An Unstable Sense of Self

A short analogy on the experience of having an unstable sense of self: 340 words.

Most people take for granted a stable sense of the self. We know roughly our main character traits, our strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which we relate to other people. We also can expect that these attributes will remain largely stable over time, and are not highly dependent on outside events or influences.

But not everybody feels this way. For some, their sense of self, and indeed their value as human beings is very much dependent on the outside world, particularly other people. In order to feel valuable and secure they require unambiguous and constant confirmations that others adore or admire them. Without these they begin to crumble. It is as though they must always be in the sun to keep warm, unable to generate body heat from within. And if a comparison to cold blooded reptiles seems unkind, it nevertheless represents the harsh way in which society judges such people. We interpret their psychological sunbathing as being needy, selfish or arrogant, and find their unpredictability and emotionality troublesome at best, destructive at worst. Related diagnoses such as Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorders carry a stigma, although for some the recognition of their experience as a ‘thing’ can be a relief.

Of course the majority of people who are psychologically ‘warm blooded’ still benefit from a little time in the sun – occasional compliments, hearing “I love you” from our family, a promotion at work – but cannot easily understand what life would be like if our whole identity depended on a constant supply of these events. We’d be always searching for that patch of sunlight in which to bask, and forever vigilant and defensive over threats to our self. There’d be no respite, and so it is not surprising that such experiences can lead people to make suicide attempts.

Overcoming an unstable sense of the self should be considered a long term project, and just realising what is going on is a good start. Then find a qualified clinician to help you or your loved one to take the next steps.

Author: Edward

Edward is a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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