by Elizabeth Postle, RN, HV, FWT
Loss of self identity is not what we expect following a bereavement, divorce, separation or even loss of health, but change is inevitable.
This topic has come up several times on forums recently with people lamenting the fact that they miss the person they were before they lost their loved one, or before they or a loved one became ill. I have heard friends say they grieve for the person they used to be, part of the carefree happy couple, or the child who thought their parents would be around forever. Researchers report that mothers, in particular, who have lost a child report strong feelings of loss of self-esteem and self-identity. (1) These are questions we need to ask ourselves:
Does our personality change following the death of a loved one or following divorce?
Who are we after we suffer a bereavement or divorce or loss of health?
These changes are a normal part of the grieving process, but the loss of self-identity is something which we don’t expect, and something for which we are not prepared. We don’t realise that we will be mourning the loss of the self we used to be with our partner, parent or sibling, or the self we used to be when we were expecting a child, when we were a mother, or when we were healthy.
Many of us believe that a new person emerges from the grief.
From being a couple for many years we now have total responsibility for all daily challenges. The confident sharing of all life had to offer us has gone. With it the person we were has disappeared too. Coming to terms with accepting this lonely pathway is part of the healing process.
If we have lost a child, our whole identities as parents change and we may feel that we have failed as a mother or father. It can be hard to re-imagine a role in life without parenthood.
We are not the same person, but eventually we can be stronger, able to face our new situation with more confidence. There will be happy moments with family or friends but also sad angry moments of “Why has this happened to me”?
Then we have moments of “I cannot cope with this”. However we have no choice. The situation is real and we have to cope for our own sanity and for our families’ sakes. Most of us also do it for our loved one’s sake.
After a divorce many cope to prove to the ex that they can enjoy life again. Read our pages about coping with divorce.
Whatever motivation we have to continue along this pathway, at the end of it we are older, more experienced. A knowledge of how difficult life can be makes us less likely to take our lifestyles for granted, as we once did.
No one ever said life was easy, but it is precious, each day a gift we can endeavour to make the most of.
we do change. We are older, wiser, with hopefully realistic
expectations. Once again we are individuals, as we were in the many
years before we met our partners or before our lives changed for whatever reason. I cope too, by looking at the future
as my time. Having been a wife, mother and having had a busy working
life this is my bucket list time.
I was very lucky to have had a great family and husband. A career I loved. Yes I wish I was part of the couple again, but I am not, so I look forward to days with friends, many laughs and much positive thinking.
Here are a few practical ways that you can work on to find your sense of self again and work out what you would like to do with your life:
Some of us will have more difficulty adapting to our new selves and moving forward from our grief. If that is you, don't feel bad, we are all different and come to terms with our losses at different times. Some take longer than others, and some will need more help.
(1) Patricia Wonch Hill, Joanne Cacciatore, Karina M. Shreffler & Kayla M. Pritchard (2017) The loss of self: The effect of miscarriage, stillbirth, and child death on maternal self-esteem, Death Studies,41:4, 226-235, DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2016.1261204
Elizabeth Postle had a varied and fulfilling nursing career, culminating in running her own high dependency hospice. She is the author of this website. Read more about her here.
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