Some of us had to deny ourselves to survive childhood. Maybe it was clear you didn’t matter. Perhaps being seen was a bad thing because your family was so abusive and dysfunctional, and it was better to not rock the boat.
Maybe you were constantly invalidated, belittled, mocked, criticized, or micromanaged.
It may have been your best bet to go wantless and needless and perhaps disappear completely if you could pull it off.
This is what I call being “de-selfed.” It happens when the traumatic experience of repeated relational trauma (aka shitty family) puts us into survival mode instead of learning and developing in a nurturing environment.
There’s an endless list of dysfunctional family dynamics that require us to abandon our authentic selves, silence our truth, throw our personal power out the window, and react to our environment. We have to adapt to get our needs met by any means necessary.
These maladaptive traits become our default settings for how we show up in the world, in our life, and relationships.
And this is why dysfunction in childhood translates directly into dysfunction in romantic relationships 100% of the time. How could it not? A self is literally the only thing you bring to a relationship. Being de-selfed is therefore an obvious disadvantage on the dating scene.
Unfortunately, everyone’s childhood was normal. Meaning, no one has a basis for comparison. Whatever crazy shit was going on behind closed doors was usually accepted as the norm — because it was the norm.
I know someone whose married parents slept in different rooms all her life. It wasn’t until she visited a friend’s house who said, “That’s my parents’ room,” when she was like, “Wait, what? Your parents share a bedroom?”
There could be a plethora of experiences from your childhood that you think are fine to this day but are actually completely fucked by objective measures of appropriate human development.
Those who were de-selfed crave external validation and naturally look to romantic relationships as a self-substitute.
Are you someone who has no hobbies, passions, dreams, or interests of your own? Is being alone uncomfortable AF because your lack of autonomy and personal power become painfully evident and send you into a shit spiral of shame and depression?
Do you use relationships to huff the second-hand smoke of someone else’s selfhood and hide your deep existential fears of inadequacy behind a pretty picture?
Do you adopt your partners’ likes and interests?
Many de-selfed folks rely on their partner to make friends. I’ve heard this dozens of times: “I don’t know how to meet people or make friends. My partner was great at that.”
It’s terribly difficult to introduce yourself when you don’t have one.
Once you fully understand the problem, the solution is clear — a radical return to self!
What are your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, values, needs, wants, and desires? Get really, really clear on these things. Inventory them. Journal about them and discuss them with others. Practice communicating these things to the people in your life, who may otherwise have no idea because you’ve never mentioned any of it.
People who think, “I have no idea who I am,” are usually terrified to press pause on distractions and gaze into their own souls because they believe they’ll find a barren wasteland of atrophied existence. But you’ve gotta have faith that you are a unique and precious creation — the living end of a family tree that spans millennia. You came to earth with a unique set of gifts, talents, and beautiful qualities. And just because no one ever pointed them out to you doesn’t mean they’re not there.
I have never seen my own heart, but I am absolutely certain it exists.
In exactly the same way, I know for a fact there is something inside of you that is responsible for your existence. You just have to learn to pay attention to the things you were taught to ignore by people who didn’t know any better.
The Truth Is In There
If you feel like you were de-selfed and you’d like to make contact with this supposed person living inside you, grab a notebook and put pen to paper:
- Make a list of everything and everyone you love. Hammocks, puppies, pecan pie, Jimi Hendrix, the sound of the ocean, bubble baths, hummingbirds, cantaloupe, new socks… anything goes. Write everything that brings you joy, lights your fire, or makes your heart sing.
- Make another list of everything and everyone you don’t like. Seafood, complainers, horror movies, crowded places, etc. Make this list unique to you, not just “I hate paying taxes” and other obvious shit.
- Write down everything you love, appreciate, cherish, and admire about yourself. Ask close friends and family members to answer this question about you as well (don’t skip this part). Add their responses to your list.
- Journal about your most favorite memories of being alive. How old are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? How do you feel? Our fondest memories were often when we allowed our soul out to play. This assignment will give you some clues as to your passion in life. Your purpose. Your why.
- Print out the feelings inventory and the needs inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication website. Put a check next to each met need or good feeling you experience regularly. Place an X next to each unmet need or uncomfortable feeling.
This is a self-awareness starter kit. The journey of self-discovery is a long and winding road, but this should give you a nudge in the right direction.
Some people prefer to wallow in self-pity, powerlessness, and victimhood. You’ve got every right to do that. I’m not here to judge. But if you want more from life, you gotta get involved.