“Does anyone else struggle with identity? Like you need to live a certain lifestyle and dress a certain way to feel like a person. I have no idea who I really am. When you lose who you really are and can’t find yourself again it’s really hard. Please give me some advise I’m so lost right now”
You’ve just described what is known as ‘the Chameleon Affect’ or ‘mirroring’. As the moniker suggests, we often tend to take on a version of ourselves that is most fitting for whatever situation we find ourselves in like we’re changing clothes; it’s hard to really feel like yourself when your sense of who you are is constantly shifting. But why wouldn’t it? We keep trying on all these different versions of ourselves, and none of them feel quite right. We look in the mirror at our current version like we’re in a dressing room trying on all these different looks-each one brought to us by someone different, and we secretly hate them all. The biggest problem is that if you hate the mirror you’re holding up, where do you direct those feelings? My guess would be at the person standing directly across from you, and this is where the chameleon turns poisonous.
It’s interesting that you mention having lost who you are. Was there ever a time in your life when you felt as though you were truly in tune with your identity and who you are as a person? My experience is that I cop different identities because I am unable or unwilling to look inward and attempt to address the great “who am I?” question. Losing yourself is tough, but maybe we live a life that doesn’t feel like us for fear of the vulnerability that results in fully exposing our ‘true’ selves to the world or even ourselves. As social creatures though, our subconscious minds have come to the conclusion that it’s better to mask who we are and the crosses we bear than to risk being outcast and left on our own. This can cross over into every aspect of our lives, including our interactions with psychiatrists and therapists (which is actually part what makes BPD so difficult to diagnose and treat sometimes). The chameleon is a sly little devil and we often don’t even realize what we’re doing until our interaction is over.
Believe it or not, you are one of the lucky few who at least recognizes the damage that this little game of dress-up can cause. In fact, I feel like I should thank you for asking a question that required me to turn my focus inward and realize the extent to which I struggle with this too. So please, if you take one thing away from this, I want you to understand that you are far from alone. The good news is that in knowing that mirroring is something we’re prone to do, it’s something that we can perhaps catch ourselves doing and interrupt the behavior. You’re not going to find yourself overnight, but it will slowly come. Finding your own personal preferences is a great place to start. Is there a particular musician or song that you just can’t get enough of? Blare it as loudly and as often as you can, let your present company know that this song is a part of you and they can choose to revel in it with you or not. You don’t care either way because this is YOUR song, and you know that you’re not going to lose any friends over a song. Obviously you’re not going to tie your friends down in a chair and make them listen to your music, but how often do you find yourself skipping over songs you usually enjoy when you have company based on the fear that they might not like it? You can do the same thing with art, TV/Movies, whatever. Find something that feels like it was made just for you, and then overplay it like Uptown Funk.
Another thing that helps me is mindful meditation. I always used to think that meditation was just for far-east spiritual gurus who were looking to transcend the metaphysical world or something. I was wrong. Meditation is about taking time out of your day to just let the world turn. If you want to get to know yourself a little, take 10 minutes every day and just be. Let thoughts come and go like clouds and just mindfully be. There are lots of mindful meditation apps available for both iOS and Android that can be an immense help in this. My favorite is called Calm. I set the amount of time I want to meditate and the app guides me through the rest. You would be surprised at how beneficial these 10 minutes can really be.
On a broader note, though, I have a challenge for you: go out and meet 5 people who know exactly who they are and what they’re doing. Sound impossible? That’s because it is. We live in a world full of confusion–“an ocean of chaos”. People seem to survive by projecting a strong sense of identity even though they have none. Pay close attention to the circus that is the American political climate. We are witnessing an entire parade of individuals boisterously proclaiming that they know exactly who they are and what they stand for. They make outlandish remarks in an attempt to build a brand based on their identity. But to quote Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” You can see in their faces, and hear in the silence between their words just how unsure of themselves they really are.
I often wonder if identity crisis is a symptom of depression and BPD, or if the latter are symptoms of the former. Perhaps they trade places with one another like some kind of twisted binary star system locked in a gravitational to and fro. Whichever the case, everyone (and I mean everyone) finds themselves squarely in the middle of this quandary. To quote Timothy Leary: “Throughout human history . . . our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos”. Granted, he was talking about defying authority but his summation of our existence is spot on. You are far from alone in your struggle; not knowing who we are is part of being alive.