identity based on how you feel. But our emotions aren't us -- we don't have to be defined by them. So reframing:

- a "sad girl" is more accurately a girl that feels sad.
- a "lonely girl" is more accurately a girl that feels lonely
- an "awkward girl" is more accurately a girl who feels awkward

A girl can have any or all of those feelings. To label that girl as one or all of those is a shortcut to thinking -- it has nothing to do with the reality of who that girl is -- it is just a jar to put her in. Look for a self-image that is deeper than your appearance to others, or deeper even than your own feelings.

But it feels so foreign. It feels so strange to think of myself that way. In a way I don't feel like me when I do it. Trying to orient myself as a happy person as opposed to a sad person is even more disorienting. I feel like I'm leaving myself behind.

Leaving behind a long-held, familiar self-concept can't be something done comfortably. So truly attempting to rebuild your own idea of yourself is about as scary as it gets. It has to feel disorienting. But that pain that has more to do with changing ingrained habits of thought than some disruption of reality.

What you are talking about is radical change. Notice that you're not letting go of yourself, you're letting go of an old, outdated, inaccurate, hurtful self-concept. You're departing from a comfortable fiction, one that hurts, but remains comfortable only because it's familiar. But a search for a deeper understanding of yourself will require such departures. And making those departures will require practice and patience and some pain along the way.

One other thing -- part of those disorienting feelings when changing your self-image have a protective and valuable aspect, too. Nietzsche put it something like this: "be careful, lest in casting out your demons, you throw out the best part of you". If you're reinventing yourself, don't blindly throw out the baby with the bath just because it looks dirty. The huge challenge--painful, frustrating, and confusing--is figuring out what you want to keep as part of you and what you'll leave behind. As you begin the process, things are going to look weird. Even a clean baby could look so unfamiliar so as to be scary if all you've ever seen is a dirty one.
posted by buzzv at 4:54 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I know what you mean, I swear there was at least once where I've regained weight because I didn't know who I Was if I wasn't the fat girl. Therapy helped me, but also music and keeping a journal (online, most recently). There's a Lyle Lovett song about a fat girl that nobody wants to play with, so she goes inside and practices piano, and a triumphant line about, "well the fat girl, she ain't fat no more, but lordy how she plays piano". That line resonates with me any time I'm doing something like mountain hiking or rocking a class at the gym that takes me away from that old identity to my kick-ass survivor identity of today.

You've survived a lot of stuff, and it's all part of who you are today. I'd recommend sitting down and journaling out a big long "history of my identity" where you try to look at all of the experiences that have shaped you, and who you are today. You'll find that while you've changed and grown and gotten cooler with yourself, you couldn't be who you are now without who you were then.
posted by ldthomps at 5:12 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go backpacking for 2 weeks and test out your new self-identity with.people who have never met you! Its harder to maintain back home but easier when you can reflect back to a time when you were 100% awesome you
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 7:33 PM on October 2, 2011

I kind of think this is part of growing up. Adulthood is not high school or college where you are assigned to one clique and not allowed to interact with others. That kind of need for strong tribal identity tends to loosen as we age, develop independence and build identity. Plus, among other things, it just isn't practical anymore.

It's pretty revolutionary to understand that 95% of the people around you encompass the same traits you do in the same variety. Very few people are what you think you see. I'm isolated and hyper-networked; a fatalist and an optimist; wretchedly anxious and amazingly mellow; totally confident and completely terrified. I don't show all sides to all people but I wear all of those personality traits pretty much all of the time. The difference is that at 25, I was confused by that because "Who am I?" felt muddy; at 40, that's just life, baby. We're all all of those things. I have found other, much more important and non-transient traits to hang my internal identity on. And honestly, that just took time and enough of a track record to look back on in order to see clear characteristics.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:46 PM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

In a way I don't feel like me when I do it.

OK, so who are you?

Best way I know to deal with "Who am I?" is to break it into two parts. The first part is an answer: I am this (waves hands in general direction of self). The second part is a demand: Describe this.

