How do you know or find out who you are? What your identity and personality are?
What I mean is that I'm not sure what my real personality is or how I should view myself. A glimpse into why would go back to my upbringing. My childhood wasn't bad; I wasn't physically or sexually abused and I got food and clothes. But I wouldn't call it good either, because they were emotionally negligent.
To explain that I need to explain how my family works and how we were raised. If there is something you want or need done there's a system. First you ask. If they say no, you use manipulation. And finally you use threats and to an extent violence to reinforce the threats.
Anyways my parents treated me like a trophy child, where I was supposed to be the perfect child they could use to show what great parents they were. And to this end to get me to comply and meet their standards they would withhold any kind of affection unless I met their standards. Though as I got older they began using guilt trips, but I digress.
So as a child seeking the love of a parent I would act exactly how they wanted me to to please them. Then came school where part of the perfect child ideal was to be sociable and to get along with everyone. And even as I kid I readily picked up the idea of manipulation. To get along with anyone and everyone I learned how to alter my behavior, mannerisms, interests, even my personality to become someone that said person would like. So I gained the ability to get along with anyone in person, sadly this ability does not work as well through the Internet medium.
At the time I didn't know I was doing it and by the time I realized I was doing it I was already 17ish with no idea who I really was. Now I can't act some way without questioning whether it really is me or if I'm acting how I believe others expect me to. Even when I'm alone I can't help but question how I act.
Kind of explains the lack of an actual name or fursona because whatever I use never feels right, so that's the reason for the pseudonym.
And I've read your letters so I figure one of your solutions will be to seek counseling, which is a reasonable idea. However I've tried and failed with two therapists already. So I've already explored that route and came up empty.
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What a remarkable and insightful letter. Not many people as young as you have figured out how much of who they are is shaped by other people’s expectations. Just having that revelation alone puts you ahead of many people, and, no, I’m not going to tell you to seek therapy; you don’t need it. I do not believe there is a human being on the planet who has not altered his or her behavior to please others. It’s not just about parents who are emotionally disconnected from their kids, it is also about any parent who wants their kid to be a certain way. Usually, when the children protest, the parent asserts stuff like, “I just want you to be happy! I just want you to be successful!” which makes you feel stupid and ungrateful for protesting. But happy by whose definition? Successful by what measuring rod?
Now, your letter and the response I am forming here is a rather interesting dilemma, as I recently advised another writer to be the “chameleon”; that is, to only show one side of himself—the part that pleased his family—when he was around them. The difference here is he knew who he was and simply didn’t want conflict with his furry-hating family.
You, on the other hand, have played the perfect son and comrade so long you haven’t had the chance to discover yourself. I understand where you are coming from. I myself didn’t know who I was until my 40s because I was trying so hard to meet other people’s demands on me. Because of that, I feel like I need to play a lot of catch up now. I don’t think that early part of my life was wasted in any way. There were many many good things about it, but now I have the chance to find the real me. It’s kind of scary, actually, but worth the pursuit.
How, then, do you discover yourself when you don’t even know what you are? Well, a good way to discover yourself is to force yourself to try as many new things as possible, especially things that people said you were no good at or that you shouldn’t try because they were a waste of time or money, but also things that are just plain unfamiliar to you. This is why I tried fursuiting. The conservative, straight-laced, unadventurous and monetarily conservative me of the past was telling myself, “Dressing up as a bear and spending $2,000 on a costume? Are you nuts? What a waste of money! How silly and childish!” I did it anyway and I love it, especially the hugs I get while in fursuit, the smiles and the little kids pointing at me and shouting gleefully, “A bear!”
So, try new things, and try as many of them as possible. Block that inner voice (or that echo of a parent’s voice) that tells you you shouldn’t try it or doubts that you’ll be any good at it or enjoy it. Dare to be bad at something. Couple things I learned along the way regarding this, as examples: when I was a little kid, I wasn’t much good at school, but I had a pretty darn vivid imagination I enjoyed. Anyway, my parents, especially my mother, pushed and pushed me to get those A’s, so I did to please her. Eventually, I became a straight A student. I worked so hard on my studies that I did nothing else and had no social life, so I finished school at the top of my class feeling like I was a one-dimensional person. Another example: I always wanted to learn a musical instrument, so I tried the dulcimer. As I was initially learning, naturally I sounded awful. I was told to knock it off because I was hurting people’s ears, so I did. I never learned to play. It’s on my bucket list still to learn an instrument. As I said above, dare to be awful at something. Another example would be drawing. Everyone sucks when they start out, but how can you get to be good unless you keep trying?
Experiment and explore. Relearn how to love learning, that special joy to nourish one’s mind every child is born with but that our educational system strips out of you until you become a good little drone (cf. how schools always cut arts and music programs first, but leave team sports that are designed to make you a team player and follow the coach’s orders... hmmm.). Express yourself in new ways, too. Try different clothing or hair styles, listen to different kinds of music with which you are unfamiliar (try reggae, mon), eat a snail if you want (escargot, s’il vous plait!), read a book by someone who expresses an unfamiliar opinion or viewpoint. Get out of your comfort zone.
You won’t enjoy everything you try, of course. The things you truly don’t like, cast them aside and try other things. You can filter these things through your own attraction or aversion to them. How do you tell these reactions are YOURS and not behavior programmed into you by someone else? Try this exercise. Have someone create a bunch of flashcards for you. On these cards, have them write a bunch of innocuous words, such as “desk,” “apple,” “teacher,” “green,” etc. Most of these cards will be of this variety. Next, have them write down a few things that you have tried recently to see if you like them or not, such as “playing piano,” “surfing,” “working with animals,” and so on. The innocuous cards should outnumber the relevant cards by about 5 to 1 but not in a rigid order (e.g., two relevant cards might be followed by three innocuous cards, then a relevant, then five innocuous, etc.). Once the cards are prepared, sit across the table from your friend and have them flash the cards at you, one by one. When you see a word or phrase respond “Yes” or “No” as to whether or not you like them. Do this quickly so that you give a knee-jerk reaction and don’t have time to think. Your friend can further assist you by tossing the “Yes” cards into one pile and “No” into another. When you’re done, even the seemingly innocuous card have relevance as you might discover your true favorite color and weather or not you like teachers :-)
Good luck, Thief. I hope you can rob your inner personality back and keep it inside you, safe and sound.
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