It’s easy to lose a part of yourself as you travel the highways and byways of life.
Have you ever felt that way? Many people do.
Maybe you’ve let go of a treasured passion like my friend Bill Gerlach. As adult responsibilities edged into his life, he drifted away from the joy of making music. Now he’s experiencing the door-opening power of reconnecting with what he loved.
Perhaps a part of you felt unwelcomed or suppressed as a child. Maybe you learned to hide a special quality – inquisitiveness, friendliness, spontaneity, confidence or another trait – when it wasn’t honored by those around you.
Or you suddenly wake up one day and realize you don’t know who you are. You feel empty. You don’t even like yourself. You feel like running away. You want your real self back, but who is that, anyway?
Then again, whole chunks of yourself – even your entire soul – can be overwhelmed or frightened away by severe shock, trauma, or loss.
Why am I painting all these scenarios? Because I know what it’s like. I’ve lost a part of myself too.
Whatever You Lost, You Can Get It Back
One day I came upon the photo pictured above. That’s me as a child. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Questions started to pop into my mind. “What happened to that joy and exuberance? What happened to that little girl? Who am I really?”
Trauma has altered my life dramatically. Not one trauma, but several. But I’m a survivor. I managed. I kept going, never realizing I had lost a part of myself along the way.
But then that photo got me wondering, “Who am I really?” It started a bountiful process of exploration and deep healing that is still underway.
I may have lost a part of myself, but I’m calling her back. I’m reclaiming all the lost joy, exuberance, confidence, power, and dignity. Any and all parts that were lost.
Whatever you lost, you can get it back too.
4 Essential Steps to Rediscovering Yourself
It’s impossible to change history. But we can rediscover ourselves. We can reclaim our seemingly lost qualities and talents. And even our very essence, our soul. It is never too late.
Here are four essential steps to help you rediscover yourself.
1. Recognize the Loss
Are you living life on automatic? That’s the essence of being lost. Busyness conveniently covers the pain. But one day, a trickle of grace filters through. A tiny light illuminates a slice of darkness.
When that happens, don’t hesitate for a moment! Capture the grace, dwell in the light, and dare to ask: “Have I lost a part of myself?” The answer may instantaneously appear. Or, like me, the question may dance for awhile in the deepest recesses of your brain until clarity beautifully dawns.
2. Identify the Missing Parts
What are you missing? Have you lost yourself altogether? Or are you missing pieces and parts? Try using some of the methods listed in part 4 – like writing, dialog, or art – to unearth the truth.
Questions for reflection:
- Who am I? Is this who I want to be?
- What am I missing?
- Which parts am I missing?
- What am I longing for?
- What were my dreams as a child, a teen, a young adult?
- What were my passions as a child, a teen, a young adult?
- How do I want my life to look? Today? In 5 years? When I die?
- What are my values?
- What do I cherish most highly?
- What brings me happiness, satisfactions, a sense of accomplishment?
3. Explore How You Got Off Track
There are so many ways you can lose yourself. From the voice of your own inner tyrant to the people and circumstances that touch you constantly throughout the day. Any one of us can easily feel swept away by the countless demands, expectations, and overriding commitments that come to rule one’s life in a seemingly inescapable way.
Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, your true self may simply slip away.
Take some time to explore how you lost your way. Here are some of the most common factors at play:
- an event
- a relationship
- an unfulfilling job
- family members
- strong emotions like worry, anger, fear, desire, obsession, depression
- change and life transitions
- a move to a new place
- an accident
- over-focusing on others
- your blog
- a major project
- childhood experiences
- putting on a happy face
- living a lie
- getting stuck in role
Recognizing what trips you up, helps you to understand your vulnerabilities, where you can grow, and the changes you need to make in order to live congruently.
The purpose of the exercise is not to blame other people or external circumstances. You will never be whole or happy as long as you hang on to a hurt from the past. Even if you can’t forgive in the present moment, forgiveness always begins with the wish to forgive. Make a wish to forgive and set the force in motion. Then continue on your journey back to your true self.
4. Reclaim Your Lost Self
Like Bill, reconnecting to a lost passion might be simple and fun.
But often, the process of rediscovering yourself will take time. The lost parts of yourself need to be remembered, reclaimed, embraced, and nourished fully in order to sprout and grow. Practices that utilize the right side of the brain may especially enhance your progress.
