I’m approaching 30, and I still feel like an unsure, unstable 20-year-old! I have a lot of trauma in my past (abused and neglected as a child, bullied/ridiculed at school, and experienced abusive relationships as an adult). I’m still hurting because of my past. My life is kind of bizarre to outsider…I work in the night club industry and although I make good money for working little hours, I don’t really have a normal life. There’s very little structure to my life, I do as I please. I’m very impulsive, I eat out everyday and eat whatever I want (although I’m still in good shape). I spend money out of boredom, and buy stuff I don’t really need because it makes me feel good and gives me something to do. I feel empty and alone a lot of the time because the few friends I have either moved far away or don’t have as much free time as I do. Normal relationships are hard for me because most men cannot accept what I do for a living. I’m also not the most loyal person (I feel guilty about this) and I cannot be with someone unless I’m obsessed and I lust after them. I’m still obsessing over someone from a few years ago and holding onto any hope of a reconciliation (even though deep down I know it’s not good). I’m terrified of being in another abusive relationship with someone who will stalk me or refuse to let me go. But I’m also afraid of hurting someone or being hurt. My self esteem is not the greatest, although it’s much better than what it used to be. I’ve tried a few times to start a new career but nothing worked out, I’m not passionate about any career and I struggle to live a normal life day today. Despite all of this, people always compliment me on how “ I am, and how “normal’’ I come across. I’m excellent at making good impressions, but inside I feel empty, lost, and repressed. I have a lot of anger towards certain people from my past and certain types of people in general, but I’m very afraid to express that side of me. A lot of times I feel angry and resentful but I’ll still act nice to someone just to keep the peace…but eventually, I’ll just cut off ties with them without even officially ending our relationship. I honestly prefer things to end like that because, in my past, I’ve had my relationships end very messy! And I hate that, it gives me fear and anxiety! My question is this; I want to improve my life and become more stable but I’m unsure of where to start or what type of therapy I should receive. I think I have a mental disorder of some sort but I am unsure of which one…and I’d like to know, not to label myself, but rather to educate myself and get help. I know I cannot be diagnosed through here, but based on my descriptions, what could be some possibilities to get tested for? I’ve heard in the past Bipolar, PTSD, Borderline Personality, and even Avoidant Personality Disorder. Do any of these sound fitting in particular? Thank you in advance.
I’m struck by the fact you have highlighted your seeming failings, identified a host of possibilities about personality disorders and conditions, and point to a string of failed relationships as indicators that you are not okay. While I can understand these concerns, I am noticing that you have skipped over a wide variety of extremely positive traits that will be important if you are looking for true transformation.
First, the self that is observing aspects of your behavior that wants to change is the main element of your motivation. This self is aware that something isn’t okay and is destined to make things happen. This is the part of you that wrote this email to us in the first place. It is the one looking for answers, discovering patterns, and looking for help. This is a significant part of you, and if you are ready to make changes in your life, this is the part you want to honor.
You have also found a job you like, you are good at, are paid well for, and it leaves you free time. Most people would see this as a gift, gratitude that has been afforded you, but in your email, it is seen as something that puts you out of sync with your world. This seems more like a need for change in perception rather than condemning the situation and pointing out only the negatives.
The lack of structure and the accompanying freedom to “do as you please,” is a choice. It has suited you up until now, but, again, that part of you that is concerned and observant is realizing it is time for a change. Let’s see what is possible.
It seems like your goals have been about immediate fulfillment, which has led to indulgence. There isn’t anything bad or wrong with these decisions—and for your age, they may be just the things you needed to do. The real work and question are to ask yourself where do you want to be in 5 years. Everything you’ve described has an immediacy to it. Being impulsive, eating without concern, frivolous spending, and crash and burn relationships all point toward one thing—committing to achieve what you want. Very little in your life sounds like there was more than a short-term goal, and the emptiness you feel often follows from not stretching toward something a bit beyond our grasp.
I would use your current desire for change and irritation at your situation as the raw fuel for change. The dissatisfaction in your life is necessary for you to get motivated and change.
I would pick a reasonable goal and make micro-steps toward it. Pick something you’d like to learn more about and find a structured way to learn about it: an online class, a one-day seminar, a workshop, a course at a local university. Learning something new is one of the best ways to pull yourself out of a rut and get yourself engaged with your life.
The second thing is to do something kind for others. Find a place you can volunteer your time for a couple of hours. Helping others is a sure way to get out of your head and connected to something known to fill people up.
Of course, it is also important to look at the conditions that are holding you back,. I wasn’t suggesting you ignore them, but I am saying that not everything you are doing is bad. By clicking on the links, you can learn more about Bipolar, PTSD, Borderline Personality, and Avoidant Personality Disorder. As for therapy the kinds of approaches this one I would check out first is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
This is a broad-range treatment that focuses on mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. It typically has weekly sessions in both individual and group therapy. For the issues you’ve identified, I would check out the find help tab at the top of the page for therapists or facilities in your area that practice this approach.
Finally, I’d like to come back around to your strengths, which I’ve mentioned in the beginning. Your character strengths are the way you move forward with hope and energy directed at a change in your life. I would take the character strength survey and follow the suggestions about bringing them more into your life. As you transition, you’ll want to reduce the behaviors that have been problematic while increasing the helpful ones. Learning your character strengths is the best way to balance this process going forward.
Wishing you patience and peace,