How do we develop a strong, stable sense of self, when we were never given the space to really be our own person?
Lots of people have the experience of growing up without the support necessary to really learn who they even are.
When we’re young, we don’t have a strong sense of self. We look to others to determine what a human person even is.
Over time, with the appropriate support, we individuate— we slowly evolve a sense of personal identity that is independent of our caregivers, our siblings, and our peers.
We realize that we have perceptions, experiences, interests, and goals that are unique. We realize that we aren’t extensions of the people around us.
In the best of all worlds, we’re encouraged to do this. We’re rewarded for doing this.
With the right mentorship and support, we go on to build a sense of self that we value enough to protect and nurture.
Thing is, a lot of us don’t get that support.
A lot of us didn’t have the breathing room, let alone the mentorship and support, to develop a sense of self.
Maybe we were even punished, in little or big ways, for becoming our own person.
Becoming our own person as a kid is an intimidating thing. We don’t know how to do it. We need examples. We need encouragement. We need safety.
And when we don’t get it, we often assume that it’s our fault.
What’s wrong with us, we ask ourselves, that we didn’t get that support that we needed?
Over time we often just decide we must not be “worthy” enough to be our own person.
We must not be strong enough. We must not be smart enough.
The truth of the matter, however, is that it has nothing to do with strength or intelligence; no matter how strong or smart we are, we can’t give OURSELVES what we need at that crucial developmental point.
After all, we were just kids.
How the hell were we supposed to know what was going on, or what we needed?
We needed attentive, responsive adults to show us what to do.
We didn’t need the adults around us to be perfect— but we did need them to be, well, adults.
So we grow up without a strong, stable sense of self. And very often we blame ourselves.
Fast forward to adulthood, when we have low self-esteem and a shaky sense of self— and a feeling of inferiority and guilt about the whole thing.
Where do we even begin to put the pieces back together?
We start with acknowledging that what we experienced was not our fault.
The fact that we’re struggling now, as adults, is not evidence of inferiority or stupidity or weakness.
We were dealt the hand we were dealt. We didn’t ask for any of it.
All we can do is what we can do— start where we are, with what we have.
Those examples of how to be a strong, stable individual? We can seek them out now.
The mentorship we needed? We can see it out now.
The developmental tasks that were on our plate then, are still on our plate now. They’re not going away, and there’s no skipping over them.
So let’s get to work.
Now is not then.
Let’s do what we CAN do— now.