Healing from narcissistic and emotional abuse is a lifelong unraveling. One has to scrape through many layers of gunk made up from the minimization of abuse and misplaced, mis-formed thoughts about one’s self and the world they live in. In many ways, I consider myself extremely fortunate and privileged to have escaped my abusers and be in a place where my soul can finally ask two all-important questions: Who am I, and what do I want?

These are difficult questions for anyone seeking to live an authentic life, but for abuse survivors, they are especially elusive. When I was a child, at a time when I was supposed to be developing a sense of self, I wasn’t allowed to have an identity separate from my abusers. I existed tin order to serve whatever their ego wanted. That was it. As I naturally fought against this role, I was labeled “rebellious,” “ungrateful,” and “bad” for trying to seek a separate identity. Even though I distanced myself as much as possible from my abusers, I was still susceptible to their lies and projections. I had to learn to reject who my abusers said I was and embrace who I say I am. But who am I?

I have interests, which I seek to incorporate into my life, but I know that who I am is not defined by what I do. I have certain skills and talents, but I am so much more than the sum of my talents. I also have traumas. I have learned my traumas are worth embracing and integrating as a part of who I am, but they are not the whole of who I am. At this stage of my life I do not wish to be defined by my work, my religion, or my relationships to others. I want to be wholly me. But who am I?

When reduced to my essence, I am love. But I am also practical. Few people get to walk through life as pure essence. The rest of us have to balance our pure essence with paying bills, buying groceries, and binging on Netflix. Still, this question haunts me. I feel I have a pretty good handle on who I am not. If I refuse to be defined by my abusers, and I choose not to be defined by what I do, then how do I step into a life where I am free to just… be? And how do I do that, in a practical sense, without being totally aimless?

I’m the kind of person who likes to have a plan. Laying down these external expectations of identity and purpose frees up a lot of space. It feels like living in an empty house. On one hand, I am grateful that all the crap is gone, but on the other hand, it feels uncomfortable. I need more furniture for this house. I am excited to redecorate, but I am also hesitant. Redecorating requires decisions, and I feel their gravity. I can see why so many are tempted to let others make decisions for them about their own lives.

My right to think for myself and make my own decisions was hard-earned, and I am determined to put it to use. I wish it came with more clarity. Perhaps what I really need to do is give myself permission to actively seek an identity and purpose, rather than feel pressured to have it all figured out.

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