Have you got a case of a lost identity?
Bianca* contacted me because she didn’t know who she was anymore:
‘I’ve lost my identity. My sense of self. I feel completely confused and exhausted. I try to take up hobbies but I just can’t find my ‘thing’. My life has become so wrapped up in minutiae that there’s no joy anymore.
I’ve wanted to connect with old friends or spend time with new ones, but I find myself making excuses when the time actually comes to make contact. I literally have the phone in my hand when I suddenly find six chores that ‘have’ to be done.
I don’t know who I am anymore, or even what I enjoy. It’s like I went out in 2013 and haven’t come home. I keep looking for my ‘tribe’ but I just don’t seem to fit in anywhere. I feel sad and worried but I don’t know what to do about it.
Where Am I? Where’s my lost identity?’
Does Bianca’s story sound familiar to you?
At certain pivotal times in our lives it is common to be hit with a severe case of the ‘Who Am I’s?’
A major problem is that we aren’t all hit at the same time and for the same reasons, which can add to a sense of isolation.
- Some people find connection and meaning through parenthood and when their kids are little is the most joyous time of their lives. Others find the first years of parenthood uber-challenging. They struggle in their relationships (new and old) and don’t enjoy the repetition of parenting toddlers.
- Sometimes a separation or divorce creates a sense of identity loss, especially later in life. Who are they without being the partner of this person (even if it wasn’t a great relationship)?
- Perhaps it’s simply age and stage of life. Some folks find themselves winding back on the partying or the socialising in their mid-30’s. That might be because work is incredibly consuming or friendships have changed or their just simply feeling more tired and less inclined to be a victim of FOMO. They would like to develop new interests, but don’t know where to begin.
If we begin to investigate your lost identity, let’s lay the groundwork by asking the RIGHT questions.
And start finding your way back to you.
1) A sense of identity is connected to a sense of meaning. A feeling of ‘I know my place in this world’.
- What is the Meaning-Making you used to attach to areas of your life when you felt you had a stronger identity?
- What mattered to you? (go on, write stuff down)
- Can you reconnect with what matters without doing all the same things, or has what matters changed? If it’s changed, then perhaps you’re yearning for something that no longer is actually important to you.
- Is it possible to reconnect with ‘you’ by finding new things in alignment with what is important to you AND giving yourself some serious credit for the things you already are doing?
2) Your sense of identity can be impacted heavily by any sort of oppression or violence or a significant loss.
Have you been subjected to any kind of ‘wearing down’ of your ‘youness’:
- Through a relationship or workplace bullying or any environment that had a toxicity injection?
- Did you lose someone and the shock caused you to shut down?
- What is your sense of how you might have continued to travel had that impact not got in your way?
- Can you enact some loving kindness to yourself about that impact (the same as you would be to a friend)?
- Is there a way to acknowledge, ritualise, and gently move away from that impact?
- Are there ways that you can stand up for others who have been through the same thing (even if it’s anonymously online)?
3) A belief of unworthiness can be lurking behind the lost identity.
- Do you find it extremely challenging to connect with people (new and old)?
- Do you find yourself saying ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother them’ or fearing rejection?
- What would it FEEL like to be free of that critical voice- who would you call or email or walk up to in an unfamiliar environment? Embrace that feeling in your imagination.
- How could that [hoped for] connection give you some sense of yourself: why would that connection be important to you?
4) Life is a continuous rush towards the ‘next thing’.
- Life changes. It’s surprising how we change in so many ways we would not have expected. The discomfort and shock of looking at ourselves in the mirror and not recognising the person can have us hiding in a hole and berating ourselves; ignoring it and pushing on in ‘robot mode’; or trying a million things in order to ‘find’ our thing immediately and get rid of that feeling. But just STOP for a moment. Has there been time for the not-knowing?
- What is it like to genuinely sit with the not-knowing?
- Is it ok or not ok to ‘not-know’?
- What would it be like to really get on board and say out loud in the mirror ‘I don’t know yet and that is just fine!’… Go on, give it some practice.
5) Losing touch with your values.
- The way we live in alignment with our values often changes over time, but the core values tend to stay relatively similar. When we live far away from our values, we can find ourselves dreadfully unhappy and confused. Is there something about how my life is that is totally at odds with what I believe in?
- What would it take for me to make even a small change around the way I am living that is a step closer to my values?
- How will I know and acknowledge myself when I have taken a step?
