How Can I ‘Be Myself’ If I Don’t Know Who That Is?

Sep 30th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Sharing Hope

by Christina Enevoldsen

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action.  I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” Michelangelo

It’s completely fascinating to me to consider how Michelangelo created.  The sculptor imagined the finished work before he lifted the chisel to the stone.  He didn’t see the marble block; he saw the image underneath. He recognized what it was, and then simply removed what it was not.

I’m no Michelangelo, but I am creating a masterpiece—or rather, revealing one.  My childhood sexual abuse encased me in a false identity and covered me in a shroud of lies. My false self wasn’t stone, but it imprisoned me just the same. My healing process is the chiseling away at the falsehoods to free my true self.   

The trouble is that I’ve never had the clarity of Michelangelo.  The only Christina I’ve ever known was the one who adapted to the abuse.  The lies entrapped me for so long that I felt I didn’t exist apart from them.  How could I have a vision for someone I’ve never seen?  That was my question when I began my healing. I didn’t know the answer but I was determined to rescue my true image just as the great artist rescued his beauties from the stone. 

The lies were layered. First, the abuse told me lies about myself and then I told other lies about myself to cover up the first lies.  The lies from the abuse told me I was only good for sex, that I was somehow flawed as a person, too dirty and used for someone to love me.  I wasn’t aware that it was the abuse that told me that.  I thought I was abused because those things were already true.  I thought I was inherently worthless so I deserved to be passed around. 

I reacted to those lies by trying to ‘prove’ they weren’t true.  I knew they were—they were true to me—but I was hoping people would be fooled by my facade. One of my false selves was the “hard worker”.  I projected an image of responsibility, maturity, and dependability.  It was my uniform that informed people that they needed to keep me around because I was useful. The more shame I felt and the more I thought my masks were ‘slipping’, the more I asserted them. They became hardened around me.  I didn’t know where they stopped and I began. 

As I recognized that I was misinformed about my value, I shed the lies.  The truth is that I am valuable because I exist.  My value isn’t affected by what happened to me.  I didn’t do those things; they were done to me and it was not a reflection on me.  It wasn’t because I was bad.  It was because my abusers were bad.  I don’t have anything to conceal anymore because I’m wonderfully made. 

I thought I needed to perceive who I was supposed to be before I could make myself into that image.  The truth is that I don’t need to see or ‘make’ myself into anything.  I am who I am.  I was so used to contorting myself into certain roles that I thought I would ‘achieve’ the real me the same way.  All I’ve really needed to do is remove the lies.  Then the truth is revealed. 

The real me is emerging.  I’m learning more about myself every day and the sense of wonder and excitement and expectation fill me.  The real me is coming out without even really thinking about it.  It’s natural and unrehearsed.  It’s effortless.  As I heal and the masks fall off, the genuine Christina is revealed.  She’s been there all along.

It’s ironic that I thought I’d prove my value by covering myself up, yet a work of art can only be appreciated when it can be seen.  The healing process is referred to as recovery, but I’ve been covered up long enough and I don’t want to be re-covered.  Maybe it’s more accurate to call this my uncovery—the grand unveiling of this masterpiece.  BEAUTIFUL!

Related Posts:
Getting Real: Can Our Survival Roles Help Us Find Our True Selves?
My Fear of Being Alone
The Real Problem With Being Fake

Christina Enevoldsen

I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. My passion is exploring new ways to express my empowered new life. I’ve recently discovered the joy of waterslides, the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss” and hosting princess tea parties for my granddaughters. My husband and I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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  1. Beautiful! I love that – “uncovery” – I can relate! Thanks!

  2. Thank you so much Christina, this is exactly how I am feeling right now. As my wonderful therapist says right now I have a huge gaping wound and that wound needs to heal until only a small scar remains. again THANK YOU .

  3. Thanks, Belinda!

    Terri, I’m glad you could relate. I think it’s exciting to see the process unfolding with its little victories. It’s so worth all the pain! Thanks for commenting. Hugs, Christina

  4. This is fantastic Christina!
    I love it~ UNCOVERY! absoloutly! That is a great discription of how our recovery goes. As we recover ourselves, we uncover ourselves!
    Great post!
    Hugs, Darlene

  5. Beautiful post. Christina, you spoke the words right out of my heart…Thank you.

  6. Darlene, when I first thought about the concept of ‘uncovery’ I thought I’d keep it to myself until you encouraged me to actually write about it. Today, I just made up another word that was inspired by your blog and I got a little giggle from that. I think it’s more ‘getting out of the box’. I’m glad we’re friends! Hugs, Christina

    Amrita, I love that phrase, “you spoke the words right out of my heart.” That’s beautiful! I’m happy to hear you could identify with it. Thanks for commenting! Christina

  7. I hope to someday know what it is like to UN cover someday find who she is .. Thank you for sharing this …

  8. Christina,

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have never known who or what I was inside that case of lies either, and learning and finding out is kind of scary, but its definitely good. Im glad you are learning and growing too and maybe one day we will look back and see that we are who we thought we would be all along.

