An unstable or disturbed sense of self (sometimes referred to as identity disturbance) is a persistent and noticeably unstable sense of self. It is a diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder. It can result in challenges in maintaining relationships, jobs, and a social life. Psychotherapy (DBT or CBT primarily) is often used as a treatment approacj for a disturbed sense of self.
Identity disturbance is a term used to describe incoherence, or inconsistency in a person’s sense of identity. This could mean that a person’s goals, beliefs, and actions are constantly changing.
It is also possible that individuals adopt the personality traits of people around them, as they strive to establish and preserve their own identity.
Of course, people without BPD struggle with identity disturbance, too. But people with BPD often have a very profound lack of sense of self, or loss of identity.
Understanding identity or a sense of self
A stable sense of identity is being able to see yourself as the same person in the past, present and future. Your sense of identity is made up of:
- your beliefs and attitudes
- your ways of behaving (even as these change)
- your perception of your abilities
- the social roles you play
- your temperament
- your personality
Signs of a disturbed sense of self
Identity disturbance refers to the challenges an indivdual faces when determining their position in relation to other people. Some people with BPD may describe this as having difficulties with understanding boundaries – understanding where they end and the other person begins.
Some people with BPD express a profound sense of uncertainty regarding their identity and beliefs. They may report that they have no idea who they are, or what they believe in. Others may say they feel like they don’t exist. Additionally, they may experience fluctuations in their sense of self, adapting their behaviours and thoughts based on external circumstances and their perceived expectations of others.
People often adapt their behaviours according to the situation. For instance, an individual might be the life of the party and lively with friends but exhibit more reserved and appropriate conduct during work functions. However, individuals with BPD may experience a more heightened or intense level of behaviour adaptation.
They may frequently change their minds or perceptions about:
- their opinions and viewpoints
- their career and professional future
- ambitions, aspirations or goals
- their beliefs
- their interests and hobbies
As a result, it is difficult for people with BPD to setup and maintain healthy boundaries, and they may have trouble in interpersonal and romantic relationships. They may also find it difficult to commit to jobs, values and goals.
In addition, those with a disturbed sense of self may find that they have intense mood swings that are frequent and unpredictable.