Q When I was younger, in my twenties and thirties, I used to be a highly conscientious young woman. I was reliable, orderly, prompt and would want to do things the right way. All of a sudden in my forties, it seems I don’t really care about being so together or right. I don’t have the energy for it and when someone asks me to take on a project in my family or at work, I feel resentful, burdened and sometimes very angry. I usually don’t say much, but inside I am pretty upset. Sometimes I have dreams that I am shouting at people or throwingthings. My husband tells me that I also talk in my sleep with a fair amount of energy. Obviously my unconscious mind is revealing feelings that I am not able to express out loud. All this is scary for me and I don’t know how to deal with this change in my personality.
A Your experiences and feelings make much sense. You have been pretty compliant in the first half of your life. I trust when you were a child you were the responsible and good girl. You probably received plenty of praise or at least approval for it, as most parents and adults like children with these traits. Such kids are easier to raise and accomplish much early on.
However, something gets sacrificed in the process. Somewhere along the way, this kind of person will lose spontaneity, cannot be messy or lazy, cannot say no, make mistakes or simply relax. There is always something to do, someone to please and something to fix or correct, including oneself. Over time this over-compliance creates a loss of autonomy because you are existing and functioning from the point-of-view of outer expectations. Now as are you are entering mid-life, you are beginning to feel the pressure, fatigue, superficiality and falseness of such a personality and lifestyle. This is actually a sign of growth. You are seeking freedom and wholeness over approval, order and achievement.
It is a difficult stage to experience and navigate. You are questioning your orientation and identity. When we start to deconstruct like that, we feel lost, afraid and confused. We don’t know who we are anymore and a range of feelings arise. Anger, betrayal and sadness are primary at first. At mid-life we realize that we have betrayed parts of ourselves to fit in, be liked and succeed. These feelings are part of finding more of your hidden self. This new need to be seen differently is part of who you are. It will bring more authenticity to you and over time strengthen your character. It will also be the fuel you need to bust out of your compliant persona into a more real person.
Who are you when you are not so good and responsible? Fantasize about that. Write a story of a girl or a woman who is the opposite of you. If you have a dream of a person who is mean, angry, powerful, defiant and the like, have a conversation with that character by dialoguing and writing. Some people like to draw these dream characters out or even create a little play to make the inner more vivid and embodied. The idea is to let out more of your hidden self and experience how that feels to you.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com