  9. Amira,
    Yes, I’m finding that the real me is very familiar, as though I’ve known all along who I really am and just didn’t recognize that all these years. And even better– I’m finding that I really love and enjoy the real me! I love this journey!
    Hugs to you, Christina

  10. I feel like this. like I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I want. I’ve been making it up all along and since my crutch has been to NOT remember, even while something is happening, it’s hard to want to be here completely to find out what I might want. It’s like I don’t believe it’s possible. I had a dream about standing on a bridge and someone capsize into raging white water, I just managed to haul them out before they were carried off. It was a little girl, she was dead and I tried to resuscitate but she kept pushing my hand away. I couldn’t figure it out, if she was dead how comes she could do this. I left her and walked away, and was talking to someone when the lady I was talking to looked behind me, and there was this little girl soaking wet standing there. Only it was me when I was about six years old… it’s like I don’t want to exist and there’s a big part of me like that. I would rather be sleeping, or unconscious, life is too painful. What a difficult thing to realise. I only had this dream last night and then I read your post. It relates because I don’t remember my childhood up till I was nine, and now things are coming back. I’m 32

  11. Louise,
    But your six year old self GOT UP!!!! She’s got the will to live and the strength to go on. She survived hell and she choose to keep fighting for life. That little girl was you. You have the strength and the will to keep fighting for life. You may not be aware of it and you may not exactly know how to access it right now, but it’s there. It’s not something you have to put on or strain to make up. You ARE strong. You ARE a fighter. That’s just the truth!

    You may be looking at all the results of the abuse and see how weakened you’ve become, but some people wouldn’t have lived through what you’ve lived through. And some would have given up somewhere along the way, but that’s not who you are. You’re a survivor and I’m sure you’ll find a way through this just like you found a way through the abuse. I believe in you!
    Hugs, Christina

  12. Thanks Christina for writing these things. You’re one of the few people I’ve come across with this sort of memory black out and revealing that I’m in right now. For me it’s a bit like standing on a permanently rocking boat in a storm, trying to keep the wheel straight. I do feel weakened, I think that’s where my despair comes from but you’re right I do keep getting up, I keep rising. The results of the abuse and trauma are surmountable if I have woken up in the day and managed to enjoy myself. If I can set myself up in a healthy way. I really appreciate the encouragement thank you

  13. Louise,
    There are many, many, many survivors who have the same issues with repressed memories that we do and who have filled in the ‘gaps’ with a fantasy life, so please know that you are definitely not alone in that.
    For me, just knowing that I’ve done that and seeing a little corner of truth start to peak through made a big difference. It’s getting easier and easier to recognize the truth of my past and face it. It’s painful, but it’s also comforting at the same time because it’s my real life instead of the one I thought I had. There’s something good and solid and comforting about the truth.
    Hugs, Christina

  14. I reread this and your comments again; you wrote ‘How could I have a vision for someone I’ve never seen?’
    I feel like I stopped my whole life because I kept trying to have a vision like this, and built up ‘hard worker’ persona but she kept failing. She’d work furiously then collapse and eventually I stopped because I saw I couldn’t do it any more.I was always trying to ‘become’ something I wasn’t – my false self did that to replace what wasn’t there – so I ‘wanted’ to become an instructor or a waitress or a horse handler or whatever it was – to ‘fit’ the needs of my employers, or how I thought I ought to fit at the time.

    It’s like because we had already died inside we had to make up the rest of our lives like an actor. I think if I can identify the results I’d like to have at the end of healing then this would help. Like not to dissociate, not to be ‘not there’, not to panic when nothing’s wrong, not to take things so personally, not to always try and meet others needs by ‘becoming’ what I think they want me to, it’s exhausting. What would that look like for those things not to be there, for me to be there realized as myself and able to say what I want to say, or not say anything if I don’t want to; and also I often speak as if I expect to not be heard and that’s normally what happens.

    I have just had a visitor and I realised all the same stressors arose – I didn’t feel like could express myself and I was split off. I also went out for dinner and I drank a lot and said little, I didn’t want to but I just participated fully – it was easier as the alcohol seemed to take the edge of my separateness off, although I still felt like the elephant in the room.

  15. Louise,
    You wrote; “I was always trying to ‘become’ something I wasn’t – my false self did that to replace what wasn’t there” I know it feels like there’s nothing there, but there actually is a solid person under all the masks and roles. All of the disconnecting that we do to cope makes us feel so fragmented and unreal, but we are solid and real. It takes time to reconnect and to recognize that, but every time you connect to your experiences through your senses, you’re making progress. Every lie you expose that came from the abuse, you feel more whole. You’re doing great– keep going!
    Hugs, Christina

  16. all my life since an early age i have been abused sexually mentally and physically i too have put up “masks’ to protect myself i even went as far as becoming a working girl. Thank god i got out off that. my last rape was 5 years ago when i was 21. i am slowly working at revealing the true self , a bright intelligent woman that i am. All my life when i went to my mother for help after each episode she informed that it was cause ppl were trying to bring me down to their level ie the tall poppy symdrome. So i have always pretended to be dumb and stupid which caused more problems. Its not easy rediscovering the real me but i will get there.