An example might be that you used to be a grassroots activist, pounding the pavement every weekend and now you don’t have the energy to keep it up. So you’re beating yourself up because you’re not the same anymore- as though you no longer care.
If you look inside and find that you DO still care, you can ask yourself: what can I do NOW that is still in alignment with this value but doesn’t take up as much energy?
6) You love to ride the Nostalgia Train
- Sometimes we cannot resist yearning for a lost sense of identity by hopping on the Nostalgia Train. We think she might be back there in the past and that we just need to reconnect with her. The nostalgia train is filled with luscious rosy-coloured memories that real life could never live up to (and in fact the actual past also did not live up to).
- Where are you NOW? And NOW? And NOW?
- What is it like to think about your identity not as something that can be ‘lost’ and ‘found’ but is something that is in a perpetual state of creation? Reflect on that for a bit and see what comes up.
In Narrative Therapy we talk about our work together- me as counsellor you as client- as a co-creation. We are BOTH changed in some way by the process of working alongside each other, together, even though we are working on you.
It can be incredibly unnerving to step away from ideas that our identity is ‘fixed’ in some way. To really bodily FEEL that you are not fixed and who you are is a continuing work-in-progress can be downright discombobulating.
Maybe even frightening.
But the Nostalgia Train- while great for a reminisce with your old friends, or a lovely trip to take- can become a problem. It can get stuck on the same track, never stopping. You find yourself yearning for an impossible life.
An impossible YOU.
Even if you went back in time, you would never be ‘you’ in that place at that age with that same life experience and relationships ever again.
I invite you to hop off the Nostalgia Train and instead reflect…
What was meaningful to you at that time, why you feel so connected to the ‘you’ from back then, and how you can live in the NOW (in a state of motion and creation) while finding solidity in your values.
My guess is that your lost identity can be re-created, re-built and eventually re-loved from these places rather than found hanging about in a bar in 1998 with bad hair and low self-esteem.
What do you think?
Add a comment if you have some tips on finding a lost identity.
Wanna go deeper? Check out my 10 week course ‘From Bashful to Bold’ on Teachable. It’s all about rediscovering what’s most important to you, finding the bravery to stand up for yourself, and reconnecting with everything that makes your life worth living. And it’s only the price of a book.
Love Nicole OOXO
Main Image by Maia Habegger on Unsplash; Photo 2 by Annie Spratt and Photo 3 by hannah grace on Unsplash
Tammy Day says
Thank-you for all this insight! You’ve sparked new ideas for me, and I feel a little more optimistic already.
That’s awesome Tammy! Glad to hear this feedback :).
This article is very familiar to me. I lived in LA for 3 years in a small apartment in a toxic environment secluded. Next thing I know I’m back in my hometown working my old job. Its like I can’t go out and form new healthy experiences.
Nicole Hind says
I imagine lots has changed since you wrote this comment. Is it true you cannot go out and form new experiences or is it that you are held back by something (a belief about yourself/fear/past things etc…)? Naming- loudly and clearly with lots if imagery and feeling- the thing holding you captive is a good start to getting clear of it.
Thank you for sharing these ideas.
I gave up a lot of my interests in favor of someone else’s for a long time. I very strongly relate to the section on unworthiness. I’ve felt like my issues have stemmed from low self-esteem and low self-worth but haven’t had much lasting success in my efforts to build myself up.
I feel hopeful reading these and look forward to reflecting on them!
Hi Julie. I can totally relate. I will be 60 next year and still struggle with unworthiness and self-esteem issues. It’s become even more difficult to talk about because I feel I should have it “together” by now. I just wish there were groups that could meet these needs. People that can relate. I just always felt insecure and I know it stemmed from my childhood. We grew up fast and I I think had to become independent too soon. Was married but never really even bonded with my husband and always felt less than…even though I raised 3 good children.
Hi Joy and Julie, you seem to be in a similar space to me. I seem to have devoted my entire sense of self to being Mum, getting everything done, rushing from point to point. Now I feel that my adult children only ‘want me’ when it is financial and tho I know that’s not true.. I feel depleted; I don’t have the energy to recover a sense of connection with them and that makes me feel like the meaning has gone from my life!
Thank you Nicole. This was exactly the piece I needed to read right now. The questions were perfect to work my way through.
Nicole Hind says
Great news! My pleasure and best of luck Kristin.
Sometimes it’s really worth googling your inner struggles.
The acute feeling of “losing your sense of self” is what I find to be the most dreadful experience, which always hits me when going through a bout of depression. Looking into a mirror with the emotional onset of not recognizing yourself is nothing but a total terror of mind.
