Loss of identity

Loss of identity

Do you find yourself wondering what has happened to your old self?

Have you lost connection with who you are? Do you feel lost and without any direction?

There is a loss that seems to be prevalent in our society. It is the loss of identity.
When we talk about losses, many people assume we are only referring to the death of a loved one. However, there are other real losses that are not recognized or acknowledged. The loss of identity is one of them.


For the last year and a half, I have been traveling nationwide presenting the seminar Transforming Grief and Loss, for mental health professionals. In every single seminar, the loss of identity comes up as a frequent loss among adults and adolescents. How does this happen? How do you lose your sense of self?  It may happen gradually or abruptly. In this article, we will explore both and will find ways to make that re-connection, as the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.
What is this word called identity?
It is the set of characteristics and beliefs that define you; that makes you who you are. We live in a society where the first question people ask when we are introduced to someone is: What do you do? But, what we do may not be who we are. Or is it? If what you do professionally defines who you are, then, that is your identity. What happens if you lose your job or if you retire? How do you define self? How do you know you are suffering the loss of identity?

Let’s explore these examples:
Loss of identity is when a man faces a financial crisis and needs to sell his fancy house and move to a small apartment. He always took pride in being recognized as the owner of the “most beautiful house in the block.” Now, he may avoid saying where he lives because he had identified himself as being the owner of the house. Now he feels worthless.
Loss of identity is when a wife feels complete only when she is with her husband and only does what he allows her to do, but tells her friends her husband allows her to be herself. Loss of identity is when there are no boundaries between who “she is” and who her husband wants her to be. It is when a marriage instead of being 11 is 1+1=2.
Loss of Identity when talking about the loss of a loved one, is when the person has identified themselves as the spouse of someone. When they become a widow or a widower, who are they? The same may happen with divorce. When one is no longer a couple it can also produce a sense of losing one’s identity.

One of the losses I want to bring to our attention is the loss of homeland, which can be experienced by many immigrants, as they need to start a new life in a foreign country. The following extract is taken from my book Counseling Hispanics through Loss, Grief, and Bereavement. A Guide to Mental Health Professionals (pp 113-114):
The way the members of a culture identify it has an impact on how they perceive the world and how they behave…As Thomas and Schwarzbaum (2006) observed, “Personal identity is cultural identity. Culture is a powerful organizer of people’s lives. How we view ourselves and who we are as individuals, cannot be separated from when, where, and how we grew up” (p. 1)

In a previous newsletter, I asked you to answer the question “Who I Am?” It is an exercise I do with most of my clients as it is extremely insightful. When we are facing a change or a loss in our lives, we may ask ourselves that question. Keep in mind that if you depend on external factors-what you do-what you have-who is next to you-who accepts you-who rejects you-how many awards you have- you may be depending on these factors to create your identity.

However, you create your identity as you connect with your essence and live according to your values, without depending on another person or role to define who you are. If who you are depends on the person you are with, you have lost your uniqueness, which is your essence.

In our guided meditation classes held at The Center for Transforming Lives, we focus in making that connection with our inner self; with our essence.
Why do you think the mindfulness movement is so powerful? Because as a society we have lost that connection and we are hungry for it. You may be grieving your loss of self. However, you can re-define who you are. It may be challenging and take some effort.

However, you make the choice.

Do you want to continue grieving for who you were or make that shift and re-connect with who you are from the inside out?

Are you ready to make the choice?

I hope you do, as nobody can do it for you.

Remember, your life has meaning.


Ligia M. Houben