The first part is good because it reminds me that no matter how the second part comes out, my identity is not threatened. And the second part is good because it allows for a certain amount of objectivity and allows for the possibility of change.

People are not simple static objects like marbles and housebricks; we're more process-like than object-like. A good description of me-last-year will not necessarily fit me-today and is even less likely to be accurate about me-tomorrow, especially if powerful pharmaceuticals are involved.

So when you "don't feel like you", remind yourself that possible-you is not completely defined or constrained by historical-you, and that trying out unfamiliar things and trying on unfamiliar attitudes is supposed to feel unfamiliar; that's kind of the point.
posted by flabdablet at 5:20 AM on October 3, 2011

How do you let go of negative self-identify when it feels like letting go of yourself?

Slowly remind yourself over and over that a negative self-identity is not the same as who you are underneath that.

Succinctly: If you find that you're searching for your true self, its helpful to ask "who is it that's searching".
posted by softlord at 10:28 AM on October 3, 2011

Are the affirmations you are trying to do creating tension in you?

Affirmation sessions can be wonderful, I've found, if they are fun. Using your imagination playfully really can expand your horizons of who you are, just like you said. They can also just keep you in your rut of creating a persona, if they are just another coping mechanism or burden you're taking on that's not bearing fruit. Feel it out. Try doing the imagination practice different ways. If it still just seems fruitless and unfun or there's too much resistance, maybe you can just leave them alone for now. You can find yourself and your love for yourself without them. Either way, it will be easier if you are gentle about it, finding your own way. Relaxation and allowing--going into yourself without an agenda--could help balance out and complement practices that are too disorienting, making them easier or unnecessary. I think some of that disorientation is good, if it is done in the spirit of exploration and experimentation, a natural growth. Don't take on the burden of having to drop what you see as your old self all at once.

You might try keeping a dream journal. This helped me greatly in getting into contact with my unlived self, the worlds inside me that I'd forgotten since I was a child. I think writing down dreams helps move your mind into a different way of thinking, as well as just writing down anything that seems to come to you from your unconscious, messages from the universe, synchronicities that might point you along your way. It's a good way to nurture an attitude of "listening" in your life, listening to yourself and listening for answers to come to you. Personally, I usually cannot remember my dreams so I started just making up dreams instead; it was a pleasant discovery that doing this has actually helped me alot in getting into contact with the real me and my internal world. It was surprising all the crazy characters and adventures, rooms and landscapes that came out when I sat down and let myself write freely. :) Also very good to explore feelings about yourself and use imagination for experimenting with new ideas/experiences, just like the affirmation work. But I think everyone's just got to find their own way.

I can really identify with what you are going through. I've struggled with this, thought alot about these things, read alot (mostly worthless), learned alot the hard way, and right now I'm also right in the middle of letting go of my 'old self' and it can seem so very, very confusing and frustrating. Paradoxical. So what I'm writing comes from my experience, it's all I have. It may or may not help you. Some might not pertain to your situation but maybe some of it will. So I guess I might as well be very direct and practical before I get to all my meanderings around the subject: The secret is to spend time alone, in silence and stillness, for a few hours a day, with no agenda. Affirmations can be great, but spending time in silence will start bringing you down to the roots of your problems, experience your feelings totally, and bring you into tune with all the good things inside you and in life, and do it naturally. All the things that seem far away, will be closer. Arrange your body however is most comfortable (this can change form moment to moment). Feel and express whatever emotions come up safely. Anger, whatever. Totally allow. Just do that as much as possible and you'll find yourself less and less confused, less burdened by the change you want to make. In fact the change you want to make is settling back into you body and your inner self, there's just all this tension in the way. You'll just become your self without having to strain over it. It's so simple, and that's why people don't find it. Don't try to be happy.

