How to regain your sense of self when you think it’s lost forever

sense of self
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One of the outcomes of childhood emotional neglect is a lost sense of self. You may feel like you’re not sure who you are or what you stand for.

That makes it hard to determine what you like and don’t like. You may struggle to comprehend your strengths and weaknesses.

This makes it difficult to create a satisfying life. That’s because a fulfilled life requires self-direction and boundaries. And both of these seem elusive without a strong a sense of self.

As we grow up, our parents are tasked with helping us understand ourselves. They are supposed to hold up a proverbial mirror which reflects back to us who we are.

They show us that they notice us and we matter. And they encourage and praise us when we do well. Conversely, they comfort us when things don’t go our way.

They teach us how to deal with conflict and how to regulate our emotions. They gently move us in the direction of our interests and strengths.

The impact of CEN

If none of this sounds familiar, you may have experienced childhood emotional neglect. As a result, you have likely suffered a fractured or lost sense of self.

When parents force you to cater to their needs instead of listening to yours, you lose yourself. Instead of developing your own internal motivations, you focus on others.

You have trouble discerning what you want because you’ve been conditioned to give up wanting. That’s because expressing needs only got you punished or rejected.

As a result, your intelligent inner child decided it’s best to focus on keeping others happy. And you put yourself to the back of the line.

Setting boundaries becomes complicated when you lack a sense of self. Boundaries require saying ‘no’ to things you don’t want or don’t like.

But what if you have no idea what you want or like? Boundaries will seem tricky, impossible, and even life threatening.

Remember that childhood rejection you feared as a result of having needs? Well, that was a matter of life and death. And that feeling doesn’t change in adulthood without conscious effort.

How to regain your sense of self

sense of self

So, how do you regain a sense of self after it’s been lost? First, spend some time with yourself without distractions.

You may not enjoy your own company yet. But sitting and paying attention to your feelings will help you get to know yourself better.

Using your five senses as a guide, make a list of things that bring you pleasure. Engage in those more often.

Take stock of your strengths and use them more. Focus on improving your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Spend more time with people who appreciate you and lift you up. Spend less time with those who make you feel bad or misunderstood.

Understand your values. Use an online assessment if it helps to make a list of your core values. These will act as a filter through which you make decisions on what you allow into your life.

Constantly ask yourself if you are really acting in your own best interest. The people pleasing habit can be hard to break and we need to make sure we’re pleasing ourselves first.

As you do more of what brings you pleasure and move in the direction of your strengths, you’ll notice a shift. Your life will begin to take on an intentional quality rather than happening by default.

As you say ‘no’ to things you don’t like and act according to your internal motivations, you’ll feel empowered. You will take the driver’s seat rather than feeling like a passenger in a life created by others.

How to improve your life through the act of self-awareness

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Did you know self-awareness is the key to changing your life? But many of us who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes lack this basic component of a satisfying life.

That’s because our parents never taught us how to look at ourselves. They forced us to keep our focus on them and others instead.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others’. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others'. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed. Click To Tweet

And, due to a lack of guidance, we have a poor understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We may also have no idea what we value or what’s important to us.

That’s because our parents never encouraged us to explore our desires. They may not have praised us when we did well which leaves us scratching our heads as to what we’re good at.

We may have been exposed to more negative attention. That meant we only heard from our parents when we did something wrong.

And they expected us to understand things they’d never taught us. My father constantly berated me for not knowing how to do things no one taught me how to do.

Children need praise and guidance

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. To develop a healthy sense of self-awareness, we need to know our needs are handled by the adults around us.

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. Click To Tweet

If we sense that we have to take care of those needs ourselves, we become hypervigilant. In survival mode, we are not free to explore our heart’s desires.

We desperately try to read other people in an effort to keep ourselves alive. That is what the survival brain thinks, anyway.

As children, we intuited correctly that we depended on our parents for survival. We could not put a roof over our own heads or food in the fridge.

This led us to minimize our needs and make sure to keep them happy so they wouldn’t reject us. As adults, we have been conditioned to abandon our own needs and focus on pleasing others.

This external focus means we lack the self-awareness necessary for a fulfilling life. If you lack boundaries because you fear saying no to people, you probably feel empty inside.

How self-awareness cures emptiness


The cure for such emptiness is beginning the journey back to yourself. That means taking the time to discover your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, and your values.

