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