Worth to mention is that the “normal” me is far above average in positivity and confidence, so the clashes are severe.
The thought of a less fixed identity than the one that I am always aiming for is reassuring and helps me in this very moment.
Nicole Hind says
Thank YOU Anna for this comment. Knowing yourself as more ‘fluid’, continuing to grow and change having ups and downs without a ‘good or bad’ way of being can be extremely powerful.
I had cosmetic surgery done to my face and I feel like I’ve completely lost who I was and I’ve been devastated. Looking in the mirror is a complete and utter terror for me. I’ve been trying to research on how to feel like myself again but I’ve been in such a deep depression that it’s been unbelievable painful. Thank you for this post, I did have some good take aways from it.
Nicole Hind says
Hi Leyeigh, Thank you so much for sharing. I can only imagine what this must be like for you. I hope this identity exploration has been helpful and you aren’t feeling so ‘in’ this anymore. Additionally, has anyone talked to you about dysphoria? That ‘looking in the mirror/terror’ feeling sounds a bit like a kind of dysphoria (something many transgender/non-gender-conforming people describe). It might even be helpful to visit some spaces created by and for trans people. Here’s a post that has some suggestions at the end in order to manage gender dysphoria… perhaps there are some adaptations that might work for you: https://www.transhub.org.au/dysphoria. I hope you’ve been able to find someone helpful to talk this through with and come to terms with the work that has been done on your face. Take care, Nicole
Hi Nicole! This post really resonated with me. I’ve been on and off mourning over the loss of my identity. After 17 years of marriage sometimes I cannot recognize the person I’ve become. I yearn to be the young fun, confident girl I was.
I’m going to try to workout out and really take a deep look at some of the stuff you’ve mentioned. This is a great starting point… And yes I’m guilty of a one way ticket on the nostalgia train… I need to hop off and make sense of who I am today not yearn for some romantic version of who I thought I was 20 years ago.
Nicole Hind says
Thank you Pooja. I’m really glad to hear you are wanting to connect with a fun, confident you in a new way. Let me know how you got on. Cheers, Nicole.
Thanks so much for this, Nicole, it has been what most closely and non-judgamentaly has adressed my issues right now. I have anxiety, so I REALLY need to have everything always planned ahead. And a B plan. And a C plan wouldn’t hurt. So, when everything I had planned for my life after graduation came crumbling down infront of me, or wasn’t what I expected it to be, I really felt like I lost myself.
Almost at the same time I started this amazing realtionship with an incredible guy, and I confluenced myself with him quite a lot, so in between that and keeping myself very busy I ended up without time for myself. That’s why the identity crisis hit me the hardest when someone I had just met asked me what were my hobbies. I don’t have those anymore. And I don’t have a career. And I don’t wanna just be someone’s girlfriend. So, who the fuck am I and why the eff am I alive for?
Gosh, life’s a mess sometimes.
I can totally relate!
Thank you for this article! Very helpful and really hits me with the questions I need to be asking myself.
Nicole Hind says
Awesome, glad to be of help!
Thank you for writing this, Nicole! It’s one of very few articles I find that actually addresses the identity crisis I’m going through.
I’m a 35-year-old Southeast Asian who was raised in my home country as a conservative Evangelical Christian and groomed to migrate to North America, where I’d hoped to pursue studies and eventually a career in science or engineering.
But in my early teens, my dad, a scientist working for a corporation, got caught up in office politics hot water. So he made me plan my high school to prepare for business school instead. I never was interested in becoming a corporate boss, but I wanted to think that no matter what career I end up with, I wanted to have control of my financial security.
So I complied, but ended up missing out on the science classes I would have needed to pursue the career I really wanted. Another thing was that at that time I got accelerated in weird circumstances I won’t get into, ended up changing schools once a year and graduated high school at 16. I went to two schools: the second one (15-16) was my dream all-star boarding school with the programmes I wanted, and the first one (14-15) was the cheap one that offered the acceleration but catered to kids of drunk hillbillies and did nothing but demoralise my studies.
My university plans had been so muddled up by my parents wishes so they took over and sent me to major in business at an unaccredited fundamentalist Christian college in the US bible belt, because it was way cheaper than a proper American university. I got kicked out in 2 semesters, again, in weird circumstances that wouldn’t have happened in a normal university that didn’t have the legalism of a Christian school. I was only 17, and after a lifetime of being a good student projected to have a bright future, I became a tarnished college dropout.
