How did I lose myself?

Sometimes we lose ourselves when our roles change suddenly; when, for example, an aging parent suddenly needs a full-time caretaker.

by Dalena Watson — 

There may be times and circumstances in our lives that cause us to stop and make important assessments. We may wonder: How did I get here? How did I lose myself? Feeling as if we have lost ourselves can manifest as losing focus in career goals, losing passion and purpose, or even losing touch with the inner self. This can happen in the face of change or when we become addicted to a lifestyle of busyness.

During our lifetime, we wear many hats and take on differing roles: child, teenager, student, employee, spouse, boss, parent, caregiver, friend, mentor and volunteer, to name a few. Sometimes our roles change because we make a conscious decision (to get married or take a particular job), and other times circumstances just come about (unexpected pregnancy, job loss, forced retirement, widowhood or divorce).

We may use these roles to help define ourselves, but we can over-identify with them. For example, “I am a mother/father.” When the role changes due to children growing up and moving away, one or both parents can feel lost, as their role is no longer necessary or useful in the way it once was. If we no longer have that role, who are we?

Changing roles

Sometimes we lose ourselves when our roles change suddenly; when, for example, an aging parent suddenly needs a full-time caretaker. The change from the roles of career-person, spouse, parent or friend to full-time caretaker can be shocking. We may feel unprepared when the other roles take secondary positions and feel equally unprepared for the new role.

Positive changes such as promotions, marriage and parenthood also can create shock. We may feel just as unprepared for our new positive role as for a more challenging one. We may still conceive of ourselves based on the old role. It can be difficult to transition smoothly between roles and keep a strong sense of continuity in our identity.

Self-identity may be questioned by changes to our physical bodies. With accidents or illness, our bodies can be transformed in a moment. Our abilities, strengths and confidence levels are suddenly shaken. Questions arise: Who am I now that I can’t work? Now that I cannot walk or move like I used to? Now that I am tired all the time? Now that I look different? We often unknowingly place much of our identity on our physical self and abilities.

The business of busyness

We can hide our true selves and passions in busyness. It is easy to become busy. Technology and modern conveniences give us more time, but we quickly fill it with more tasks, jobs and events. Sometimes we need to be busy, such as building a career, raising a family, completing a degree or building a business. However, we can become so preoccupied with the tasks at hand that we become single-focused and put ourselves on autopilot, forgetting our passions and dreams.

We forget to stop and ask ourselves, “What is necessary? What is meaningful? Is this still what I really want to be doing?” It is easy to fall out of balance. Without downtime, we continue on autopilot. We lose ourselves.

Painful past experiences can also rob us of our true selves. Experiencing and/or witnessing abuse or trauma early in life can create a system of limiting beliefs (I’m not good enough. The good life is not for me. This is the best I can hope for. I’m bad. I don’t deserve good things). These beliefs limit our potential and also our self-identity.

Sometimes the physical and emotional danger is so great that the victim spends most of his/her thoughts and actions trying to please the abuser. This can happen in child abuse or domestic violence situations between adults. Preoccupation with the abuser’s needs and emotions consumes our thoughts and puts all sense of self far in the background. Later, we find that we no longer know ourselves or what we like or want.

Another form of abuse is being told to stop dreaming or that our ideas are stupid, worthless or a waste of time. This type of abuse cuts to the core of our passion and identity. How can we satisfy our deep longing to dance, draw, sing or help others when these expressions are under constant attack and ridicule? We quickly learn, even as small children, to hide this part of ourselves. The soul is squelched, and we lose ourselves.

Seeing the other

Sometimes we wake from autopilot simply because we observe another person. Perhaps it is a death or severe illness in someone we know. Maybe our adult children get married and start families; we have a birthday; our parents get older and eventually die. These events immediately bring our mortality to mind. How much time do we have left? Are we really doing what we want with our precious time?

Another trigger to wake us from autopilot is seeing someone who is living life with freedom and relaxation and doing their soul’s work. We sense their peace, contentment and joy in life. We begin to self-reflect. Do I really love my work? Is there something else my soul would rather be doing? Do I feel content? Am I feeling stressed out, burnt-out, or restless? We see the contrast and suddenly realize that we lost ourselves somewhere along the way.

The good news is that we have countless opportunities to search and rediscover ourselves. It is never too late. We can reconnect with our passions, our dreams, our likes and wants. We can create ourselves anew. Self-reflection, retreats and engaging with others can help. Counseling can provide a guide to help navigate the path to reclaim and transform ourselves.

We can free ourselves from the past, and our limiting beliefs, in order to manifest our dreams. This is truly an exciting time!


Dalena Watson, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor, Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery and board-certified music therapist., or 602-686-3723.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 6, Dec 2009/Jan 2010.

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