Those who do not grow up in a healthy environment—perhaps one scarred by emotional or physical abuse, neglect, or over-parenting—may not develop a sense of self in the same way. Their identities may have been minimally acknowledged, if at all. When feelings and thoughts are ignored in childhood, children may grow up not recognizing that they have their own ideas and sets of behaviors. If children are forced to yield to others’ thoughts, wants, and needs continually over time, the development of their identity may suffer. As they grow into adults, they may question, “Who am I?”
Adults who do not have a solid sense of self at times may rely on the opinions, feelings, and thoughts of others. They may yield to their friends’ sense of fashion, buy a car that is deemed “popular,” or participate in activities they do not truly enjoy. They may allow others to make decisions for them. As this pattern continues, it can leave a person feeling depressed or anxious about choices they make and what their lives have become. They may feel helpless or even hopeless at times. Unfortunately, as this pattern continues, their sense of self may further deteriorate, leaving them feeling less and less connected to themselves.
When we have our own sense of identity, we are better able to make decisions and navigate life with more ease. We are able to include friends and partners in our lives who are emotionally healthy and with whom we can share ourselves in a healthy way. Learning about ourselves and developing a solid sense of identity can help us feel more fulfilled and happy because we are better able to guide our lives to what we desire.