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Recognizing Self-Erosion Is Key to Reversing It

Woman with umbrella in the rain

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss—an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc.—is sure to be noticed.” ―Søren Kierkegaard

So often, people come to therapy seeking to “find themselves,” typically after a tragedy has occurred or some major shift has taken place in life and they realize they have somehow “lost” themselves along the way. But there is another way of losing oneself that is more insidious, more subtle, and can be even more damaging. This is what I call self-erosion.

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Self-erosion occurs over a period of time and happens so quietly that the person doesn’t even realize it’s happening. Self-erosion happens when we are so busy doing other things—such as working, going to school, raising kids, and being in incompatible relationships—that we slowly lose touch with who we are. Our lives become so much about what we do, how we contribute, and what we offer the world that we lose touch with who we are. The tragedy of the self-erosion experience is that when we finally come face to face with the reality that we have no idea who we are anymore, we have no idea where to start.

You might be experiencing self-erosion if you have noticed any of the following:

  • You don’t know what you like to do for fun.
  • You can’t remember the last time you had a really good laugh.
  • Your identity is tied to what you do (“I’m Jane’s mom,” “I’m a therapist,” “I’m a CEO,” and so on).
  • You rarely take time for yourself.

If you are experiencing any of these, it is likely that you have lost touch with yourself. You may be very content with your life in many ways, but in some ways you find yourself longing for more. Whatever that “more” consists of is very personal and different for everyone, but the important thing is that you get back in touch with it.

Start with allowing yourself to do something you’ve always liked but don’t do often, whether that is taking a long, luxurious bath or going for a walk. It may be hiding away in a coffee shop and reading a book you have wanted to read but haven’t made time for. Maybe it will be going to Baskin-Robbins and trying every flavor until you find just the right one for you. Spend some time reflecting on all the things you used to do and greatly enjoyed, even when you were a child. You may find some keys to things that bring back the spark to your eyes, the joy to your living, and the passion in your existence.

The path to finding yourself does not have to begin at the crossroads of crisis; you can decide to own your life anytime you choose. I hope you choose today—this moment—to begin.

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© Copyright 2013 by Lisa M. Vallejos, MA, LPC, NCC, therapist in Denver, Colorado. All Rights Reserved.

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  • brent c April 3rd, 2013 at 4:05 PM #1

    My wife was the first to notice this in me- I was so blinded with the other responsibilities in my life that I no longer knew what it was like to enjoy life.

  • Rex April 4th, 2013 at 4:17 AM #2

    Life sure can have a way of bringing you down. Most of us don’t see it until we have already been so down on ourselves for years that it will take that long and maybe even longer to derive any self worth again. It is something that can be done, but just like with any other issue that you face, most of the time this is something that you are going to have to deal with on your own. No one can change the way that you feel about yourself except you. We all have a habit of wanting the quick fix, the easy answer, but when it comes to changing the very way that you think about yourself, this is something that you are going to have to do on your own. Life is too short to always be moaning about how you are not worth anything and there will never be any kind of enjoyment in that.

  • Marilyn April 4th, 2013 at 2:21 PM #3

    I am a serial self-erosion ing individual so to speak…First I lost myself in a relationship that only left me hurt and then I drowned myself in work to such an extent that I lost a sense of who I was outside of work…I don’t even know if this is ever going to change but try I will…hope it just works out and saves me from this madness I seem to bring onto myself.

  • Sydney April 5th, 2013 at 4:13 AM #4

    This is kind of like being depressed, though.

    You might know that there is something wrong and that you need help, but it is so hard to do that for yourself when you are in this kind of state of mind. I happen to think that there needs to be some kind of familial support system there to get you over this kind of negative behavior.

  • admin April 5th, 2013 at 6:33 AM #5

    thanks for this concept Lisa, I’ve been there. drowning in work, kids, and other responsibilities can sneak in and steal one’s life away without notice. I remember coming out of the trance of self-erosion and going to the grocery store. I was so used to shopping for my kids, for my ex, that I didn’t even know what I wanted to eat. hard to believe. the good news, it’s easy to come back from self-erosion if you make time for yourself, real time. Noah :)

  • RDA July 14th, 2013 at 9:16 PM #6

    Lisa, can you recommend a website for finding a suitable therapist in regards to this?

    Thank you

  • admin2 July 15th, 2013 at 9:27 AM #7

    Hi RDA,
    You can always find a therapist using the advanced search on GoodTherapy.org here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html
    Best of luck and warm wishes,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • tam August 31st, 2014 at 10:54 AM #8

    This slapped me in the face recently when my last child moved out. Being a single mom for 20 years it left me dumbfounded. It was all about work and kids. Now im alone. I still have my work but making new friends at 50 is a little overwhelming. Knowing I can pretty much do anything i want…..but what that is????

  • alisa August 31st, 2014 at 11:10 AM #9

    I unfortunately have always found I had eroded during cross road moments or extreme losses or crisis. This time my man died and my children are grown and live far away and I had one friend. I am working with a therapist and hospice. I am also volunteering in areas of interest.

  • alisa August 31st, 2014 at 11:14 AM #10

    Tam, I am going through that too. My significant other became my job and I moved far from my home town. I had only made one friend here but when my friend died she backed off and is aloof. So I am trying to make friends but I find it daunting.

  • Carri August 31st, 2014 at 4:52 PM #11

    I too have beena single Mom for the last 12 years. My boys left for college last week and now I feel as though I have nothing and no one.

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