“I Feel Like I Don’t Exist” (Reasons Why + What To Do)

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To feel like you don’t exist can be a distressing experience.

You may feel as though life is moving around you while you are stuck in place.

On the other hand, it could be that nothing feels real, as though you are never quite a part of reality.

The common thread between these two things is that you have persistent feelings that you aren’t real. That mental health concern should be addressed with a professional to ensure it is not the result of mental illness or trauma.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

Still, the feeling of not existing may not be rooted in a mental health concern. Sometimes, a person may feel as though they don’t exist because of how others treat them.

For example, intense loneliness can cause a person to question whether or not they are even there. They may find that no one really listens to them, their thoughts or feelings aren’t considered, or they may not socialize much, if at all. That kind of loneliness can significantly impact how a person perceives and interacts with the world. But, sadly, some people just aren’t fortunate enough to have someone in their life to even have a five-minute conversation with. So, the world just turns, and they are left standing there alone.

What causes the feeling of not existing? How can you address those causes? Why do you feel disconnected from existence? When is it time to seek help? Let’s try to find some answers.

Existential Crises

Life is strange and confusing at times. We simply have no control over so much constantly going on. It flows, twists, and turns around us, piling responsibilities and expectations at our feet until we drown in them.

There is the past that haunts you, the present of now, and a future that may seem uncertain. On top of that, we’re expected to work through school, build and maintain relationships, find a career, and build the kind of life we want.

Society pushes you in different directions. So, what are you going to do for money? Why don’t you buy this shiny new thing? Life is precious! Don’t waste it! But at the same time, grind out 60 hours of work per week to make ends meet, pay school loans, and attempt to scrape your way to a better future.

Why? What is this all for? What is this existence for?

Welcome to your existential crisis.

That disconnect can leave you in turmoil. It’s hard to reconcile what people tell you life should be versus what society often demands your life be.

After all, what happens when someone decides they just don’t want to be a part of life? So, they pick up and head off into the streets or try to find life in some remote area where they may find like-minded souls. This kind of thing was far more popular decades ago. However, some people still do it rather than deal with all the stress and responsibilities of living the “right” kind of life based on social expectations.

The major disconnect in this situation often involves being brought out of alignment with your authentic self. Your authentic self is your core part that helps define what you like, don’t like, desire, and hope for.

A good example is going to work. When you go to work, there is typically a social expectation to be friendly, polite, and helpful with the other people you are working with. If you work with customers, you may need to put on your best customer service persona to ensure these people are being taken care of properly.

Is that who you really are? It might be! But for a lot of people, it’s not. It’s an inauthentic mask we put on to meet the social expectations of employment. For some, that expectation can be incredibly exhausting. Introverts and people with mental health concerns like depression and anxiety may find themselves drained after work.

But what about outside of work? What if you aren’t living authentically? What if you are in a relationship where you can’t be free to be yourself? What if you are surrounded by family members who chastise you and make you feel bad about who you are? What if you’ve been constantly punished or ostracized for being who you are, even if your actions haven’t hurt anyone?

Well, that’s a lonely experience and life. And if you spend enough time in that mental space, it can start to dramatically affect how you perceive yourself and the world. You may not even feel like you’re a part of this world anymore.

What’s the solution?

This common feeling isn’t necessarily a mental health concern. Life is hard to figure out. There are no concrete answers to the really big questions of existence. In fact, most answers to those big questions depend entirely on the person asking them. What’s right for you may not be right for me, and vice versa. But there is good news!

The good news is that philosophies and religions have been trying to answer these questions for thousands of years! That means there is a universe of material for you to read, consider, and try to find some answers that make sense to you so you can live a more authentic life. It’s certainly not easy for anyone, but it’s a worthwhile path to walk if you feel detached from reality.

You may also find that you need to make changes in your life to better embrace your authentic self. For example, you may have to find new social circles if you’re surrounded by people who make you feel alone and disconnected. If you’re alone, you may need to find some activities to help you connect with people, make friends, and develop relationships.

Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder

A person experiencing depersonalization-derealization disorder will typically feel like they are observing themselves outside their body. They may also feel as though the things around them aren’t real. Some people experience a combination of these two primary symptoms.

The person may feel like they are living in a dream or floating in existence. These experiences may feel extremely disturbing and cause distress and worry.

These feelings can be so severe that they interfere with a person’s ability to live their life, work, or maintain their relationships.