My parents then sent me to Europe because universities there are cheaper than in America–but this was a detour I never really wanted, save for my parents’ promise to acquire new languages, new perspectives on diversity in a globalised world, and easy international travel.
And then the special business major I chose in Europe got cancelled shortly upon my arrival due to not enough enrollment. I wasn’t getting along with my friends, and was the butt of gossip at church because I was the new girl who hugged her boyfriend at cold bus stops. And that boyfriend turned out to be a hot headed, abusive liar who constantly embarrassed me in public and threatened my safety at home.
At this point I lost faith in education and in my parents, but somehow held on to my religion. I found refuge in a multilevel marketing pyramid that my cousin referred me to, and my elderly upline couple became like parents to me–guiding me, helping me and even taking me in at one point. But it was a predatory business that pitted me further against my education and career plans, my parents, and the hopeless loser I would supposedly become if I didn’t commit to succeed in this “business.”
I didn’t see my parents for 3 years, but when they finally visit when I turned 21, I realised how much I miss them. My dad told me that our country is in a better place now, no longer the crisis torn civil war zone I knew it as when I left 7 years earlier. So I decided to come home later that year and start afresh.
In hindsight maybe I should have restored my faith in a STEM future and pick up where I left off at 14. But instead, I still didn’t have faith in the education system, and wanted what I thought was a well paying career I could start without a degree: broadcasting. Eventually I re-started university at 22, studying communications at a really shitty college near where my parents and I lived.
While I don’t regret restarting college at 22 and only getting my degree at 26, I regret majoring in communication and going to that shitty college. Instead of trying and failing at broadcasting while studying an easy but useless major, I really could have just went all in with an engineering degree at a good and reputable research university.
My broadcasting dreams nudged a little and I ended up becoming a journalist. I liked working for a magazine but they paid farts. I moved on to a TV newsroom but hated it for the office politics and how it was killing my creativity. Again, TV paid farts too and I felt angry about the uncertainty of my financial future.
I went into freelance travel writing when I was 27, when I realised it’s a good way to put my journalism skills into experiences that help me get to know and love the home country I was raised to despise. For a long time, it was the best career decision I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t call myself “successful” but I cared about my work, had control over what I do with my time, and was making better money than when employed in the media.
That said, I had a rough start to freelancing, so I hunted for overseas grad school scholarships hoping to get ahead. So I left for Australia to master in international development, hoping this would help me understand the economic and political struggles my country’s “travel destinations” face, and insights on how to help them. Plus, international NGOs and UN organisations pay better than journalism, so it’s a win-win.
However, I learned some things the hard way. Having a master’s degree doesn’t mean I get to actually master a new field, it just enriches the skill set I already established in my bachelor’s with some new perspectives. So back to journalism it is. But after being abroad for 2-3 years of grad school and passion projects, it wasn’t easy to just pick up where I left off with my professional network back home.
So after grad school, I’ve had a very mixed freelance career consisting of assisting research, translating, copywriting, documentary filmmaking, small acting gigs and freelance journalism for international media. This went well for two years, but I had a feeling this could all go to hell if my luck runs out. And it did when the covid-19 pandemic happened.
Today, I don’t know anymore who I am. STEM Caro was over before she started. Business Caro wasn’t meant to be. Broadcasting Caro only happened in occasional sparks but never really took off. I ended up a pathetic Journalist Caro who wants more but never gets more. Activist Caro doesn’t believe in activism, she only cares about herself and “helps” others with words. Consultant Caro is confused because she loves variety but has no future in any of those varieties. I thought Travel Caro was my ultimate self, but covid-19 took that away from me.
Christian Caro? I left the faith 10 years ago when my father was having an affair and the church cared more about my parents’ wedding vows and my unconditional forgiveness than they did about holding my dad accountable and encouraging my mom to embrace change.
Independent Caro? My jobs evaporated and now I’m living with parents who are losers I despise. Someone might say I’m just a bad daughter who’s disrespectful and won’t grow up. But believe me, I did all the growing up that was there in what’s left of my life after my selfish and insecure parents took my formative years away from me. That’s why I’m not nice to them: they didn’t (still don’t now) care about my future, so why should I care about their feelings? My parents are the last people in the universe that I want to be like, but I’m stuck with them and can’t do anything about it but be mad about it without any possible resolve.
