“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.
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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