When grief makes you lose sight of who you are

5 min read

Identity issues are common in grief

  • Grief can make us feel like we have lost a part of ourselves, especially if our loved one helped shape our sense of self.

  • Identifying and reconnecting with our values can help us find our way back to ourselves amid the upheaval of grief.

  • By making intentional choices that align with our values, even small ones, we can stay connected to what matters most to us and rediscover parts of ourselves that we may feel we've lost through this difficult process.

Grief can completely uproot our lives. When we experience the loss of a loved one, we can feel as though a part of ourselves has been taken away. This can be especially true if the person who has passed away was an important part of our daily lives. One of the most challenging aspects of grief is the way it can impact our sense of identity. When someone who played a significant role in our lives is gone, it can be difficult to imagine ourselves without that person. Our sense of self may be deeply tied to the role we played in their life, whether as a spouse, child, parent, or friend.

Feeling a loss of self in grief

This feeling of identity loss can manifest in a number of ways during grief. For example, we might feel as though we no longer know who we are or what our purpose is now that our loved one is gone. We might feel as though our sense of self has been shattered, leaving us lost and adrift— especially if our loved one was a person who shaped our identity, such as a mentor or a role model.

We may also struggle with the loss of the particular identity that we had in relation to our loved one. For example, if we’ve lost a spouse, we may struggle with the idea of no longer being a partner, or if we’ve lost a parent, we may struggle with the idea of no longer being someone’s child. These roles are an important part of our identity, and losing them can be incredibly disorienting.

Grief can also bring up difficult questions about our own mortality and our place in the world. When we lose someone close to us, we are forced to confront the arbitrary nature of death, and that death is an inevitable part of life. We may question our pre-existing beliefs, our values, and our priorities as we come to terms with the loss we’ve experienced. We may also struggle with the idea of moving forward and finding a new sense of purpose or identity in the wake of our loss. 

It’s important to remember that all of these feelings are normal and valid. It’s OK to feel lost, confused, or uncertain about who you are or what your purpose is in the wake of a deep loss.

Seeking direction in your values

One step that you can take to help with this feeling of lost identity is to connect to your values. When we’re trying to find the time to not only make space for our grief but also make sure that everyone in our family is doing OK, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and see what makes our life meaningful in the long run. Finding a path back to ourselves can start with identifying and reconnecting with our values.  

These feelings are normal and valid. It’s OK to feel lost, confused, or uncertain about who you are or what your purpose is in the wake of a deep loss.

Values are what matters most to us: they guide our actions and decisions. They are different from goals, which are specific things we want to achieve, such as getting out of our comfort zone more often or planning a meaningful celebration of life for our loved one. Values are more fundamental, like authenticity, adventure, courage, or compassion.

To identify your values, think about what is generally most important to you in life. What gives your life meaning and purpose? What makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied? Take some time and write out your ideas. Slowly go over your ideas and pick the five that call out most to your heart. These are the values that you may want to prioritize right now, even during these difficult times.

Reconnecting with what matters most

When we’re experiencing grief, it can be hard to stick by our values. We might feel like giving up, or the opposite, that our brain won’t stop speeding through all the to-dos. In these moments, it’s important to reconnect with our values. Go back to the list you wrote, and think about what it means to live by those five words that called out to you. One way to start to integrate those values into your life is to make small, intentional choices that align with some of these things that make you feel fulfilled.

For example, if one of your values is courage, you might choose to show up completely as yourself, vulnerabilities and all, the next time a loved one asks how you’re doing. You might even decide to go on a 10-minute walk, even if it may feel debilitating to go outside and move your body right now. If one of your values is compassion, you might choose to spend an afternoon volunteering at a local shelter. Or simpler, you might put an extra emphasis that day to be more compassionate with yourself, especially when you’re experiencing thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable.

These actions can help you feel more connected to your values and give you a sense of direction. They can also help you connect to parts of yourself that aren’t defined by your relationship with your loved one. That doesn’t mean ignoring the loss of identity that their passing brought on, but rather finding new or forgotten avenues that bring fulfillment, drive, and satisfaction in life.

It’s common to feel like you’ve lost sight of yourself and the things that bring you a feeling of fulfillment and purpose. It’s important to remember that prioritizing your values doesn’t mean ignoring your grief or pushing aside your emotions. It is simply taking steps to stay connected to the things that matter most to you.  

Remember that grief is a process, and though it may be difficult to see now, there is hope in rediscovery. By reconnecting with your values and making intentional choices that align with them, you can find your way back to yourself amidst the upheaval of grief and rediscover parts of yourself that may have felt lost.