Oftentimes I really wish this life I’m loving is just one really long nightmare, and that I’ll wake up in the morning back in my 12-year-old self in 1997, and go back to making the right choices in my life. Five years at the second all-star boarding school, lose my religion while in high school, five years at engineering school in Canada, probably go back to my unaffected country because I’d graduate during the 2008 crisis, get ahead in my career because I have foreign qualifications, return to Canada for grad school, establish a startup that fosters my country’s and Canada’s collaboration, and now during the pandemic I’d be working on something that addresses problems needing solving for the post-pandemic world.
But of course that will always be a fantasy. I’ve gone too far from my STEM dreams and pursued a career that has all to do with my own satisfaction and nothing to do with solving the world’s problems, that no longer has relevance in today’s world.
I really don’t know how to rediscover and reinvent myself yet another time. I feel that I really am out of my proverbial cards now and have no place left in the game. But this is not how I want it to be. I wish someone who doesn’t judge me could just sit down with me and ask the questions in this post to me and we’d make some concrete plans to run with to change my life. Right now I feel that not even pyschotherapists I paid for help me in this way–they just want to focus on feelings and forgiveness. But thank you Nicole for giving me something new to try. And if you read this far, thank you. All the best.
Nicole Hind says
Hi Caro, This one has taken me some time to read thoroughly and formulate a response. I hope the mere act of writing out this part of your life story offered you some insights and perhaps even relief.
I personally don’t care much about forgiveness one way or another, and feelings are important (because we are taught in so many ways by the societies we live in to dishonour them/ignore them and then we find ourselves living lives we are confused about/stuck in) but it sounds like you’re looking for something more to help deal with it all.
I said earlier ‘this part of your story’ because it sounds like the way you tell your life story is through a lens of ‘failure’. I can’t help but wonder what is missing. For example, how on earth did you manage to get on in so many different countries and environments? What skill/trait does it take for someone to pick up and try again in spite of grave disappointments? Consider your ‘neglected’ narrative- not to ‘positive think’ away these very-real and extreme challenges, but to run ‘parallel’. These things were extremely painful/hard/frustrating AND you dealt with them in ways that deserve recognition. What might knowing that make more available to you?
You might also want to consider that truly there are a lot of losses. What affect is ‘too many losses’ having on you? When you find yourself captivated by the dominant narrative of ‘too many losses’ (or ‘failure’) what do you find yourself believing?
Then there are processes of meaning-making you might find helpful. What strikes you as most meaningful over the length of your ‘life story’? For example: there has been meaning attached to a career in STEM (missed opportunity)- why? What’s so important about that work for you? Do you have a set of values that are connected to the STEM field? Is it about doing good in the world- how so?- or is it something else/more? Are there ways you can honour those values (or that you already do) without needing to do this for a job? Try describing and connecting with the MEANING of things rather than the actual event/situation. Appreciating the meaning may also lead to sadness at times, but a sadness that has an appropriate place and isn’t robbing you of your sense of self, holding you captive in loss and bitterness, and allows you to live your life with what you have available to you. To see and take steps toward possibilities.
Take care and best of luck,
Could you possibly recommend any books on this subject? This article articulates exactly what I’m going through and have been going through for some time now. I feel like I need to read more about this but don’t know where would be a good place to start!
Nicole Hind says
Good question! Without an easy answer. These ideas around identity are drawn from my studies and practice in Narrative Therapy.
Unfortunately there are not a lot of books written for the general public, although there is one you may find to be of benefit: https://dulwichcentre.com.au/product/retelling-the-stories-of-our-lives-everyday-narrative-therapy-to-draw-inspiration-and-transform-experience-david-denborough/.
You might also consider my online course which aids people in exploring, defining and feeling more confident in their sense of self: https://unveiled-stories.teachable.com/p/from-bashful-to-bold
Aisha von Ohlen says
Hi Caro, seems like you have been through lot and are maybe still looking for clarity and have the feeling that you not being understood. Sometimes the answers are already there inside us. I know how this can feel and also the relief one can feel when they find their ‘ahh’.
Thank you, thank you, thank you…. I’ve been struggling with the concept of my identity for months, almost a year, and have been going in circles without any real conclusions. These questions… I wrote them down, and wrote my thoughts like you suggested. And I think I’ve had some significant breakthroughs. I’m still anxious, I’m still trying to grasp onto the concept of forward progress… But I’m going to keep these written words, I’m going to go over them and let them propel me forward. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom.
