Thursday, June 20, 2013

Identity Versus Role Confusion: Who am I?

So we’re getting back on track here. Ego Identity/diffusion… what this comes around to is a deeply internalized confusion about the sense of self. Confusion is putting it lightly though, because it sort of implies that there is something of a grasp of the base issue, when there might not be at all (though there can be – everyone is different!).  Here is a short paper I found that touches on various aspects that I think are quite interesting.


Identity Versus Role Confusion: Who am I?



EGO IDENTITY is the attainment of a firm sense of self—who one is, where one is headed in life, and what one believes in. People who achieve ego identity clearly understand their personal needs, values, and life goals. Erikson believed ego identity is the key developmental task of adolescence and sets the stage for meeting the next life challenge: achieving intimate, secure relationships with others. In other words, we need to know who we are before we can reveal our true selves to others in the context of close, binding relationships. Evidence supports Erikson’s view that people who successfully negotiate earlier psychosocial crises, including the ego identity challenge, are generally better able to resolve later psychosocial crises in life. By extending psychosocial development beyond childhood, Erikson raised our awareness of the importance of the developmental challenges we face not only in adolescence but also throughout our lives.

I certainly believe Erikson has a point here. Unfortunately most people with BPD haven’t reached this point. In fact, many clinicians will tell you that people with BPD have a very stunted emotional development, maybe not even developed beyond that of the first few formative years of development let alone able to reach those of a teenage adolescent. Without achieving proper emotional growth, and without achieving proper guidance in developing our own identity we never quite hit this stage. Not properly and/or not well.

Erikson coined the term Identity crisis to characterize the stressful period of soul searching and serious self-examination that many adolescents experience when struggling to develop a set of personal values and direction in life. Adolescents who successfully weather an identity crisis emerge as their own persons as people who have achieved a state of ego identity. Ego identity, however, continues to develop throughout life. Our occupational goals and our political, moral, and religious believes often change over time. Therefore, we may weather many identity crises in life.

How many of us know about Identity crisis and the experience of having one of these? I feel like these are probably more common for us than they are for most people? I had my first nervous breakdown when I was 12/13 years old trying to be too much for too many people other than myself. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I knew was that I was in pain and no one was hearing me. I’m not sure this stopped until about two years ago and there are still periods of this. Identity, who we are, constantly grows.

Through the struggle for personal identity is usually most intense during adolescence, many adolescents never grapple with an identity crisis. They may develop a firm sense of ego identity by modeling themselves after others, especially parents, without undergoing any period of serious soul searching or self-examination. Others who never experience an identity crisis may fail to develop a clear sense of ego identity. They may remain at sea, aimlessly taking each day as it comes without any clear values or goals. They remain in a state of ROLE DIFFUSION, a confused and drifting state in which they lack direction in life. They may be especially vulnerable to negative peer influences such as illicit drug use. They may also become intolerant of people who differ from themselves for fear or shattering their own fragile identities and have difficulty forging or maintaining close personal relationships with others.

            And here we find that big issue.

To make the transition from dependence on parents to dependence on oneself, the adolescent must develop a stable sense of self. This process is called identity formation- a term derived from Erik Erikson’s theory, which sees the major challenge of this stage of life as identity versus role confusion. The overwhelming question for the young person becomes “Who am I?” Erikson sees identity as “the capacity to see oneself as having continuity and sameness.” People need to know that they can trust themselves to behave and feel as they expect to behave and feel in any situation. They need to feel they know themselves. It is equally important that others recognize this consistency. A sense of identity also includes the ability to adapt one’s needs to the opportunities the environment offers.

This is also a useful definition of identity. Flexible identity has little continuity and sameness which is very confusing. There’s no stability in our lives which for me has led to a lot of anxiety, depression, and OCD-like structuring behavior .  

James Marcia believes that finding an identity requires a period of intense self-exploration called identity crisis. The identity crisis involves the decisions necessary to carry out an adult life: What will I do with my life? Whom will I live with? What religious persuasion, if any shall I follow? What will my ideals, values and political beliefs be? These questions involve a separation from parents and other authority figures. (But what if you have abandonment issues and can’t separate?) He recognizes four possible outcomes of this process. (1.) One is identity achievement. Adolescents who have reached this status have passed through the identity crisis and succeeded in making personal choices about their beliefs and goals. They are comfortable which those choices because the choices are their own. (2.) In contrast are adolescents who have taken the path of identity foreclosure. They have prematurely settled on an identity that others provided for them. They have become what those others want them to be without ever going through an identity crisis. For example, a student may be majoring in biology because her parents expect her to become a physician.  (3.) Other adolescents are in moratorium regarding the choice of an identity. They are in the process of actively exploring various role options, but they have not yet committed to any of them. (4.) Finally, there are teens experiencing identity diffusion. They avoid considering role options in any conscious way. Many are dissatisfied with this condition, but are unable to start a search to “find themselves.” Some resort to escapist activities such as drug or alcohol abuse. Of course, any given adolescent’s identity status can change over time as the person matures or even regresses.

I’ve mentioned these briefly before but they’re still not quite I want to get at eventually. I’m having an exceptionally difficult time finding the information I need without paying a lot of money for psychiatric articles.

Other Adolescent theories

            I wanted to discuss these because I think you’ll notice some similarities.

David Elkind used Piaget’s notion of adolescent egocentrism to account for two fallacies of thought he noticed in this age group. The first is the imaginary audience- the tendency of teenagers to feel they are constantly being observed by others, that people are always judging them on their appearance and behavior. This feeling of being perpetually “onstage” may be the source of much self-consciousness, concern about personal appearance, and showing off in adolescence.

I find this rather fascinating. I also don’t think it’s merely adolescents. I see this in adults constantly. But how about in those of us with BPD? I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be amplified. Especially in those of us when we are actually adolescents ourselves and beginning to present with BPD. Adolescent + puberty + BPD is a disaster of a combination. Borderline egocentrism at any age is enough to make anyone self-conscious, even paranoid. I’m not sure I ever grew out of thinking. Then again, I was a gymnast, dancer, and in theater so I actually was on stage at times…


The other fallacy of adolescent thinking is the personal fable- adolescents’ unrealistic sense of their own uniqueness. For instance, a teenager might feel that other couldn’t possibly understand the love they feel toward a boyfriend or girlfriend because that love is so unique and special. This view is related to the feeling of invulnerability we mentioned earlier. Many teenagers believe they are so different from other people that they won’t be touched by the negative things that happen to others. This feeling of invulnerability is consistent with the reckless risk taking among people in this age group.

This is something that I think we with BPD can certainly relate as well. Our situations are so distinct we’ll never find another like it, making it even harder to leave, to change, to disengage, to fix…. The invulnerability enabling the often impulsive and reckless behavior many of us engage in.  Again, it’s that delayed emotional growth and development. As if it never catches up. Like we’re constantly trying to prove something.  It takes some serious time, effort, and probably therapy to get that back on track.

            

Monday, June 17, 2013

What is Identity and Why do I Even Need One?

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.
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