1. Discover likes and dislikes

Make a list of things you like or enjoy doing. You could begin with the five senses: what smells, sights, sounds, and tastes do you like and what feels good to you?

Then look at your life and ask yourself how much of these are in it. Chances are, you may do more of what you don’t like in an effort to please others.

You will never have the life you want unless you increase your self-awareness. You need to know what you like so you can incorporate more of it in your life.

2. Discover your strengths

Then, find out what you’re good at, your strengths. You may want to ask trusted friends or associates for their input.

Is your work focused on these strengths and interests? If not, you may want to start making decisions that move you in the direction of your strengths and preferences.

3. Make a values list

Finally, what are your values? Do you know what you stand for and what’s important to you? Or do you tend to go with the flow and let other people decide for you?

A first step in getting to know your core values can come in the form of a simple assessment. Knowing your values is key to increasing self-awareness.

Take this or any other free online values assessment to help determine yours.

How to stop feeling unworthy of getting what you want

feeling unworthy
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Before I started my healing journey, a voice inside my head would whisper, “that’s not for you,” anytime I thought about something I wanted. Feeling unworthy came as naturally to me as breathing.

Whether buying only sale items, or spending time with people who neither inspired nor respected me, I betrayed myself by settling for less than what my heart desired.

This self-saboteur was a remnant from my childhood of unmet needs. I had been parentified into believing the needs of the adults around me took precedence over my own. And so abandoned myself accordingly.

Unmet needs in childhood lead to feeling unworthy of getting what we want as an adult. How? Because we get imprinted with the belief that we don’t matter and don’t deserve to feel fulfilled.

Unmet needs in childhood lead to feeling unworthy of getting what we want as an adult. Click To Tweet

Usually, these limiting beliefs remain unconscious (although that voice in my head sounded audible). Since our subconscious minds dictate the bulk of our results and outcomes, these beliefs keep us stuck.

How do we get out from under these false beliefs of feeling unworthy? How do we change our mindset and begin to believe we deserve to get what we want out of life?

3 ways to stop feeling unworthy

feeling unworthy

1. Ask

The Bible verse: “you do not have because you do not ask” and the law of attraction both dictate that you get not what you deserve but what you believe you deserve. And have the courage to ask for.

Think of the things you want but don’t yet have. Have you been bold enough to ask for them? Have you spoken your desire out loud to those who could help you achieve or receive it?

Sometimes we’re afraid to ask for what we want because it seems too big. Or we want to protect ourselves from the disappointment of not getting it. But that only ensures more of the same deprivation.

One common example of this among people with unmet childhood needs is to say they want a meaningful relationship instead of marriage. If you want a husband and not a live-in partner, say so.

2. Improve self-image

Positive mantras only work for those who already hold a positive self-image. So, if you’ve wondered why repeating them hasn’t had a lasting impact on you, that’s why.

Positive mantras only work for those who already hold a positive self-image. Click To Tweet

If you look at other people with less intelligence, creativity, and resources, and wonder why they’re so successful, it’s likely self-image at play. They believe they deserve good things as a result of their positive self-image. You believe the opposite because of your negative one.

In my experience, improving self-image starts with self-kindness. That means treating yourself at least as well as you treat others, especially when you’re not perfect. It means practicing self-forgiveness, and refusing to dwell on your mistakes.

It means setting boundaries around your time and energy. Eliminating frenemies whose thoughts toward you contribute to your inability to get what you want.

It means investing in yourself with coaching or counselling and material things your heart desires. Because you are worth it.

3. Adjust your expectations.

If you’ve grown up with unmet needs, there’s often a disconnect between your true desires and what you expect to receive. Adjust your expectations UP instead.

Expect something better than you’ve got in the past by overriding automatic thoughts with your conscious mind. The self-help classic Psycho-Cybernetics suggests spending 30 minutes per day envisioning your ideal life to aid the process.

When you shift your expectations, your actions work to create new results that end up transforming your life. Enter the success and fulfillment that have long eluded you. They’re not only for other people to enjoy, after all.

How to stop hiding your core gifts

core gifts
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I recently read a book called Deeper Dating. In it, the author says the things we hide are our greatest and core gifts.

If you’re a sensitive person, for example, you may have tried to develop a thick skin. But what if your sensitivity is your gift to the world?

