March 4, 2024

The Grief in Losing Yourself & How to Rediscover Who You Are.

{*Did you know you can write on Elephant? Here’s how—big changes: How to Write & Make Money or at least Be of Benefit on Elephant. ~ Waylon}


Ever look in the mirror and the reflection that stares back at you seems like a stranger?

The face is familiar and you know it’s you, but it’s not the you you remember.

It’s not the you you identify with. Or perhaps, little by little, bit by bit, over time, there’s a distancing, a gradual disconnection from who you really are. A gradual disconnection from the you you once were.

Maybe you’re questioning where the real you disappeared too? Maybe you’re questioning why you are the way you are, or why you are doing the things you are doing?

And as your reflection stares back at you, the only truth you know is that you have no solid answers. The only truth you know is that you feel lost. Like you’re floating outside of yourself, in a world you no longer feel a part of.

I know this pain all too well. I lived it. It felt like I woke up one day, an imposter in my life. The familiar life I had built. The comfortable existence I had created. I knew I was me, but who was I? I didn’t know whether I belonged in the space I was in. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be in the space I was in. It was overwhelming. Confusing. Lonely. Claustrophobic. But most of all, it was sad. It was immensely sad.

I know it didn’t happen suddenly. I know it built up over time. Slowly. Gradually. Insidiously even. It crept up on me, as I went about life.

I did what I was supposed to do. I lived a life that fitted beautifully into society’s little box. I conformed. I judged others out of fear. I worked a job that didn’t fulfil me or align with my values. I worked tirelessly at pleasing others and avoiding conflict at all costs. I prided myself on meeting everyone’s needs. Trying to fix anything that, in my mind, needed fixing.

If someone’s cup was running low, I thought it was my job to fill it. Whenever my inner voice rumbled, I silenced her. The woman. The wife. The mother. The nurturer. Not once did it occur to me that I no longer knew what my needs even were. So busy was I trying to fulfil this role I thought I was meant to that I completely neglected my inner world. My inner voice. Myself. I was lost. I was so lost.

This isn’t about regret because I’ve experienced so much beauty and have been blessed with so much. I married a good man and we had two incredible kids. And even though we grew apart, there were so many great years together. Recognising I no longer belonged in his arms, in his life, was both a relief and terrifying. Who was I, if not his wife? Who was I, if this was no longer my life? How would I redefine myself?

I then collided with a man, where I encountered such intense feelings and emotions. This felt like where I was meant to be. Who I was meant to be with. It was the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It elevated and broke me, all at once. He was a lesson. He was a catalyst. So yes, I was still lost. I was drowning. But again, it’s not about regret. No; this is about the journey. This is about the gift of rediscovering myself.

I have lived some extraordinary years and some less than ordinary years. Somewhere along the way, I got disorientated. I went off track. Somewhere along the way I disconnected from the core of me. My essence. I wore a mask. As I floundered around in the deep end, I knew I needed big changes. And I needed to do them alone.

I always thought of grief as something you experienced when someone died. But it’s something we experience when something dies. Maybe it’s a person. A relationship. A life we once lived. Maybe it’s the death of who we once were, or who we thought we were. It’s loss. It’s any loss.

The grief of losing myself devastated me.

First there was a quiet discontent. An unsettling of the status quo. A rumbling from deep within. Something I thought I could ignore, until I couldn’t. It slowly got louder. Deafening. There was a depth of despair at the thought of jumping out of my comfort zone. Of leaving the only life I knew.

Did I even trust myself? Trust that I had the clarity of mind to make the best choices and decisions? Trust that I could do things alone? My gut was screaming at me. My heart was aching. Torn.

My mind was trying desperately to perform logically. It was so damn confusing. I felt brave. I felt guilty. I felt scared. I felt like I was at war with myself. But the one thing I knew, the only thing I knew at this point, was I had to follow my soul.

These are my reflections on how it happens, on how we lose ourselves:

People Pleasing

When we people please, we ignore our own needs. So eager to ensure we are liked and fit in, we lose our authenticity. We ignore the parts of ourselves that need to be heard. We don’t speak our truth in fear of being rejected.

Avoiding Conflict

Like people pleasing, we silence our hurts. What upsets us. We apologise for things that we shouldn’t be apologising for. We accept the lack of apology from others when they are wrong. Always trying to keep things calm and peaceful, oftentimes at the cost to ourselves.