  17. Hailes,
    That’s so good to hear that you’re working on revealing your true self and that you know those other roles and masks aren’t you. I’m glad you shared about your mother’s explanation for why those things happened to you and how they affected you. Wow, I can really see how you would adapt by pretending to be less great than you are. Thank you for sharing!

  18. I can hardly type through the tears!

    For the past few weeks, I have been counting down the days until my screening appointment with the psychological therapies team and I’m petrified! It’s this Wednesday and I have no idea what to expect (a lot of questions I suppose, but what questions?). 10 years ago, I had a pretty disastrous experience with counselling and I have been using that experience as the reason I am so scared to go through counselling again.

    Reading this, I recognised the real reason I am afraid. I’m afraid of letting go of my lies, dropping my many masks, hell, I don’t even know what’s a lie and what’s the truth anymore, or if there’s any truth left in me. I’m embarrassingly aware of one or two of the lies – not just told to myself, but also to others – and I’ve lived them for so long, I don’t know how to give them up. I don’t know what truths the removal of the lies and masks will uncover and I’m really scared that the people who love and care about me won’t like the truth.

    In Christine’s words, I reacted to those lies by trying to ‘prove’ they weren’t true. I knew they were—they were true to me—but I was hoping people would be fooled by my facade. I KNOW people have been fooled by my facade, my husband, my sister, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my staff, my customers (oh, and me). They are all I have, what am I if not a sum total of my lies? And why should these people still love me, care about me, have respect for me, when they find out our entire relationship has been built on lies?

    Louise really got me blubbering with “it’s like I don’t want to exist and there’s a big part of me like that. I would rather be sleeping, or unconscious, life is too painful. What a difficult thing to realise. I only had this dream last night and then I read your post. It relates because I don’t remember my childhood up till I was nine, and now things are coming back. I’m 32”.

    This post relates to me so much too. My sexual abuse started when I was a toddler and continued until I was in my early teens to be replaced by psychological abuse, rape and three abusive relationships. At 28 I met my husband and it took another 3 years for me to consciously acknowledge some of what happened to me. Now, 10 years later, most of it is still in the fog and I’m quite happy for it to stay there at least a while longer – I’m having a hard enough time dealing with what has come back and still don’t remember anything concrete about my childhood until around the age of 14. Even after that, there are periods in my life which are a complete blank. I have learnt to dissociate to the point that I ceased to exist on the emotional and intellectual planes – there in body, most certainly not in spirit or mind. Someone else was always there in my stead and I agree completely with Louise, that really is exhausting!

    Thank you so much for letting me pour my heart out here, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the last few weeks without all of you, your stories, your encouragement and most of all, your understanding and empathy. I am so happy to no longer feel alone on my journey, though devastated that there are so many of us. Hugs to you all

  19. Hurt Again,
    I can very much relate to your fears that the people close to you will reject you when the lies are removed and the truth is revealed. One of the biggest rewards in all of this has been that I’ve been so relieved to find that I am loved for myself—truly loved. All the lies acted as a kind of buffer that kept the love of others from getting through. I reasoned that even if they loved me, they didn’t know the real me, so I could never trust their love. Getting to know the real me has led to being loved by me and by others and that’s so freeing.
    Keep moving forward. You are lovable and others will see that.

  20. This is awesome!! Thank you soooo much, Christina 🙂 Bless you!!

  21. I guess it’s time to remove more lies and continue to face truth. Find me.

  22. It’s worth it, Genesis!

  23. I can so relate to this, uncovering my real self is my goal now.. all the negative judgements, abuse etc. defined me for so long, and I wasn’t allowed to be “myself”..only existed to help others, codependency all my life. Now its time for ME, and I have to learn all about this new self, that was waiting in there all the time. Its hard but I am determined to do it! Thanks for sharing Christina!

  24. Brenda, that’s fantastic!

  25. I really like the term “uncovering’ instead of recovering – i think its much more appropriate. i am getting to the root of the self hatred that i have carried for 48 years. I am uncovering the lies and exposing them and discovering who i really am. I still dont know what its like to live without pain every day. I carry pain in my heart every day from all the abuse and neglect. Much of it was at such a young age i dont remember a lot of it. My mother had a complete nervous breakdown when i was 3 and used to stare at the walls for hours at a time. This was before any of the abuse started. I am like an iceberg that is slowly melting and the melting are the tears i cry every day. The sexual part of me is completely broken. I have no idea what a normal sex life is or what it looks like. I am hoping that by discovering the real me and by continuing to reject the lies that as i learn to like and love myself more, that the sexual part of me that has been broken for so long will also begin to heal.

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