Mental Health Expert’s Tip of the Month – July

Identity Disorientation and How to Avoid It!

The first year of college is one of the first big transitions on the journey to adulthood. You will be living on your own for the first time and making important choices about your life and your future. That first year away from home will no doubt be challenging in many ways and losing your bearings and your sense of self can be one of them.
Identity Disorientation is a term I’ve given to the phenomenon that happens to many college freshmen when they experience a loss of the previously acquired sense of self.

When you are in high school, you are constantly reminded of who you are by your parents and siblings, peers, teammates, teachers, coaches, family friends and various other people in your life. They know you as the flutist, the runner, the straight-A student, and the younger brother of Johnny etc. Even if you don’t have a solid understanding of the core of who you are yet, you have enough input from your environment to give you a sense of self.

All at once, you arrive at college and NONE of those mirrors are there in front of your face anymore, reminding you of the person you are supposed to be. And, no one at your new school knows a single thing about you. It is up to you to know yourself, introduce yourself and teach people who you are. If you’ve been in the same school district your whole life, you may never have even had to make a new friend because you’ve been in school with the same kids since kindergarten. Even if you are seasoned at making new friends because your family moved a lot you are not immune from this phenomenon.

Identity disorientation can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are as follows:

Depression: loss of interest or pleasure, irritability, feeling sad or empty, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), difficulty concentrating and indecisiveness.
Anxiety: racing thoughts, panic attacks, irrational fear and worry, difficulty concentrating and sleeping

In addition to anxiety and depression, you may also feel more insecure than what is normal for you, because it’s scary and nerve wracking and the floor has just fallen out from under you. And when this is happening, because you are disoriented, you may be prone to making poor choices for yourself by drinking too much, putting yourself in precarious situations, and struggling with relationships.

You can prevent experiencing Identity Disorientation by spending the rest of your time this summer considering the following:

• Who am I without all the activities that I do? I’m more than a basketball player, I have more to offer the world than my dribbling skills…
• How do I find things in common with people besides my activities?

• How do I share myself with acquaintances? How much do I share and how quickly do I share it?
• Do I know how to make friends and if I do, am I being authentic and genuine or am I putting on a façade?
• How do I know who to trust?
• Can I trust myself to make good choices that honor my being, my values and what is important to me?
• How can I keep myself safe while still trying new and different experiences?
• When I meet new people from all over the country and even around the world, will I be able to feel confident and secure?
• Who are my supports? Who can I call if I start to feel lost and confused- disoriented? Where is my school’s counseling center and how do I make an appointment?

I can’t possible cover all the self -exploration questions for you to consider before going away this fall. However, the ones I’ve started listing above will help you to uncover more of your own as you begin to answer them. The most important tool you have in preventing ID Disorientation is right there within you. Spend the rest of the summer TRULY getting to know you so when you arrive on campus, you will feel more confident and secure in yourself and will improve your chances of an easier transition into your college life.

~Hilary Silver LCSW
Mental Health Expert, Campus Calm

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