Prioritising the needs of others

As a mum, I did this for my kids, and when it comes to my kids, I tend to still prioritise their needs. But when we constantly put our own needs on the back burner, we are on a downhill slide to burning out.

Staying in places or with people we have outgrown

This one is painful because we can still hold love and still be comfortable. But the reality is, we no longer fit in these places or with these people. It’s not conducive to growth or to happiness. It doesn’t allow us to be authentic.

Not following our purpose

Maybe we no longer know what our purpose is. But when we stay in relationships, workplaces, environments that don’t align to who we are, we lose the ability to discover our purpose. We inhibit our chances of living our soul’s desire. We block ourselves from following other paths.

Not listening to our truth

Sometimes our truth scares the hell out of us. Sometimes it’s telling us to pursue something different, something that could be hurtful to others. Sometimes it’s showing us something we do not want to see. Sometimes we fear being judged. So, we try and ignore her, our truth. We try and convince ourselves that we are okay. It’s the whole masking up, convincing ourselves and the world that the life we’ve chosen, or perhaps fallen into, is the right one. But what if it isn’t? What if silencing that little voice inside of us, is doing us the greatest disservice of all?

Chasing external happiness

We’re all guilty of this. Trying to fill our voids, our needs, our cups externally. Relying on others to fulfil us and make us happy. The truth is it may make us temporarily happy, but it’s not the answer to true happiness. Happiness is absolutely an inside job. It’s our responsibility to fill our own voids and do the necessary work on ourselves to be happy. Why would we ever put something so important in the hands of someone else? Yet so many are out there desperately searching for something or someone to make them happy.

I wish I understood earlier how heartbreakingly painful it is to lose yourself. How we are conditioned to listen to others rather than ourselves. How we are taught to ignore our needs and feelings, especially as women, and focus on everyone else instead. How society’s judgments make us fearful to walk a different path. How often our choices aren’t really our choices but rather choices made based on our fears and our belief system, which often holds unhealthy limiting beliefs. How grief is so misunderstood and grieving is so necessary to heal the parts of ourselves that have remained unhealed because we’ve been carrying around so many unresolved things.

In my darkest hours, I didn’t know whether I would ever recover. Quite frankly, I was unsure I wanted to. Everything felt so difficult. I couldn’t see outside that darkness, and in a weird way, at that time, there was something safe in the darkness. There were no expectations in the darkness. No need to stop myself from sobbing. No need to make plans. No need to get dressed, or even get out of bed. There was just me in my messiness. In my pity. In my complete rawness. With no idea what tomorrow would bring.

But I did have amazing people who loved and cared for me and even if I couldn’t see that in the darkness they were there. I knew it was up to me. I knew I had to do the work. All the love and support in the world wasn’t going to be enough if I wasn’t prepared to dig deep. If I wasn’t prepared to make changes. If I wasn’t prepared to seek therapy. If I wasn’t prepared to start walking the path of my soul, even if that meant turning my life upside down. If I wasn’t prepared to jump off the metaphorical cliff and straight out of my comfort zone.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy journey, but I’ve found it to be a profound one. Like shedding skins and constantly renewing ourselves. I can honestly say the person I am now is fundamentally different from the person I used to be. I have learnt to let go of things that no longer serve me. I have learnt that boundaries are important and those that repeatedly try and step over them are not respecting me or my life. I have learnt that I am not only empowered but a powerfully independent woman who can do anything she sets her mind to. I have learnt that trusting myself has made me more discerning in my trust for others. That the respect I have in myself is more important than the respect from others.

That my grief is valid. It deserves to be seen and heard. That it forms a part of who I am and who I have become. That without walking through my grief, inviting her in, and allowing myself to feel and experience everything she was throwing at me, I wouldn’t have landed in the space that I am in. And knowing that my grief will walk beside me, no matter where I am or who I am with, is okay. Accepting her is the greatest gift I gave myself.

Maybe that’s the secret?

To find yourself and rediscover your essence, you first have to completely lose the old version of you.


{Please consider Boosting our authors’ articles in their first week to help them win Elephant’s Ecosystem so they can get paid and write more.}


Read 23 Comments and Reply

Read 23 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Michelle Schafer  |  Contribution: 111,395

author: Michelle Schafer

Image: Ozan Çulha/Pexels

Editor: Lisa Erickson