August 29th, 2023
A disconnection from oneself can cause stress in many areas of your life, mostly through the feeling of withdrawal. Withdrawing is described as an avoidance from oneself, others, and previously enjoyed activities (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Ask yourself, “Why do I not feel like myself anymore?” Then ask yourself, “What can I do about it?” This article discusses six reasons why we might not feel like ourselves, how therapy can help, and how to utilize coping strategies.
The first questions to ask yourself are, “What are my boundaries or limits?” and “When is the last time I put myself first?” Why? Because these questions force us to say no when we usually say yes. “Yes!” to an unreasonable deadline. “Yes!” to baking 50 cookies the night before your child’s school’s fundraiser. “Yes!” to host dinner for your in-laws. The examples are endless. People compromise themselves every time they say yes but really want/need to say no. Usually, guilt and shame or anxiety/depression are the consequences of lack of boundaries (Whitfield, 1993, p. 113). We lose ourselves to other duties, deadlines, and people we put before us.
Therapy teaches the client new coping skills, like asking for help and saying no. We learn this through role-playing and using “I” statements. “I” statements are a communication technique that simplifies the person's feelings and needs. This is used to put yourself first through boundaries. Boundaries are limits you set for yourself and the people around you (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). We also discuss why a client has weakened boundaries and determine a mental health diagnosis. Creating boundaries is difficult for the client and for the people involved. It will take time for others to respect the new boundaries set. Strengthening boundaries takes time, practice, and confidence. This is what therapy helps clients discover.
The next question to ask yourself is, “What has changed?” Grief from losing a person or pet can create an identity crisis through complicated emotional instability. These feelings are associated with the five stages of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are not linear (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), meaning that a person does not move smoothly from one stage to the next. Grief has other sources, like the loss of a job, relationship, or moving. Grief is the change of that connection we once had. We can also ask ourselves, “Who am I?” Our identity is not only associated with the people around us, but places, things we like to do, possessions, and career paths. Identity tells us that we belong. (Whitfield, 1993, p. 113). Loss causes a strain between the change that occurred and our identity.
Loss/grief generates a need for support through the change process. This process might lead us to reevaluate or rediscover our core values. These values “drive” our decisions and behavior. Core values are innate meaning born with and/or learned. One example of a core value is fairness. Core values are often associated with our thinking patterns. When these thinking patterns become negative, we push ourselves further from our identity. Remember to be kind to yourself; change is not easy.
Ask yourself, “How long have I not felt like myself?” It’s normal to have waves of emotions. Sometimes, we’re okay, and other times, not so much. Depression is the feeling of being down and is based on the length and depth of the feeling. Depression can be described as feeling lost, hopeless, intensely sad, and/or miserable (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It interferes with our home life, work, school, and interests, pulling us from things and people/things we once enjoyed.
The depth and length of the feeling are what is to be discussed in therapy by helping the client understand the symptoms and cause of the present problem. It’s okay not to be okay. For most people, this is a stigmatized statement. A diagnosis can be scary or a sense of relief to clients. Reaching out to a therapist is a good first step and a strength!
A little anxiety is good for us; it’s the body's natural response to change. This change can be good or bad. We ask ourselves, “Is this response affecting my daily living?” Heightened response to stimuli, feelings of worry, tension, and anticipation of danger, whether internally (thoughts) or externally (environment), are the most common symptoms of anxiety (5thh ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Anxiety can be helpful, like worrying about a test or public speaking. This sense of worry causes you to be prepared by studying for the test or practicing the speech. On the other hand, worrying can cause withdrawal, lack of sleep/eating, or panic.
When the symptoms become unbearable, seek support. There are many anxiety-related diagnoses that can be addressed. Together, we will work to understand the underlying cause of these symptoms. The root cause can be situational or general. Again, a diagnosis can be scary or a relief, but it is the start of feeling like yourself.
Self-esteem develops at a young age through completing tasks, peer recognition, accomplishments, and being involved in extra-curricular activities. We should ask ourselves, “Have I ever liked myself.” This question may require self-reflection. By age 8 to 14, girls' self-esteem lessens by 30 percent. For boys, the age is around 14-16. These ages usually coincide with the beginning of middle school (Baldwin & Hoffman, 2002). Self-esteem is fluid or ever-changing, but we carry these feelings with us through adulthood. This feeling is usually described as not being enough. This affects our romantic relationships, job performance, and preferred activities.
Self-reflection is a good start to understanding low self-esteem or any diagnosis. In therapy, we take the space to discuss our thinking patterns and external factors that contribute to the feeling of not liking ourselves. We discuss strengths and accomplishments that the client has but needs to recognize. This seems like a daunting task, but it is an achievable goal with support in therapy.
Ask yourself, “How have I been Coping?” Stress is a normal response to a body and mind that is overworked, overtired, or overstimulated. Coping skills that do not build resilience and could increase your stress are alcohol or other substance use or abuse or participating in risky behaviors. Risky behaviors include a broad category of harming oneself or overspending/gambling. Resilience is the capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties (Baldwin & Hoffman, 2002). Risky behaviors can increase our anxiety, deepen our depression, and contribute to our low self-esteem by withdrawing inward. We begin to use these substances and engage in these risky behaviors instead of relying on our own inner strength. The behavior becomes more important, pulling us farther from ourselves.
In therapy, the duration and severity of the stress are discussed. Therapy introduces us to new healthy coping strategies to minimize risky behaviors. This is usually called harm reduction, with safety as the priority. These skills are added to our coping “toolbox” to build resilience and be our better selves.
Our “toolbox” is filled with coping strategies to manage life stressors. These stressors are sometimes manageable with a little self-care. Sometimes, we need more help/support. Self-care is taking the time to find our identity through things we once enjoyed. These skills include taking time to do something previously enjoyed, working out/going to get fresh air, or planning a getaway.
Therapy teaches us new coping skills that are based on the symptoms of the diagnosis. Sometimes, we need more help/support than our “usual” coping strategies listed above. Therapy can introduce grounding techniques to cope with anxiety. This technique helps clients stay alert in the present moment. Therapy can discuss what is in/out of our control. Clients learn that we can control ourselves but not other people. Therapy helps clients seek out other resources like AA meetings. Therapy helps create a new narrative to help with self-esteem or help build positive thoughts for depression.
Some of the key factors of not feeling like ourselves are lack of boundaries, grief/loss, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and unhealthy coping skills. Regardless of the reason you feel there is a disconnect with yourself, you deserve to be happy. Happiness is an ongoing commitment. Through the development of treatment plans, support, and consistency, feeling like yourself again is possible.
Written by: Beth Seeley, LSW
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff specializing in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.
Baldwin, S. A., & Hoffman, J. P (2002). The dynamics of self-esteem: A growth-curve analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 101-114.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Whitfield L. (1993). Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self (p. 288). Publisher Health Communications, Inc.,.
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