Often, when we grew up without praise or encouragement from parents, we have a hard time accepting ourselves. If others failed to understand or support our core gifts, we suppress them to fit in.

But hiding core gifts in an effort to find acceptance is self-abandonment. And, besides, it never works. You come across as inauthentic and untrustworthy and you never become the person you’re meant to be in the world.

When you hide your core gifts, you attract people who will never make you feel supported because they don’t know the real you. Instead of seeking acceptance from others, the key is to accept yourself.

When you hide your core gifts, you attract people who will never make you feel supported because they don't know the real you. Click To Tweet

So, how can you begin to express your core gifts when you’ve been hiding them all along? How do you start to accept yourself when you’ve been self-abandoning for years? Here are 4 ways.

1. State your opinions.

When you disagree with someone, say so. When you stay silent or lend tacit agreement because you fear conflict, that’s self-abandonment.

You’re putting someone else’s need to be right ahead of your own need to be seen and heard. This ensures you’ll keep attracting people who don’t know the real you and you’ll continue to feel invisible.

2. Express your emotions.

core gifts

If you grew up with emotional neglect like I did, you may not trust your emotions. Maybe your complex PTSD has made you dysregulated around feelings.

The first step is to actually feel these feelings instead of denying them or distracting yourself from them. Really sink into them at first by journaling and/or sitting alone with them.

Once you’ve become more comfortable with your feelings, begin to express them to others. This will help you accept others’ emotions as well. Emotional honesty is an important part of relational intimacy and shows the real you.

3. Do what you want to develop core gifts.

Do you spend a lot of time fulfilling obligations that bring you no joy? Stop that. Make sure you’re doing more of what you love than what you hate.

Of course, responsibility is part of life but resist the habit of becoming over responsible. Putting others’ needs ahead of your own is a common outcome of unmet childhood needs.

Putting others' needs ahead of your own is a common outcome of unmet childhood needs. Click To Tweet

Parent yourself by taking care of your own needs first. Make a habit of asking yourself throughout the day what you need and giving it to yourself.

4. Invest in yourself to uncover core gifts.

You may resist spending money on yourself unless it provides a return on investment. But you are worth investing in and your mental health is the best ROI.

Depending on your resources, you may consider coaching, therapy, a retreat, or some other form of self care. If you spend money on others easily but have trouble doing the same for yourself, reconsider.

When overcoming a lifetime of self-abandonment, you may need help to uncover your core gifts. Invest time in self-knowledge through books or by spending more time on your own. Be patient with yourself as a lifetime of hiding takes time to transform.

INFJ: the most rare personality type

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INFJ, one of the 16 Meyers-Briggs personality types, makes up only about 1.5% of the population. Perhaps as a result of our small numbers, we often feel misunderstood.

I’ve noticed as a writer that INFJs appear in larger numbers in my field. That’s because our traits include creativity and a desire to derive meaning out of life.

INFJ is the Advocate

Known as the Advocate, INFJ delights in serving others’ needs. They are in tune with other peoples’ emotions, but often less good at discerning their own feelings.

INFJ enjoys deep friendships and abhors surface relationships. They need meaning in every area of their lives, including their contact list.

This translates into few intense friendships rather than a large circle. And these chosen few are the only ones with whom they share their rich and complex inner life.

Intuitive with strong values

INFJ relies on intuition to help make decisions. She has strong values and a deep need to make the world a better place.

For this reason, she thrives doing work that supports those aims. And withers and wilts when her career misaligns with her true goals.

INFJ is introverted


Like all introverts, this type needs time alone to refresh and recharge. They value privacy and do not crave attention or the spotlight.

These people are excellent listeners and love to help others solve their own problems. They live to see others rise to fulfill their highest potential.

Concepts and ideas over details

They are not interested in facts and details but want to explore broader concepts and ideas. This explains why my head hurts when business experts start talking “tactics” and “strategy”.

If you’re an INFJ, you pursue lifelong learning and are always seeking self-improvement. You want a purpose-driven life and find new ways to become the best version of yourself.

You’re interested in metaphysical and esoteric topics more than concrete or mundane subjects. While others are poring over the antics of others, you’re contemplating life’s existential concepts.

If these personality traits resonate with you, you might be an INFJ. To find out your personality type, take the free test here.