So before we get more into identity disturbance maybe we should establish exactly what Identity is.
"First, most experts view identity as your overarching sense and view of yourself. A stable sense of identity means being able to see yourself as the same person in the past, present, and future. In addition, a stable sense of self requires the ability to view yourself in one way despite the fact that sometimes you may behave in contradictory ways. Identity is quite broad, and includes many aspects of the self. Your sense of self or identity is probably made up of your beliefs, attitudes, abilities, history, ways of behaving, personality, temperament, knowledge, opinions, and roles. Identity can be thought of as your self-definition; it’s the glue that holds together all of these diverse aspects of yourself."
I often contemplate why people fuss so much about having a solid identity. Having a sense of identity probably serves many different functions. First, if you have a strong identity, it allows you to develop self-esteem. Without knowing who you are, how can you develop a sense that you are worthwhile and deserving of respect? According to other sources, a strong identity can help you to adapt to changes. While the world around you is constantly changing, if you have a strong sense of self, you essentially have an anchor to hold you while you adapt. Without that anchor, changes can feel chaotic and even terrifying.
Amusingly, being able to quickly adapt to change and rapidly fluctuating circumstances and people is exactly what I think having a flexible sense of self and a lack of a solid identity serves to do for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. Except as is stated, it leaves a sense of chaos and instability in its wake.
Sometimes I think it’s not so much that we lack an identity so much as that we are willing to allow our identity to flex and meet what we think others will approve of. There is a core there. The expression of them gets muddled though. Often we find ourselves acting ‘in character’ or being ‘someone else’ for someone else to gain their approval or maintain their approval in an attempt to avoid abandonment. Reaching down and telling ourselves that we will be who we are not bend and flex to the needs of others can be scary.
We do this to protect ourselves. It’s a shield to the world. A wall. A guard. A barrier and a buffer. If they reject a pseudo-you, that’s not so bad. When you show people who you really are, that’s potentially a real rejection. A real abandonment. So often those of us with BPD are living within this fragmented sense of self. We’ve been so wounded by abandonment trauma that it gives rise to a Borderline sense of false self which surrounds our wounded psyche.
As Dr. A.J. MMahari says, “Without really being consciously aware of it most with BPD are living in and from this false self. A pseudo self that exists only to express in what are known as repetition compulsions a loss that sits outside of the borderline's conscious awareness and a loss that has left them without the self that they were meant to be and know and live from.
It takes having a self, and then a connection to that self, to be able to form an identity that can be authentic. Borderline Personality Disorder exists in the space of that evacuated authentic self. - where it would have otherwise been. It rises up from the ashes of the core wound of abandonment and it is the very definition, in so many ways, of a brokenness that is this loss of self and along with one's identity.
Without a sense of self and of one's identity that is understood within a framework of object constancy a person, a borderline, cannot be expected to know what they want, what they need, who they are, what their goals are, what kind of job or career they'd like, who they want as friends, or who they would like to love because his or her sense of being is only known through the "object other" of the day, so to speak. It is that fragile. It is extremely painful.”
She goes on to state that a lot of that traditional Acting Out behavior, that rage, the abuse, the neediness the punishment, revenge, etc is evidence of a persons struggle to stave off the reoccurring re-living of the core wound of abandonment that “psychologically killed the burgeoning authentic self”. It’s ironic that often people with BPD are the last to realize that they don’t know who they really are. It’s the finding of this authentic aspect of ourselves that we need to work on in order to help break this destructive cycle and then maintain this authentic aspect in the presence of those we might otherwise lose ourselves in. Easier said than done, I know.
A phrase I had to learn was, “This is me; what you see is what you get.” It shouldn’t be scary, but it can be. And unfortunately I’m still not completely perfect with it yet. I’m not even close yet. But I’m getting there. I have to actively stop myself sometimes and ask myself if I actually like something or if I’m simply attempting to ingratiate myself. Or if I’m being permissive of someone’s behavior when normally I’d be extremely angry about it.
Don’t be fooled. Identity issues are not a quick fix. They’re probably one of the harder ones to tackle. This takes a good deal of personal responsibility and self-awareness. Which, let’s face it, takes a hell of a lot of time and work to develop. Especially if you’re not aware of them in the first place.