In your life, do what you feel without worrying much about consequences or how other people will think. Be honest. Let your actions come out of what you feel, out of your heart, not a way to arrange things so others will feel good about you or out of fear or trying to fix yourself fix others fix depression etc. Be aware when you feel pain, feel it totally, when you feel fear, feel it totally, and just notice where it's coming from. Don't throw it on others, own it even if they seem to be the apparent cause. When you feel joy, feel it totally.

That's it. Doing those thing will REALLY help you, I think. This article by Osho has been very helpful for me; you might also google "osho" and "depression" together. Osho's take on these very things has brought alot of light into these problems for me, especially his book The Book Of Wisdom (even if you wouldn't describe yourself as depressed right now).

It's interesting the example you mentioned: 'Oh, I never have trouble getting dates' and thinking of myself as the girl that guys like'. These seem like compromise affirmations, trying to imagine the approval of others to feel good, thereby probably avoiding feelings you dont want to feel (trying to keep depression at bay) or facing your lack of self worth. But your worth does not come from other people! Really feeling good doesn't depend on others. Getting your ideas of self-worth from other people is what brought you here in the first place. Fighting back with those affirmations may not get you where you want to be. Look at your lack of self-worth (etc) in the eye, first. Experience it totally without pushing, all the scenarios and feelings and ideas, all the negativity. Just be with it without fighting it or indulging it. Explore all of it. What do you fear? What situations are you afraid of happening? What things are you afraid of, what things are you fearful of people believing or thinking about you? Gently move from there and see what, if any, affirmations feel good. If you can't be gentle about it, it's trying too hard. You want to have good feelings surrounding the whole experience. You could experiment with instead of creating how you are or feel or are thought of, imagine different situations, like in what I call the What If? game: What if this (awesome thing/opportunity) happened? How would it feel to see this awesome situation happen in my life? If they feel too foreign to you, you just cant imagine happiness or good events/situations, you can reel them back and even simplify them to: 'I'm having trouble figuring out how I can change, but I see myself discovering the answer somehow.' Or "Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, change is beginning to happen with in me." Or: "Like a flower blooming, I am discovering myself." Or: "Like a seed, I am waiting for the water of insight so I can change and grow." Find images that are beautiful to you but not self-defeating.

Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don't
by Michael J. Losier

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life
by Shakti Gawain

My advice is, don't do anything that feels too much unlike you--meaning if it is a strain. You is what you are trying to get back to. What might keep you back is not how you think about yourself, but *living in the mind* in the first place where all those thoughts live and reign. Change is natural. If you find yourself creating tension with the way you are going about changing, look for another way to change. Listen to youself. Do what there is power in. You don't want to create a fight between your real beliefs and these ideas, a world war II inside you. You've already got a world war I! (Meaning your lack of love for your self.)

The mind is tricky--you created an unhappy persona and now it is trying to create a happy persona. Happiness isn't created though. To try often creates another circle of hell, and another circle, and another circle... You can reframe but the painting remains the same.

So, maybe try to simplify your response to you situation. What's happening? If you try to go into this happy self, and there's resistance, there's little or no energy in it, what would you have done as a small child? Because when we've barricaded ourselves into these corners as adults, I think the best response might be a child-like one, at least it's a good thought experiment. A child might think about it a bit if it feels good and interesting, then drop it. And then do what there's actual energy in. Do the positive, as in: Do what's here. Do what there is power in, what's close to you right now this moment. That happy person with these different beliefs you're trying to imagine is a little out there in outer space, in abstraction, in la-la land right now. You can't ever be happy out there. You've got to be here to be happy. Let's say you became happy and loved yourself totally. Then you decided to go to that outer space land where you kept mentally trying to feel something other than what you were feeling. Would you be happy for long?

But maybe the affirmations aren't a burden to you, just disorienting in a good way, at a certain dose. I just wanted to play out that scenario for a sense of perspective.

