I don't know who I am, what I want, or what I even like. How can I reconnect to my real self?

I've noticed I've been feeling lost since my late teens, unsure of my own thoughts and feelings. I think it stems from a childhood where I sometimes felt like I had to be there as an emotional support for one parent, while making sure that the boat was never rocked around the other. I feel like I've had a lifetime of creeping on eggshells; always sensing the environment and people around me, and yet now feeling completely disconnected to myself. When I'm not with other people, I sit there mostly in silence, feeling numb and pushing myself to do basic things like eating or going to bed at a decent time - it's like, if there's nobody around to impress, why would I bother?

Now that I'm at university, living away from home, my lack of confidence and sense of self is not only making daily life more challenging, but I feel like it's also having an impact on my studies. I've been finding it hard to make decisions (important or not), while also putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well; sometimes the noise inside my head makes it feel impossible to decipher what it is I'm actually thinking, let alone write down a sentence.

I'd never struggled with academic work before, I did pretty well at school, but there was a point where that changed. Maybe it was issues with friends, or maybe it was burnout or something, but I remember suddenly feeling exhausted and annoyed that I *had* to study. Academically, I wasn't performing as well as I had been, and to that point (and even now) that was where most of my validation was coming from. I feel even more like a failure now that I'm struggling with my degree, and have expectations from pretty much everyone that I'll do well. I can't tell if I want to curl up in bed and never leave, or run away to live in the woods and never come back.

Listening to myself writing all this I feel so superficial. I wonder if all of this is actually me just being lazy, procrastinating and inventing problems for myself so that I don't have to do difficult things. My friends think there's not actually anything wrong with me and that I should just suck it up and do it, whatever "it" is. I guess I'm worried that if I don't face these challenges soon, figure out how to listen to myself again, my life will pass me by and I will end up as a sad, unfulfilled failure. I know I have the potential to do well, and that's what makes me feel the worst.
Asked by Hugo


I want to take a moment to say that I think you have a good understanding of yourself. You have insight, and you seem like you are willing to deal with difficult things. I think that you know you know yourself well and then assume that what you know is all there is. Like, if you don't see it, then it might not be accurate. Yes, your self-awareness is high, but there is always a blind spot. 

In what you wrote, I see someone who believes he must be something more than he is to be accepted by people. Since going to college, you have met a larger pool of people to compare to, and now you realize you are mediocre. This is how you see yourself in comparison to others. You think that your job is to impress people, and if you can't or don't want to put yourself up to the potential of failing, you stay by yourself. You would rather be alone than fail. You would rather stay quiet than ask for help. You will be shocked if you knew what people thought of you and it wasn't what you thought. 

I don't think you are lazy; you don't have the motivation because what motivates you is a fulfillment of self. You have to realize that the people that do and do successfully often do from a place of desire to see something great, not an inadequacy to fulfill with academia or the validation of a degree. Yes, inadequacy and overcompensation can get people far in life, but they are still left with the turmoil of questioning themselves. You have too many options, and you fear making a choice. It seems like you worry about what other people would think of you if you decided whatever, but then you don't know yourself enough to see what you want. What do you want out of all this, to feel better? To have friends? To not have so much pressure just to be you? And lastly, do you even accept yourself, or are you a less than person now that your grades aren't that good and you are seemingly not doing well? 

You won't be what you fear because what you fear is a version of yourself is you seeing what you think would be the worst from the outside. In reality, you will subtly sabotage and make every choice along the way to whatever life you are in, good or bad, agreeing to things the entire way. Eventually, you will wake up and see where you are, but until then, you will keep living in avoidance of fear. This avoidance then puts you right where you don't want to be. 

It's like the father who is controlling a son who controls his life to not be like his dad has. However, that kid then controls his entire life and others to not be like his controlling father. Then one day, he is sitting in therapy, saying he cannot be like his father because his father was controlling. You have to admit to yourself that the way you think, and the future you fear, are your problems, not lack of motivation or not having as good of grades. If you think that grades or career or what calculated choices you make will make you better or worse, you are too dependent on others to define you. 

What do you want? What matters to you? Once you find your "why" you can endure any "how."