Following are some approaches you might try. However, please bear in mind that in serious trauma, any method can trigger flashbacks and distress. When trauma is significant, it is advisable to work with a counselor and go at a gradual pace.
- Journal writing, free writing, or blogging
- Artistic expressions ~ painting, collages, drawing, working with clay
- The use of color in your environment and dress
- Discovering what makes you happy ~ more joy and less oy
- Deciding to love yourself and starting right now
- Using one powerful word to guide your healing process
- Establishing a goal – like changing jobs – and making a plan to achieve it
- Creating a new daily habit that nourishes the reclaimed aspect of yourself.
- Working with a counselor or life coach
- Using healing images and animal guides
Rediscovering Yourself After Shock and Trauma
Trauma almost always involves a loss of self. In recent years, scientific research has shed light on the somatic nature and neurophysiology of traumatic stress, once considered an intractable condition.
New and effective treatment approaches for healing trauma have emerged. These include the use of techniques like breath and heart rate regulation, meditation, imagery, biofeedback, energy release work, hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Information Processing Techniques (EMDR, EFT, TFT, TAT), cognitive behavioral therapy, and others.
You are not stuck with the impact of trauma. Trauma can be healed.
Ancient medical traditions also offer effective methods that can help release trauma.
According to Chinese Medicine, when a severe shock occurs the soul sometimes leaps outside the body. You may be skeptical about this idea, but bear in mind that ancient medical traditions have been healing people for thousands of years. Whereas modern medicine has a track record of about a hundred.
This is a true story of a young child who fell into a hornets nest. Stung more than 35 times, he was severely traumatized and subsequently developed grand mal seizures. He was diagnosed by Western medical doctors with epilepsy. His seizures occurred in clusters every few weeks.
With no relief in site, eventually he was treated by a highly experienced Doctor of Chinese Medicine using a ritual called a “soul retrieval.” Now almost 20 years later, the seizures have never once returned.
In his book, Healing with Form, Energy, and Light, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche explains,
“…in many shamanic traditions, there is the notion of “soul loss.” Although this is an imbalance of the elements, it is greater than the imbalances suffered in normal life. It is a question of degree. Soul loss is a profound loss of elemental qualities and a condition of extreme imbalance that usually, although not always, is caused by traumatic external situations and beings.”
The “elements” are earth, water, fire, air, and space in this tradition. They are considered to be the “substance of all things and processes.” He goes on to say,
“The same kind of inner damage can happen when someone loses a child, is raped, witnesses brutality, is subjected to brutality, goes through a war, is in a car accident, or loses a house – the catastrophes and calamities that fall upon us humans. The shock to the soul overwhelms it with fear, loss or some other powerful emotions and the result is the loss of positive qualities, the loss of life-force and vitality, the loss of joy and empathy. It may also result in physical frailty and the loss of sensory clarity.”
In time honored traditions, it takes profound training to perform a ritual like this. Like Western medical doctors, alternative healers vary in their abilities and effectiveness. If you decide to explore this type of healing modality, be selective. Carefully check training and credentials. Don’t hesitate to speak to former clients for a reference. Almost anyone can beat a drum. That doesn’t mean they can heal you.
The Paradox of No Self
From the highest spiritual perspective, there is no permanent self.
“Self” is just a verbal designation. A construct we create to identify a conglomeration of thoughts, emotions, sensory experiences, and body parts. While this is ultimately the truth, a positive and healthy sense of this “illusory” self is the best basis for personal and spiritual evolution. As paradoxical as it may seem, often you need to find your “self” in order to ultimately realize the truth of no self.
Never give up! Whatever part of yourself has been lost, you can call it back.
Have you ever lost a part of yourself? How did you rediscover yourself?
Resources for Trauma Survivors
- 2010 Best Resources for Trauma Survivors – Part 1
- 2010 Best Resources for Trauma Survivors – Part 2
- Note to Colleagues: Please Stop Saying Post Traumatic Stress Is Incurable by Belleruth Naparstek
- Heal My PTSD Blog
- Retraining the Brain for CFS, FMS, PTSD, MCS, GWS
- Book: The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook – A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth by Glen R. Shiraldi
- Book: Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine
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