How do you ‘lose’ your identity?

Losing your identity can be a long process that occurs over a period of months or years, but can also happen suddenly following a major life event or trauma. Loss of identity can follow various life changes personally and professionally in the workplace. Loss of a job or profession, loss of a significant loved one, such as a child, parent, or spouse. Loss leaves gaps, empty spaces. Such lossess can trigger increased levels of anxiety, low self-worth, depression, isolation and feeling alone, all of which impact on our ability to maintain relationships with other people.

Identity can also be lost when merging into a relationship that becomes imbalanced. A healthy relationship offers both partners the opportunity to connect with one another without cutting off the outside world. It promotes reciprocation in respecting the other and maintaining an individual sense of self. We may lose some identity, even in the most healthy of relationships, as we try to adjust our behaviours, and accommodate our partners, to create a dynamic that works for the relationship. There may be some changes in our levels of independence as we lean on our partners or have certain expectations, a level of co-dependency may occur. However, in abusive relationships this change could be more obvious, resulting in one partner dominating the other and removing choice, control and independence causing a total loss of who you are. This can often be seen in families where domestic abuse has become ‘normalised’ via systematic conditioning over time.

Often when we lose our identity and sense of who we are, we look to others for our sense of self-worth needing external validation and fulfilment. We feel the need to seek reassurance from others and what they think of us shapes how we view ourselves. We glean our self esteem, confidence and self worth from others based on how they percieve us according to factors like how we dress, our physical appearance and financial status. We seek praise from others to feel OK about ourselves – but in reality, our emotional well-being depends on how we feel about ourselves. We are the only ones that count but often dont realise it. It is what we think about ourselves that is the key, without being influenced by others. At the core of ourselves do we like, accept, value and respect who we are and what we stand for? If not why?

Our self worth or– our ‘identity’ – should be informed by our own experiences of self and not from what others think about us. Too often we worry about others judging us and we put way too much emphasis on how we look, or behave in order to ‘fit in’ be accepted and be liked. What we forget is that others have their own stuff going on too. Each person is waging a war with their own selves and could be projecting onto others their own insecurities. Hence being measured  by others we often fall short of their requirements and expectations, so what do we do? We act, we become the big pretenders, create an illusion of self that seems more acceptable -but wearing this mask can become exhausting. Showing the world our ‘best-self’, socially when really inside, we may be feeling very different can contradict our emotional selves. We hide the real ‘me’ underneath, afraid of rejection or of not being good enough if we show our true selves. It can become problematic when this is happening all the time, when we are more our ‘created selves, than our genuine selves’.

It can divide the psyche causing incongruence between what we say, what we do and how we think, such contradictions can lead to personal anxiety and unhappiness. Our dependency on external validation prevents our true selves from being out there, and impacts on our personal growth, as well as the opportunity for happiness. Our life experiences shape who we have become and often looking at the past we can track our life changes and see what led us to who we are today. For example a person who was bullied in childhood and had abusive parents may suffer with low self esteem into adulthood if issues were left unresolved. Parental neglect, abuse and trauma from childhood will impact on how we view ourselves and in turn how we interact with others. Such feelings may be re-triggered by major life events, or a change in life circumstances. For instance a person who was picked on at school and has low self confidence, finds himself in adulthood being bullied by their manager at work , this could trigger an emotional response and they may regress back to that childhood state of being fearful and anxious as the associated feelings become overwhelming.

This longing for social acceptance and reassurance from others; to be noticed, to be loved, to be wanted and needed, to be cared about. What if we could offer all of those things to ourselves? How amazing would that be? To be ok as ourselves and not afraid of showing others who we really are. It is a challenge but with the right support, determination and an open outlook such things can be achieved. It all begins with trust, if you can learn to trust in yourself, listen to yourself, have self compassion, and value who you are then the greatest love of all can be achieved- in Whitney Houstons words “the greatest love of all, is learning to love yourself”

I will end this article with my favourite lyrics from Whitney Houston’s song ‘The Greatest Love of All’ for you to reflect on….

“I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all”