Just about everyone will experience these kinds of feelings from time to time. That’s normal. The feelings may be disordered if they are recurring and interfere with your ability to conduct your life. It won’t just be a one-off or rare occurrence.

This disorder is more common in people with traumatic experiences or PTSD.

Derealization and depersonalization are two different things with different sets of symptoms.

Symptoms of Derealization

– Distortions in time. Recent events may feel as though they happened in the distant past.

– Distortions of the size, shape, and distance of objects.

– Feeling emotionally disconnected and isolated from other people.

– Surroundings may appear blurry, colorless, artificial, or distorted.

– Heightened clarity and awareness of one’s surroundings.

– Feeling detached from reality, as though you’re in a dream or movie.

Symptoms of Depersonalization

– Feeling as though you are not in control of your movements or speech.

– Feeling like a robot.

– Physical and emotional numbness to sensations and the world around you.

– The sense that your body or extremities are distorted, shrunken, or larger; or that your head is wrapped in cotton.

– Feeling like your memories may not be your own. Lacking emotion or emotional connection to your memories.

– Feeling as though you’re just an observer of yourself rather than having a sense of self. e.g., floating around and watching yourself.

Everyone experiences these emotions and sensations once in a while. But it’s time to seek professional help if these recurring issues don’t go away, are disturbing or emotionally disruptive, or otherwise disrupt your life, relationships, and ability to work.

It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to understand and address feelings of not existing.

Self-Management Tools For Depersonalization And Derealization

Though you will need professional help to work through these problems, there are some self-management tools that can help you.

1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings.

Depersonalization and derealization are thought to be coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. They may be your brain responding to a situation it is interpreting as dangerous, so it’s trying to prevent itself from being harmed.

2. Breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises can help to ground you back into the present. A simple technique is called box-breathing. Simply, you inhale for four seconds, hold it in for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, don’t inhale for four seconds, and repeat.

In doing so, you focus on your breath and the counting of the seconds. That may help to bring you back to the present moment. Breathing exercises may also help with intrusive thoughts that may come with anxiety or PTSD.

3. Distract yourself.

Depersonalization and derealization often get worse the more you think about them. Therefore, distraction is one way to try to lessen the amount of focus you put on them. Try playing a game, watching some lighthearted videos, reading a book, or listening to music to distract your mind from focusing on the negative things.

4. Reduce your stress.

Reducing your stress is an important part of mental health management. Try to eat balanced meals, drink water, and get adequate sleep. Exercise can help with mental and mood regulation, which can help prevent episodes of depersonalization and derealization.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

The condition known as a personality disorder is generally a collection of disorders characterized by harmful, enduring behaviors that cause suffering to the person with one and the people around them.

An avoidant personality disorder is a disorder most characterized by fear and nervousness. People who live with avoidant personality disorder are highly sensitive to the judgments of others and experience chronic feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness. Though they yearn for social interaction and to be with others, they avoid socialization so that they won’t be negatively judged.

Though the exact causes of avoidant personality disorder aren’t known, its development is often associated with genetic and environmental factors. Childhood environmental factors, like peer and parental rejection, can leave a lasting impression on the child’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem that they carry into adulthood. As a result, people with this disorder fear rejection so strongly that they choose isolation over the risk of rejection.

A person with an avoidant personality disorder may feel like they don’t exist because of the social isolation and distance that this disorder creates. As a result, they may find it difficult to connect with other people or experience emotions that would provide the kind of fulfillment that socialization typically would. Thus, the person may have felt that they are distant, isolated, and do not exist properly.

Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder

– They rarely try new things or take chances.

– They see themselves as inadequate and inferior. They have a poor self-image.

– They are easily hurt by disapproval and criticism. They are oversensitive.

– They may appear awkward, shy, or embarrassed in social situations out of fear of doing something wrong or experiencing embarrassment.

– They experience extreme fear and nervousness in social situations, causing them to avoid jobs and activities that involve socialization.

– They tend to exaggerate problems.

On seeking help…

Disordered issues are far too complicated to address through self-help. They often reach back through a person’s history into traumatic experiences from as far back as childhood.

However, these disorders, and many others, can be treated and made smaller with the help of a certified mental health professional.

Therapy can do wonders for helping you to reclaim yourself, build the life you want, and develop healthy relationships.

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you if you feel like you don’t exist. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

Online therapy is actually a good option for many people. It’s more convenient than in-person therapy and is more affordable in a lot of cases.

And you get access to the same level of qualified and experienced professional.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspectives from the side of the mental health consumer. Jack has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.