I know exactly what it feels like to ‘not feel like yourself’. I’ve been in such situations so many times.
You feel out of alignment.
You feel something’s off.
You can’t quite put a finger on what’s off.
You say things like:
“I don’t feel like myself lately.”
“I don’t feel like myself anymore.”
What’s going on here?
When you don’t feel like yourself
You tend to be less present with others when you’re not feeling like yourself. Activities that you usually enjoy become bland. You don’t want to do anything, talk to anyone or go anywhere.
You can’t stay calm when there’s a storm raging inside you. Worlds pop in and out of existence in your imagination. The internal chaos suddenly stops, and you’re brought back to reality by a concerned remark from a loved one:
“Are you okay? You haven’t been yourself lately?”
Internally, you’re like:
“Hell yeah! I haven’t.”
Externally, your internal chaos is too chaotic to be brought to life with words.
Let’s look at what causes this internal chaos that makes you lose yourself:
Inter-related reasons you don’t feel like yourself
1. Identity clash
This is the main reason people sometimes feel like they’ve lost themselves.
When you say, “I don’t feel like myself”, you’re implying there’s a ‘myself’ you’d like to feel. There’s a ‘myself’ you’ve lost and want to regain.
This ‘myself’ is your identity. Your identity is how you see yourself.
We do things that are in line with our identities.
Someone who sees themselves as a surgeon performs surgeries.
Someone who sees themselves as a scientist does science.
Someone who sees themselves as kind acts kindly.
Someone who sees themselves as a learner learns.
We have one or two primary identities that dominate our lives and some supporting identities.
Where do these identities come from?
Your identities are the beliefs you have about yourself.
These are mainly shaped in childhood by the information you get exposed to and your life experiences.
Traumatic events in childhood play a massive role in shaping your identity. The identity you now have as an adult is probably a coping mechanism for the trauma you experienced in childhood.
For example, Keith wanted to understand why he was so much into growth and personal development. He loved reading books, taking courses, and attending seminars.
His primary identities were ‘being a learner’ and ‘someone who’s constantly growing’. But why?
To understand why Keith grew up to be like this while people around him couldn’t care less about personal development, you have to dig into his childhood.
Keith had parents who never encouraged him to grow. They met his physical needs but not his growth needs. They only seemed to care about Keith’s academic performance and never taught him any life skills.
Today, as an adult, all Keith is trying to do is fill that ‘growth gap’ in his psyche. His entire personality has been shaped around this void that he feels.
The belief that he’s not good enough or skilled is deep-rooted in his subconscious mind.
When Keith is in a place where he isn’t meeting his core personality need for growth (e.g., a party), he feels out of alignment. Internally, he’s like:
“What the hell am I doing here?”
“I don’t belong here.”
“I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“This is not me.”
As soon as Keith leaves the party, goes home, and buries himself in learning, he feels like himself again. He’s relieved. He feels as if he’s doing the right thing.
The subconscious mind uses feelings and emotions to guide us. Keith did the right thing by leaving the party and re-focusing on his core need.
What do you think would’ve happened if Keith had gone on with the party?
He’d be completely drained out and not feel like himself at all.
If he kept repeating this behavior and ignoring his subconscious, depression would be around the corner.
Identity clashes can happen in many ways
The identity clash Keith experienced happens in many ways, not just by being somewhere you don’t want to be.
Identity clash can happen even when we think or discuss something not aligned with our core values.
For example, one who sees himself as an “intellectual” will only be interested in talking about ideas and will get turned off by gossip. Minor identity clashes happen every now and then, making us feel like we’re not ourselves.
Your routine is a reflection of your identity.
That is why you feel like you’re not being yourself when something disrupts your routine.
When a life-changing event happens, you look for ways to accommodate that event into your identity. If you can’t do that, a full-blown identity crisis knocks at your door.
Stress disrupts our routine, thereby disrupting who we are. Stress is your body’s fight-or-flight response to danger.
When you’re in danger, your identity takes a backseat, and you need to do what’s required to ward off the threat.
If stressful events are resolved quickly, they don’t threaten your identity too much.
But chronic stress can be devastating to who you are. Chronic stress puts you in a persistent threat alert mode. You forget to focus on your identity because there are more important matters to handle.
Continuing with the above example, no matter how much of a “learner” Keith thinks he is, losing money will put him into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. He’ll have to address this issue immediately and put ‘reinforcing his identity’ on pause.
When he has done what he could to save his finances, diverging himself temporarily from his identity, he’ll feel like he hasn’t been himself lately.
3. Mental health issues
People with anxiety and depression often feel like they’re not being themselves. Like stressful events, anxiety and depression episodes disrupt your routine and identity.
In the face of highly threatening events, some people may even lose themselves mentally. They feel they’re outside their bodies or that the world is fake. This response is called depersonalization-derealization disorder and is a form of dissociation.
In extreme cases, people lose themselves so much that they develop alternate personalities.
Not feeling like yourself during an identity clash is like a mini multiple personality disorder.
4. External focus
You can either focus internally or externally, which is easier. You can’t do both. You’re constantly switching between focusing on yourself and on the world.
If you focus too much on the world, it robs you of internal focus.
When you don’t focus on yourself enough, you’re less likely to pay attention to your needs. You’re less likely to ‘find yourself’.
When you don’t know what your needs are, what makes you tick, and what constitutes the fabric of your identity, you get busy helping others reinforce their identity.
Your own identity needs reinforcing first. This is what is meant by ‘filling your own cup first’.
5. Peer pressure
Humans are social animals who like belonging to a group. We derive our identity and a sense of safety from the herd we belong to.
To belong to a group, you must accept its identities and values.
What if there’s a clash between your identity and your group’s identity?
This is a complex problem for the mind to resolve.
On the one hand, your past experiences have shaped you in a certain way. On the other hand, your group expects you to behave differently.
If you cave in to group or peer pressure, you’ll feel like you’re not being yourself.
If you don’t, you’ll feel excluded from the group.
Of course, you can always find other groups to associate with. Those that are more in line with your identity. Your subconscious will thank you for that.