I used to make lists of things I liked and didn’t like. If I wanted to marry and have children, that went on the list. If I enjoyed musical theater, that too went on the list. Inevitably a day would come when I couldn’t imagine wanting to marry or liking musicals. I was perplexed as to why they were on the list in the first place. So I’d start a new one. I was trying hard to figure out who I was. As soon as I had a decent handle on the nature of my identity, it would slip through my fingers once again. I kept these lists in an effort to pin down my sense of self in a concrete and lasting way. What I didn’t know is that I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Identity confusion is a normal, if monumentally frustrating, part of DID.
What Is Identity Confusion?
If at no other time in our lives, we all experience identity confusion as teenagers. Grappling with who we are during adolescence is normal, even healthy. As adults, bouts of identity confusion are common around major life transitions:
- Having children. Incorporating the role of father or mother into your sense of self requires, for many people, a period of adjustment.
- Changing careers. One of the first introductory questions we ask each other is, “What do you do?” How we earn a living is often part of how we identify ourselves. It’s natural to reconsider our identities a bit when making drastic career changes.
- Divorcing. Our relationships also help define who we are. Feeling lost and unsure of who you are after losing your primary relationship isn’t unusual.
Identity is complex, multi-faceted, and ever-evolving. No one has an entirely cohesive, static sense of self. Confusion about who we are from time to time is part of being human.
Someone with dissociative identity disorder … is constantly wrestling with separate, often adversarial identities that are engaged in a battle for control over that person’s mind and body twenty-four hours a day. – The Stranger in the Mirror, Marlene Steinberg
Identity Confusion and Dissociative Identity Disorder
For me, identity confusion is far more pervasive and unsettling. My sense of self is a battleground where wars are waged. These wars impact life in profound and upsetting ways. Decisions about where to live, what sort of work to do, and who to create relationships with are guided in large part by identity. For example, a heterosexual, christian woman will likely make different life choices from a gay, atheist man. Navigating life with Dissociative Identity Disorder requires balancing such deeply conflicting identities. And that’s no easy task. At times, severe identity confusion stalls any movement in any direction. The ability to recognize identity confusion for what it is helps. Not because recognition clarifies the issue of my identity or frees me from identity confusion’s paralyzing effects. It doesn’t. But it frees me from the expectation that I should know who I am.
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