I know you are fearful of sliding into depression, but the seed of your depression is still here. Accept the feelings, don't be afraid of them, and if depression comes, instead of fighting it, accept it and give in to it so it can pass on its own, when it is completed. I know it's counterintuitive but the fighting of the negativity is what keeps it around, in whatever form. (You'll feel so much better without this looming depression hanging over your head, some disaster you've got to somehow prevent by doing this or that, acting out of fear of it). Your happiness and self-worth are underneath the unhappy and unworthy feelings. Allow yourself to experience the negative feelings, let the thoughts come along and pass through you but practice not ideating, not setting up camp there in the mind (and using your will to try to "think" yourself happy or this or that can keep you there in that hell where thoughts go around and around, becoming depression and more fear...). I know youve taken action in your life, and that has helped you get this far and that's a good thing; only now your coming to a place where it seems like your soul is saying: something else needs to happen. A flower that has died doesn't "think" it's way to becoming a flower again; it is just itself, and naturally it decays and becomes soil for the seed which will become a new flower. Be the soil. Be the seed. And watch. Grow like you grew in your mother's womb.

It's subtle. It's a knack. If you feel sadness, it can be an innocent feeling, you experience it and digest it and eventually it will pass on its own. Or you can feel it and there is movement by you mentally to attach to it because it brings comfort somehow, the "I am that way" response, you move towards it choose to make more of that energy as a comfort maybe to keep you from something, perhaps from the feelings of powerlessness over it. Or you can run from it and think towards happiness. I think the first response is wisdom. And only you can learn what it is for you to be yourself in these situations if it is fruitful for you to practice affirmations and what you feel feel inspired to affirm. Like I said, it's a knack. I think the only way is to give into the powerlessness, and see what happens over time.

(In those recovery programs you mentioned, it is often advised that you recognize that a "higher power" must help you; otherwise it seems the more you try to let go of it, the more it keeps you in the cycle. But it's just a kind of shortcut to relaxing and letting go of the ego that is holding onto all this tension that keeps you in the cycle of addiction--and I believe the false mind and these thoughts are definitely an addiction. The higher power is just you.)

You've been identifying with this **** that isn't you for so long, you've forgotten who you are. Fighting it just doesn't work. Be wherever you are, and just be it completely. Sitting in silence for a few hours a day helps, spending that time just allowing yourself to be, and so in time getting down to the roots of your problems. You might practice going to bed early (when the sun goes down) and getting up at the normal time. That would ensure that you have time everyday to rest and go into yourself, and allow. To do that, you have to face your fear of being alone with your negativity without using your mental will to try to push it away or solve it. That can be scary.

On my experience: I've been in major depression, struggled with the same issues. Listened to alot of the Smiths and Cocteau Twins in the past, identity with the depressive qualities as a coping mechanism, being the smart bookish guy with the artistic melancholic disposition, periods where I seemed to progress, but somehow never quite get to real recovery, getting past the immature dramatic version of being unhappy/lonely etc but it's essence still there, still unresolved. And relationships have been sabotaged by the unresolved issues I have. I suspect yours have to since you can't really love others until you love yourself. They might have been people who shared some of your problems/issues and also possess qualities you desire, ones you are missing inside of yourself because of the way you created a persona. I've grown with relationships, they were great experiences in a way but not the way they *could* be. I'm 34 years old, and maybe people often spend a decade or so out of their parent's realm, acting out this persona, learning, and maybe it takes about that long to complete that version of "freedom" and run into this wall. I think real freedom is on the other side. Anyway, my point is: Don't feel this is odd! This is a very human problem, and I think you hit the nail on the head in comparing it to an addiction (I've struggled with eating disorders, myself, swinging with overeating and undereating). It's the most confusing thing I think that can happen for a conscious being. I think it's best to think of it as a message from yourself. Like physical pain, emotional pain & frustration happens for a reason. There is a meaning in it. It's an alarm. It happens so it can be lived and resolved and gotten past.

