Since I was a child I’ve been struggling with all kinds of hardships coming from being kind of smarter than peers, introverted and extremely sensitive; I began experiencing at an early age a lot of shame towards myself, coming with the feeling of not being good enough, learning to hide my true self in order to fit in, and having to cope with a lot of anxiety. As an adult, I’ve managed to build myself a seemingly ordinary life – a steady job, marriage and kids – but it cost, and it still costs, me an exhausting amount of mental effort and pain to keep it going. At times I feel emotionally detached from everything and everyone for days or weeks, in a nihilistic “nothing matters” way which allows me to perform well in daily tasks, and then shift to having to cope on a daily basis with huge amounts of anxiety and wild mood and self-esteem swings triggered by trivial stuff, which impair my ability both at work and in family life. In either case, there’s always a constant underlying feeling of “blue” or “longing” for something, like a missing piece preventing me from ever feeling truly happy and fulfilled with my life. I tried discussing this with my partner and close friends to no avail, they all believe it’s just the way things go with adult responsibilities, and that I’m overstating my struggles and should “man up” I don’t believe what I feel is normal, but maybe I’m wrong. I honestly don’t know, so my question is: what could it be, and should I check myself with a psychologist? Thank you. (From Italy)
Thank you for your email. I appreciate your struggle and am very glad you are reaching out. The thing that strikes me most about your question is that your opening sentence highlights the fact you know you are smart, but that you see this as a cause of many of your issues. While I understand and appreciate that perspective, I believe your intelligence and thoughtfulness can be your way out. Intelligence can be a real asset in transformation. You’ll need to direct your mind in the service of your heart.
The four elements you’ve identified: shame towards yourself, not feeling good enough, hiding your true self to fit in, and having to cope with a lot of anxiety, I believe are all coming from the same place inside you. Your capacity for self-acceptance, self-efficacy, and self-esteem are all somehow being blocked by a lack of self-compassion. Check out this blog by PsychCentral’s Margarita Tartakovsky and this brief video on the bottom of my homepage on cultivating self-compassion.
Self-compassion allows you to embody the differences and struggles you bring into your life. When we turn out attention to others for approval, get naturally frustrated by the impossibility of pleasing everyone, and then shut off in a nihilistic way the implosion into the self happens as n act of protection, but then cuts us off from what we seem to need.
Self-compassion reverses this process by starting on the inside. We tend to have a relationship with ourselves that mirrors the relationship we have with others (as Jung might have said) and if we can’t heal that on the outside beginning with self-compassion can heal this in the opposite way. I would highly recommend the book Stop Missing Your Life by Cory Muscara as a way to start embracing who you are and becoming more gentle and compassionate with yourself.