Becoming: Losing Yourself to Find Your Self

Written by Lara Just, December 2021…

This blog looks at how we lose ourselves in an attempt to find ourselves, over and over again, and what could help in the process. We can lose ourselves in relation to others, for example in a romantic relationship, or friendship; though often we attempt to find ourselves in them. Finding ourselves in this context means coming back to our (core) Self, our own values. It is also closely linked to grief and loss; and our resulting growth and change.

The idea of taking more time when we have usually less time may be at odds with our time-poor fast-paced lifestyles. To make more time may cost sacrifices that we are unwilling to make, it can even cost relationships. It’s also linked to the ideas around self-care and ‘grounding’ and efforts of staying close to ourselves. To stay in relation with our Self. It is the reminder of navigating the constant delicate struggle, that we all experience every day. It can be like balancing on top of a thin sharp edge that could tip us easily into either losing or finding ourselves, over and over again.

Perhaps we see parts of ourselves in the other or hold the unconscious desire to be those parts. We probably have all experienced the sweet daze of new romantic feelings which can cloud and lessen our judgements. It helps our needed and desired fantasies of what the relationship could be. Compromise naturally comes with relating to one another. We cannot avoid affecting each other, through our choice of words, our given attention, our moods. The fantasies may be linked tightly to our deeper wishes, hopes and needs. Even with good reflective self-work and self-awareness, blind spots always occur. Even with new found courage to voice our needs and boundaries, and satisfaction that we have been listened to; we may find it frustrating when it turns out we have not been truly heard or seen after all. Even if we had a hunch and kept repeating it. That realisation mostly comes later over time. This may be a blind spot itself. There will be blind spots in the other person too, and in relation to seeing/hearing the other can be wrapped up in their own hopes, wishes and needs that are unconsciously clashing with our wishes, needs and boundaries.

The challenge is to notice the blind spots and realisations sooner, to get them in the open. Remembering to get back to ourselves (our Self) and grounding will be important to keep noticing. And we may even be good at attempting continued communication. Until we aren’t. Or we start to leave it.  

We are very adaptable. We learn to adjust; sometimes to please, sometimes to be liked, or to placate, or to have peace, sometimes to get our way, and often to adhere to the unconscious fantasy. We may wildly deny this in the moment, and our unconscious may bring it to the surface only much later. Our disappointments and frustrations are often linked to our expectations, conscious or unconscious. The loss of a relationship will generally always bring grief with it on various levels, even if we know it may be the right thing. This can be a romantic relationship or friendship. The feared pain of loss can also be what keeps us from making the needed changes and moving forward. Attachment will always form in relation, in one way or another. When we lose this attachment, we will need to make time for grieving that loss, which will hurt. Our ego may also be in pain on various levels, since we can never quite get our ego out of the equation. And it is also the pain for the loss of the fantasy.

Pain, through loss and grief, IS the change agent. This needs its own time. May this be the pain of a relationship break-up, the loss of a home or divorce or losing a loved one, or a job, a parent, a friend. Sometimes all of these things can come together in a short space of time. C.G. Jung called it the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, on the ‘hero’s journey’ when he encounters his shadows. Katherine May calls it ‘wintering’ in her latest book (“Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times”, see also the latest eNews December 2021 in the book tip section). Like an animal that is injured we want to retreat for shelter to lick our wounds. In her book, May describes her own wintering journey and thoughts around this in a beautiful meditative way, so fitting for the cold and darker season and time of the year in our Northern Hemisphere, as a symbolic metaphor in itself.

It is through loss and grief, and feeling the pain, we find ourselves again, though we may feel lost in it.

It will take time to tend to our wounds, to heal or to be on our own is a crucial part of the healing process.

The time it takes is different for each of us and can take even years, while we go on with our many daily tasks and are able to be very functional, even with moments of joy in-between.

The process is painful and hopeless at times. Powerless and depressing and seemingly senseless. Shameful and embarrassing even. All the internal voices of the mean bullies can be descending, taunting us: “See, see, I told you so! You are nothing. You never amount to anything. You are bad. It is all your fault. See where everything got you now! You have done all this to yourself, so don’t whine about it now!” It is very tricky in those dark days to get out the big guns: self-compassion, self-empathy and love to change the internal dialogue to a much more friendly and nurturing tone.

Yet with time and reflection things do shift. Feeling it not fighting it, is not our instinctive response. But this way perspectives will eventually shift. Anger can dissipate. Maybe we feel we can start to breathe again. Flare-ups will come and go. The frequency and intensity of them will shift though, as will their meaning. These waves of emotions could actually become like awaited friends, coming for tea, with a hot water bottle and blanket at the ready; they won’t stay too long.

It is a deeply personal experience, stretched out in and over time, where time is relative. In our time pressured lifestyle, it can always feel too long, as we wait impatiently to ‘get back to normal’. But we ARE already changing. We cannot go back to what was before.

Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice.

Grief helps us grow, but we don’t see it at the time, as it feels more like shrivelling up to nothingness. The pandemic has shown us loss and grief and many painful challenges. We now know we cannot go back to ‘normal’, or back to how it was. It has passed. We are now in today. Which means we have already changed, and are continuing to change every day, every moment.

Perhaps the trick is to let the change happen – at its own pace. To let it do its work rather than fighting it or hanging on to our past selves. This is really challenging for all of us at times when we ‘miss’ something or someone. But this pain may just be an indication of the love involved. Hope is involved in considering how we want our future Self to be. I wonder if hope is tightly connected to ‘love’. So if we lose love, do we lose hope? And when we find love, do we find hope? What is the process of hope?

I notice that when hope appears again in our lives, in sessions during the therapy work, something has shifted. Is it through love? Or when we can find the love within ourselves for our Self? Can we forgive our Self, and find to accept it and love it, just how it is?

This can only ever be a moment to moment conscious act. So the grounding, feeling into ourselves is crucial. Being in our bodies and in nature may get us physically more connected and to something larger than ourselves. For me, it is definitely walking as a practice. I am not sure what I would do without it, without being able to feel the wind in my face and the freedom to see far distances, the ocean, over hills or the magic shelter in woodlands with running fresh streams.

Finding hopes for the future is useful. But who do we want to be today, and right now?

How can we remember to ask ourselves this same question, even when we forget over and over again? We can create this awareness with intent, and for example in a conscious mindful walking meditation, where with every step we walk and every breath we take, could ask this question like a mantra.

We have a beautiful opportunity in this winter season and end of the year to reflect on this, to take some time, to recharge and be.

To take some time to hibernate, have warm spicy teas and nourishing foods, some time to be with others, and slowing things down. And even just to start with holding our intent to make room for this.

Go gently with yourself in this tender wintering process.

See you again in the New Year!