I hope something I've said can help you. Mefi me if you need to talk to someone. :)

p.s. - And I'm curious: Have your musical tastes changed? What do you listen to now?
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 1:37 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Try to understand it as deeply as possible, because this has to be thrown. And unless you throw it you will never be able to attain to the self. Because you are addicted to the center, you cannot move, and you cannot look at the self.

And remember, there is going to be an interim period, an interval, when the ego will be shattered, when you will not know who you are, when you will not know where you are going, when all boundaries will melt.

You will simply be confused, a chaos.

Because of this chaos, you are afraid to lose the ego. But it has to be so. One has to pass through the chaos before one attains to the real center.

And if you are daring, the period will be small.

If you are afraid, and you again fall back to the ego, and you again start arranging it, then it can be very, very long; many lives can be wasted.

I have heard: One small child was visiting his grandparents. He was just four years old. In the night when the grandmother was putting him to sleep, he suddenly started crying and weeping and said, "I want to go home. I am afraid of darkness." But the grandmother said, "I know well that at home also you sleep in the dark; I have never seen a light on. So why are you afraid here?" The boy said, "Yes, that's right - but that is MY darkness." This darkness is completely unknown.

Even with darkness you feel, "This is MINE."

Outside - an unknown darkness.

With the ego you feel, "This is MY darkness."

It may be troublesome, maybe it creates many miseries, but still mine. Something to hold to, something to cling to, something underneath the feet; you are not in a vacuum, not in an emptiness. You may be miserable, but at least you ARE. Even being miserable gives you a feeling of 'I am'. Moving from it, fear takes over; you start feeling afraid of the unknown darkness and chaos - because society has managed to clear a small part of your being.

It is just like going to a forest. You make a little clearing, you clear a little ground; you make fencing, you make a small hut; you make a small garden, a lawn, and you are okay. Beyond your fence - the forest, the wild. Here everything is okay; you have planned everything. This is how it has happened. ...

And then you become afraid.

Beyond the fence there is danger.

Beyond the fence you are, as within the fence you are - and your conscious mind is just one part, one-tenth of your whole being. Nine-tenths is waiting in the darkness. And in that nine-tenths, somewhere your real center is hidden.

One has to be daring, courageous.

One has to take a step into the unknown.

For a while all boundaries will be lost.

For a while you will feel dizzy.

For a while, you will feel very afraid and shaken, as if an earthquake has happened. But if you are courageous and you don't go backwards, if you don't fall back to the ego and you go on and on, there is a hidden center within you that you have been carrying for many lives.

That is your soul, the self.

Once you come near it, everything changes, everything settles again.

-Osho from (complete article here)
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 1:48 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to agree with bunderful and The Master. While not using activity to distract yourself from your feelings, allow yourself to really follow your bliss in everything you want to learn, create, experience, whatever you want to do right now. Do what you love. Are there ways in which you are not letting yourself be yourself in your life and how you spend your time?
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 2:01 PM on October 3, 2011

I'm those girls too, and I think I wrote those first two paragraphs in my sleep...

Honestly. For me a lot of it is about reminding myself that self image has nothing to do with what others see, or what is really there in the mirror, its about what I see. The girl in my mirror is the angsty depressed teen that hid behind smiles, wore long sleeves and pants to hide the scratches/cuts/bruises and fat that no one was going to want to see. I still frequently hear my grandmother's voice in the back of my head telling me how worthless, ugly, stupid, etc I am and always will be. Some days that voice manages to rewind time so that the girl standing in front of the mirror is the reflection, and the person that I see looking back at me is a lie.

Most days, however... I find something to smile about, and not a fake smile. A stranger pauses to give me a second glance or flirty comment. I'm wearing something I know is flattering. My puppy tries to eat my shoelaces when I'm trying to get ready for work. When negativity threatens to overwhelm me, I try to remember those bright moments.

Occasionally I fail, fall back a few steps and have to start over. Its allowed. Its not proof that "they" were right about me, its just a bad day/week/phase and I just need move forward again.
posted by myShanon at 2:16 AM on October 4, 2011

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