“I’m Not Who I Thought I’d Be”: Identity Renewal through Therapy

By: Hallie Gnatovich-Gates, LMFT

Recently, my 3 year old son randomly let out a big sigh. We asked him what was wrong. He responded, “I’m sad…I’m sad I’m not a wolf.”

It was a classic toddler moment: pure and deep, laced with existential meaning. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? We imagine a version of ourselves that is wild and special and are then (sometimes viciously!) confronted by our true reality.

In our younger years, we hold such clarity in regards to our plans, to who we will become. We envision ourselves imbedded in a certain kind of life by a particular time; these ideas pertain to relationships, kids, career success, financial status, or talent. But we can also invent on a smaller scale…we picture ourselves acquiring an impressive fashion sense, a desired weight, a type of friend, even developing a certain confidence at parties... Over the years, this imaginary universe becomes alarmingly rigid, as we add fantasy after fantasy to it.

Then, the aforementioned DEADLINE arrives, and the horrible realization slowly dawns: I AM NOT THAT PERSON. This can be surprising and devastating—and irritating, due to all of the surrounding edits that need to occur. What does this mean about everything else? It all has to be altered somehow. And fundamentally, who am I, if not the person I always planned to BE?

We react to this. Juke. Perhaps we give up completely. Or lean into it harder, demanding it suddenly. The result could be feeling stuck in the past, a deep confusion and sadness, or a furious blame towards the world that did not provide the opportunities for those childhood dreams to manifest.

It’s a common problem. We can help.

Therapy can be the perfect space in which to process these hardened hopes and infuse them with both newness and the truth of your present moment. We would do this kindly, in context, meaning that it’s first crucially important to explore where those ideas come from, why they are so important to you, and/or if they are a form of coping mechanism-protecting you from exiled pain. They would be cared for and addressed with compassion but with the gentle acknowledgement that they may be blocking your way. And then, when it’s sussed out and understood, the next phase would include acceptance of where you are now. And finally, with purpose, we set new intentions and goals that are more current, fresh, and exciting. 

This work is collaborative, non-judgmental, and motivational. It is also, possibly, grief-based. You may feel emotional about the loss of these personal promises. Of course the idea is to shed them in order to make room for who you truly are, so much more than your teenage self could have imagined. But that letting go can be excruciating. If this aspect of the work resonates with you, I encourage you to contact our associate Meagan Blatter APCC, who specializes in all forms of grief and loss. https://www.meaganbtherapy.com

If you are struggling with this in the context of a relationship, check out Sarah Iaccarino, AMFT: https://www.themodernlovecounselor.com.

And if you are looking for someone who can provide this type of treatment through an LGBTQ+ lens, reach out to Jess Perez, AMFT: https://www.jesspereztherapy.com.

And to my son, yes, I see why you’d like to be a wolf. A wolf is strong, intelligent, and loyal, an understandable object of your aspiration. I look forward to many opportunities to help you see those qualities already in you.

Keep howling, kid.