Nicole Hind says
Hi Kat, Thank you for sharing your progress. It’s not unusual for people (myself included!) to read something that ‘speaks’ to us, get that feeling of insight or catharsis, and then not do the actions… weeks or months later wonder why we’re still stuck. Spending the time answering the questions, pondering them, slowing things DOWN and sitting with things is important
I reckon. Working on yourself from a place of genuine care and awareness is never time wasted. Thank YOU for reminding us all of that.
Yours is the first article I came upon once I decided I need some help with finding out who I am now. What do I do if I feel like I don’t know what I believe in anymore? I do relate to the “not knowing “ section you wrote about. I want to do the work here to move forward. Knowing what I believe in seems like the starting point. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you, Janie
Nicole Hind says
Hi Janie. Beliefs, phwoar! That’s a big one. Do you mean spiritual beliefs or more ‘what’s right and wrong’ or ‘what’s my purpose/why are we here’?
I’d suggest expanding on section 5 and exploring your values. Try not to get fixated on the second-hand belief systems created by others (often corrupted), just focus on the ‘primary source’ (eg: ‘Do I believe in the church?’ is a different question from ‘Do I believe in the work of Jesus?’).
You could start by digging through your history, getting in touch with your body and sensory experiences, back to basics.
This post might help inspire to find what moves you: https://unveiledstories.com/una-paloma-blanca-rebuilding-your-life/
If you play with some of these questions, you might find a few answers regarding your belief: https://unveiledstories.com/interrogating-invasive-problems-43-short-questions-to-make-a-lifelong-impact/
Are your processes being interrupted by a big loud ‘i’m a failure story’? Like, you don’t deserve to be a part of such-and-such if you have done or not done something? this video might help: https://unveiledstories.com/video-escaping-personal-failure-story/
Hi I’ve found this page whilst looking around I’ve been on a long Journey, I had a injury in 2016 that required a simple hernia operation in my groin. This later seen me go back in to have the mesh removed due to complications. Followed by an abductor tenonmy see no relief I. my pain I had 2 quartizone injections and a nerve block leading to a neurostimulator implant . I was battling depression due to the loss of the quality of life and limitations later coming down with CRPS seen me go through 2 ketamine infusion. I use ketamine cream daily norspan 20mcg weekly and have now just been put up onto 300mg of effxor. My return to work was not the best experience I ever had feeling like I have been pushed to the side and moving my duties responsibilities making me feel not valuable anymore I had to organise my own rehabilitation provider. So it was about a month ago my rehabilitation provider sent. an email about having suitable duties working 3 days 8 hrs a day alternative days admin duties , my company 2nd job of 8 years said it’s more then unlikely they will have a duty for me one week later they said they will not be able to provide a suitable duty. Through this time my mind has been running crazy stressed and concerned. I tried to contact HR and find out what was going on they wrote back to the rehabilitation provider and said my last day will be on the 7 may. When I heard this I broke I rang my reporting manager to confirm this and he did he offered to have stuff couriered out to me including termination papers . I wrote a email to the country manager saying it was very unprofessional on the way they have done this he asked me to call him. So I did and he informed me that I wasn’t getting terminated and as far as he is concerned I am still employed so I went back to work and I had my reporting manager ask me how I am . I told him it has been a emotional roller-coaster for what they had done he said to me that he never said he was terminating me lied to my face .. then everything started to crumble I was feel self worthless not valued and very emotional, My thoughts of suicidal were becoming more frequent and now I have received approval to go into God of St John which will be on Monday. Yesterday I got scared and broke again as I now look at pictures of myself I can see who I was and I can not see who I am. I have lost my self identity which I feel was triggered on the emotional setting of loosing my job. My mind is empty I have no imagination and I am lost.
Nicole Hind says
Hi Wayne, thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you’ve been on a rollercoaster. Firstly with what started out being a ‘simple’ operation that turned into an ongoing painful nightmare, and then your return to work where you’ve been sidelined and then had all these different responses (some of which are illegal? certainly discriminatory). I can understand why you feel so lost. It’s awful to lose your body-ableness (most of us don’t think about how precious our bodies are, all the things they do for us, until the ease of use is taken away) and then experience discrimination because of it. You might benefit from seeking chronic illness or disability activist spaces? When your body changes and you have to fight for your right to simply earn a pay packet, it can feel incredibly isolating. But you are not alone. A lot of people have to stand up for themselves, for their right to equally access workplaces and public environments. And guess what? You are already doing that (even though it’s causing such distress). You are becoming an activist! What does that mean to you? What could it mean to you, to know that you are the kind of person who stands up when being told to sit down? Being undervalued by your workplace does not make you worthless… it just means your workplace sux, or that they do not understand injury and pain. The actions you are taking can give you some meaning and some sense of self and worthiness if you consider them as part of a ‘greater’ fight. You are shaping who you are now, someone who has a greater insight into how the world works and what you can do for yourself and others in it. I know that you are in pain and also feeling low, trying to consider something about who you are that doesn’t relate just to what you can do might help broaden your perspective and offer a little relief.
