I am a 22-year-old woman experiencing a change in my attitude towards life. I grew up in what my therapist calls an "abusive situation" (i.e. my mother hit me excessively and was emotionally abusive). My parents got divorced when I was a preteen.
I am now out on my own, in a professional school, and trying to put the pieces of myself back together. I've always been anxious and had low self-esteem in some areas, and often was too much of a people-pleaser at the expense of my own wishes and needs. I was extremely hard-working and diligent; a typical "good kid", but I was only good because I feared to do anything irresponsible (my sister had that job). Sometimes I held it all in so much that I would lash out and be mean as well, but I've gotten a handle on that now, by allowing myself to feel anger without condemning myself for it or expressing it poorly.
I am now seeing a therapist and feel pretty good about the progress I've made in dealing with my past, and have made peace with most of the things that have bothered me over the years. However, now I need to face the future. Right now, I am trying to reconnect with myself so that I can feel comfortable; without having so much anxiety about pleasing people or the fear of making them mad.
In a way, I feel I have never been myself. As a teenager I was often extroverted on the outside, but really I'm not that way. Also, my main issue is that I think deeply about life... and feel that this is not accepted in our society. Everything is work, work, work... go, go, go. Even in academics people have ulterior motives.
I am interested in bettering myself, learning how to be a good human being and good to others. I want to get to know myself and find out what I want out of life. The truth is that I am not extroverted. I love to be social when in the proper context, but I don't feel the need to be around people all the time. I feel like I am drowning in a sea of socialites because I can't keep up with all the social activities people involve themselves in. I suppose I could do it, but it would drive me crazy. I hate the attitude of just going along in life, not thinking too much, and taking what you can get when you can. I really love life so much, even though it is difficult at times. I always see it as a beautiful thing that I want to treasure and make my own. However, I find very few people with this attitude.
I have felt pretty withdrawn socially from anyone other than my closest friends (who are long distance) because I always feel "fake" - being more superficial and social than I really am just to make other people feel secure that I like them. I am a really intellectual person, but I also love people, laughing and having fun. However, I have been told many times that people find me intimidating because of my looks, intelligence, and various talents (which I am not conceited about in the least). I end up trying to please people because I feel like it's my fault I intimidate them.
I want to be myself, but I'm so lonely in this new place I am in that I'm afraid to do it. I always end up "selling out" and just doing what I have to do to fit in with the crowd, so I won't feel isolated. I HATE doing this because I really feel like I'm just inadvertently telling my true inner self "you aren't worth it."
My question is this: "I don't want to be totally selfish but I do want to respect myself. How do I find a balance? ..Please help."
First a word of hope! Although the world may seem particularly mindless to an introspective intellectual, there are others out there who can and do think, and you'll find you run into them in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. So don't be discouraged. Now, a word of practicality: You're much more likely to run into like-minded people when you're doing things you just naturally like to do, so follow your interests and keep your eyes open.
Why do you not think you deserve to be listened to? Use your introspection to do a realistic self evaluation. Are you not a pretty OK person? When I read what you wrote, I got the feeling that I was listening to a young woman who has been through a lot and has come through it quite well.
You say you're a little co-dependent (or maybe a lot co-dependent); you think you've got to give up being you to get people to like you. Put that aside for a minute and ask if you find yourself likeable. Pretend to be a stranger who is just meeting you. Would you want to get to know you better? Of course you would! I can tell just by reading what you wrote. That's what I want you to do next. Get to know yourself better and spend some time thinking about how OK you really are.
Next step: Think over your whole life. Is there anyone who really knows (knew) you? Anyone that you don't have to (didn't have to) pretend with? Maybe a friend, a relative, a teacher, or your therapist. If you find one (or hopefully more than one), make them your mental companions. Listen to their approval. Think about how they enjoy knowing you.
You're a thinker, so you can see where I'm headed with this. I want you to become comfortable with who you are and to open yourself up to the possibility that people (some people, not all people) will like you just for who you are. There's no need to isolate yourself just because many of those around you do not think as deeply as you do. If you can socialize without giving up your self-hood (which you'll be able to do if you become really comfortable being yourself), you can keep social loneliness to a minimum.
Now for the hardest part: Existential loneliness. When I read your letter I could feel your fear that there is no one out there with whom you could share your deepest self. That's not so. What is so is that those people will never recognize you if you continue to be someone other than yourself. When you put this together with what I said in the beginning you can see why learning to care for yourself is essential. If you go about doing what ever you're interested in and if you radiate a sense that you think you're a pretty OK person, the people you want in your life will recognize this and will want to be part of your life.
I don't know what you're working on in therapy, but if you were in therapy with me, this is what I'd be suggesting. If it sounds good to you, maybe you can talk it over with your therapist. A supportive therapist can be very helpful as you strengthen your sense of self-worth.
I hope this will be of help to you and I wish you, Good Luck!
Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.