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Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: I beleive my personality changes dramaticly. Am I sick?


 techno_mage - Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:35 am

I am not sure if I should be seeking medical help, I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness nor have I ever suspected my self of having one however I have noticed things over the last few years that have me slightly worried.
The main issue is that I have no concrete "self" as it were.
I am 24 years of age and have had many experiences in life ranging from the extreme such as the suicide of my farther at a young age to sexual abuse by someone perceived to be a close friend. I have also had fulfilling and happy relation ships and friendships with others.
The problem I experience is that none of my relationships with others seem to last very long. In the work place or in private life I am unable to maintain long lasting relationships. However I am able to interact with any person from any walk of life, of any level of intelligence, on a meaningful level.
Recently it has occurred to me that I am able to read other people and subconsciously I seem to shift not just my personality but my entire level of intelligence, my body language, and my communication skills to fit what would best allow each person or a group of people to accept, trust and respect me.
However this constant change in self eventually gets noted as differing groups of people or different social settings for interactions invoke so many different personality's in me.
Is there something wrong with me or am I just "a little weird"?
 Dr. E. Seigle - Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:02 pm

Hi techno_mage,

You are not weird nor mentally ill; it sounds that you have possibly developed ways of coping with some extreme traumas in your life. One of the ways people who have experienced trauma cope with it over the long term is to behave, as it were, like a chameleon.This may be particularly true when such a person develops feelings of anxiety about whether important others may abandon them, harm them, emotionally reject them, or simply not really tune into who they really are. They sort of adapt their personality to what will be most pleasing, most interesting, or simply fit in the best, with those that they need to be close to. People such as this learn to be very attuned to the needs of others; it is said that they have metaphoric antennae, to pick up on the subtle vibes and needs of others.

The healthy purpose of these attempts to cope is to try to attain secure relationships, in which they will feel cared about, loved and valued. If they can be who they believe that others want them to be, then they will feel accepted and loved. In contrast, if one is living and expressing themselves congruently with one's authentic self, one feels that they run the risk of a recurrence of the traumas that they have experienced. Often, victims of sexual abuse and the suicide of a parent unconsciously feel responsible for these events, and believe that certain aspects of who they are were the cause of these catastrophes. "If I wasnt angry at my Dad sometimes, he wouldn't have killed himself", a child might think. In this way, in their later and adult lives, they seek to alter their authentic, selves, which are seen as potentially dangerous to relationships, and so minimize the risk of similar traumas or relational disruptions from occurring.

In addition, traumas such as you have described are almost always significant traumas for other family members as well. These can cause significant and longstanding problems amongst the family members, relationships. For example, they may not be able to share feelings bout the trauma openly and honestly, nor relate to one another with full security and authenticity. After a father's suicide, the relationships between the mother and her kids may become distant, fearfully overprotective, or may involve "parentification" of the children if the mother becomes very depressed. Other scenarious are possible, as well. Often, many family members develop a "false self"after such traumas based on the felt necessty to suppress feelings thought to be unacceptable, or unable to be discussed, or to frightening to be openy talked about. Hence there develops the chronic suppression of the genuine self among many family members. The entire family can then relate to one another in a numbed, inauthentic, and otherwise distorted manner. These patterns of relating then extend to other relationships that are important.

It is important to see these reactions to trauma as ways that people and families naturally try to cope with unbearable pain and loss, especially when family members are feeling very isolated and unsupported. As such, they are attempts to solve a problem, though they unfortunately carry with them their own formidable problems.

You may feel that you struggle to know what feels like your authentic self, and perhaps you don't always feel authentic. On the positive side, it sounds like you are capable of meaningful relationships.

So while you are not likely to be sick or weird, you may have a trauma-based set of issues that causes you to need to hide what may be most authentically yourself. My guess, given the courage and openness with which you have expressed yourself, that you could benefit greatly from psychotherapy with a therapist who has had some specialization in the treatment of trauma. You can ask at your doctors office, community mental health center, or local hospital.

Good luck!

E. Seigle MD

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