Thank you for this! I have just graduated high school and I am feeling so lost. School is one thing that I am good at and now that I am finished I feel like a piece of me has been stripped away even though I will be going back to school for post-secondary in September. Being a young person I feel like up until this point I have been creating my identity so this is the first time that is being shaken. Anyways, thank you for this article, I think it is a great starting place for me!
Nicole Hind says
Hi Samantha, I love how you’ve said ‘being a young person I feel like up to this point I have been creating my identity’. This is such an important insight!! Why do we have this idea that people are creating themselves when they’re young but that somehow that opportunity stops once we hit adulthood? Now you’re approaching the ‘real world’ you just have to conform to… what? Yes, it is true that once you finish school you have more choices to make. There will be different barriers. You won’t be praised as often for doing quality work. Expectations are higher and there is more at stake. BUT it is a grave error in our society that we make young people think this ‘creating self’ period is confined to school days and you have to have it all ‘figured out’ by the end OR ELSE. Actually we are in a constant state of creating ourselves, discovering what we like about life and trying to make more of that happen (or less of what we don’t like). There is a lot of time ahead of you. My personal pathway was and is all over the place, and I am so glad I didn’t conform. I had 3 years in between finishing yr 12 and then going onto university to study social science and counselling. I didn’t rush. I took time to travel and moved and choose. I had relationships. I lived in sharehouses. I made mistakes. I played. Some of it was incredibly hard work. Some of it was painful. Some of it was absolutely wonderful. Living and reflecting, living and reflecting- that’s what identity is about. Being able to bravely choose paths simply because you’re curious. Finding connection with others. Forming a belief in yourself and your abilities (beyond a narrow scope of what you’re currently ‘good at’, what you get the high marks for). If you’re good at school and being a student, what does that tell you about yourself? What skills do you have that (could) apply to all areas of your life? What is most pleasing to you about being good at school, about your abilities there? Is it that you are smart? Hardworking? Curious? Enthusiastic? Enjoy learning? Get along well with others? Have the ability to plan and be patient for what you want (eg: organise your assignments)? What is UNDERNEATH ‘being good at school’? What do those things mean to you? Therein lies your sense of self, worthiness and courage to take action and continue creating yourself and the life you want.
Now I’m wishing I had a nostalgia train to jump onto, to at least find where to begin rebuilding. Unfortunately, I’m understanding these days that I never did have an identity. At least not one that wasn’t assigned to me.
At 43 I’ve been diagnosed with brutal ADHD Inattentive Affect, OCD, and major depression. Combined with parents that were virtually perfect in emotional neglect, and being the pariah every year of my childhood schooling, I didn’t even grow a proper sense of empathy. I lived life surviving one day to the next. Well, I mean I still am, even with knowledge like in your article here.
With nothing to build on I’ve been trying to cultivating instead the ability to “pass” as a human, mostly so I can keep a job. I feel like an android, or dead and empty inside anyway, so I try to learn to act as normal as possible, while calculating what I’m supposed to do/say/react to keep the other person pleased and most importantly, off of my back. It’s very difficult, but I am still clinging to my job longer than ever before…
Nicole Hind says
Hi Matthew,I’m so sorry to hear about this situation. You make an excellent point: what if you have no frame of reference for another, better way of feeling and experiencing the world? You are not alone in feeling this way, many who have experienced childhood trauma struggle with this. And it’s awful that you can’t just be ‘you’ and have the time and space to figure it all out without having to ‘present/pass’ at work.Do you have other places in your life where you don’t have to do this ‘passing’ act? It might help to find a support group (online, anonymous, or in-person) or a good therapist (we are all very different and finding the right one for you can be frustrating but worth it) or just a few people who allow you to just ‘be’. Start from where you are NOW and then building pieces from there, re-parenting yourself essentially, so you CAN know those good, safe, pleasant, joyful feelings and cultivate more experiences that you bring you them. Best of luck. Nicole
I am SO STUCK on the nostalgia train. I’m on my 3rd marriage. (I’m happy in this marriage, 3rd times a charm). I have 2 grown children. Grand children and great grandchildren. Grandchildren are all grown. They don’t really want to spend time with the old folks. I had a career in the science field for 40 years. I loved my job. They were handing out early incentive retirement packages and I chose to retire. (The company closed down 2 years later).
I went from analytical thinking everyday to nothing. I volunteered at a senior center for a year or two. Updated paperwork to spreadsheets. They looked at me like I grew 2 heads. It wasn’t a good fit for me.
I just feel like I’ve lost my identity.
My kids are busy with their own lives. I have traveled to many countries. I have friends that I spend time with … but they are younger and still working. I just feel lost. I have gained so much weight. I just feel lost.
Nicole Hind says
Oh JC, LOST is an important word. If someone found you, where do you instantly picture that place to be? What if that person who finds you IS you? What do you imagine that place FEELS like? In your body, your bones, your soul? We can all get stuck in our heads trying to fix things, but often the answers aren’t up there. In the sciences, I imagine you were often in a place of discovery and curiosity. Maybe the things you’ve tried to do since haven’t engaged you in the same way. What invites you into curiosity now? And if the answer to that is nothing, then let that be for a bit. Really hold and love yourself in that place. Get under the weighted blanket, ask for a hug, let your feelings howl to the moon. They’re REAL but also you are not alone. Many people feel the way you do, and it takes time to grieve the ‘working me’ and find a new version of ‘working me’- one that is working for herself. If you were putting the same amount of hard work and passion into yourself right now, what does that look like? If you were your own research project, what becomes more available? I’d love to hear about your discoveries. Nicole
Such an interesting read! I do though, feel lost in a deeper sense of they way… When reading through your article and trying to answer most of these questions, I find that I’ve never had a strong identity and concrete interests in anything really. My life revolved around my friends from my home town. Now, after moving 2000km away, I find that I can’t connect with anyone. I’ve lost my confidence and sense of self worth and I have no idea what my interests are or what’s important to me.
Thinking back, my hobbies were playing computer games and hanging out with my friends. Now, at 27 years old, I don’t have any hobbies, interests or friends. I don’t relate to anyone in my life and I can’t seem to pin point what is important to me in life. And I don’t know where to start looking…
I’ve always lived a very subjective life to better accommodate those around me but I feel like I’ve completely lost myself in the process. Actually, I don’t think I ever went through that experience of finding myself because I was always more concerned with helping those around me. Now I just feel like an empty shell with no direction in life…
What do I want? What are my interests? What are my values? What do I yearn for? What are my hobbies? Who am I? – I don’t know the answer to any of these questions…
I’ve always valued being impartial, keeping an open mind and always being nice to every person that comes my way. But I never paid any attention to myself to focus on who I am and what I want.
Where do I even begin?
Nicole Hind says
Hi William, you know I think a lot of people can relate to this problem. It’s not uncommon to pour ourselves into other people, and then find ourselves out to sea when things change. It’s also not uncommon to discover you don’t have any hobbies or interests in your late 20’s. Unfortunately we have a built an entire adult culture around things like drinking and hanging out with mates, and we lose touch with what we enjoy (or we never knew what that was!).
I hope that since you wrote this you have found some more solidity in your new location. It takes 6-12 months at least to start to feel grounded when you move. But that discomfort can also be a source of something really crucial: finding out more about who you are and what matters to you.
Allow yourself to feel bad, write about it, cry, talk to someone back home. But then on the good days get out there. One way to do that is to try find the motivation to do stuff. Either stuff you did before- like video games and looking for people in your area who also are into video games- or turn up to new things (groups and meetups for hiking, theatre, sport, boardgames etc…). Or do something solitary, like try your hand at growing pot plants, or take a slow walk around your neighbourhood, going on the same route every day, inviting yourself to feel ‘safe’ and ‘home’. Say hello to strangers. If you don’t enjoy something you don’t have to continue with it, but try not to allow the voices in your head tell you that you aren’t good enough or that it’s all too hard. It isn’t, it’s natural to feel lost and scared after such a brave move, but this is just a chapter of your life before the next one is written.
What do you want that next chapter of your life to be titled? What do you want to be written? What images come to your mind when you contemplate illustrations?
If you want to explore your values and build self-worth in more depth, you can try my online course: https://unveiledstories.com/finding-my-true-self-online-course/. Good luck.