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identity loss

Five Signs of Identity Loss In Relationships

What’s Your Identity?

So what exactly is your “identity” anyway?  Simply put, it’s the facets of your life that define your roles, or describe what’s important to you.  It’s the “structure” of the “inner” you.  Consider this example:

The “you” at the core has roles, beliefs, interests and natural traits.  The closer the concept to your core, the more heavily it contributes to who you are.  Solid lines here indicate strength of the concept to your identity.  Healthy individuals have well-defined components.  Those can change during a lifetime, but it is usually due to life events.  Experience,  developing new interests, new perspectives, changing roles in life are typically how our identity evolves over time.  Changes don’t happen overnight, they generally change gradually as we continue to grow in life.

Loss of Identity

“Me” becomes “We”

Entering into a new relationship can be thrilling and give us an emotionally “full” feeling.  All the hormonal effects that come with that feeling of euphoria can make us feel like we’re fulfilled and complete. That satisfaction can consume our attention, leaving our other interests hanging.  As the relationship grows, both people’s identity components come back into play to one degree or another, creating a pair of two “whole”, but integrated people.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. As it grows, it’s possible for a partner’s identity to get “absorbed” or suppressed by the other.  How do you know if you’ve lost your identity?

Signs to watch for:

You’ve stopped seeing friends – In our example, you might be a “helpful friend” at your core.  A change in your identity can be seen when you’re directing all that “helpfulness” toward your partner and your attention toward your friends seems to disappear.  It is common for friends to see less of each other as life’s demands increase, but when your reasons for losing touch seems to be focused like a laser at your partner, you might be losing your identity.

You’ve stopped your individual hobbies – It’s normal for people to get distracted from doing things they enjoy.  Usually, we keep those in the back of our minds and recognize it as something to get back to when time allows because it’s inherently satisfying.  Our partners support and encourage us to do these things because they make us happy.  In our example, “dancing” is becoming weakened or shaky due to the other person’s preference, not yours. If you find yourself neglecting enjoyable hobbies because your partner doesn’t enjoy it or doesn’t approve, and it feels like a loss, you might be losing your identity.

Your interests/values are replaced with your partner’s – It’s normal and healthy to share interests and values, having those in common probably brought you together.  It’s also ok to change your perspective based on experience, but when you find yourself changing your viewpoints to be more compatible with your partner, you might be losing your identity.

You’re doing things to please your partner that don’t make you happy – We all do things to make our partners happy, it’s part of the give-and-take of a relationship.  Sometimes, though, our instinct tells us what we’re doing is wrong, or we are extremely uncomfortable.  If you ignore that gut sense and do it anyway, you are one step closer to losing your identity each time you do it.

You’re preoccupied with how your partner would react to…  Being concerned with how your loved one would feel about things is good.  Empathy and sensitivity are good, and treating others with those is very good. But when you find yourself basing most of your reactions, interactions, and decisions on what the other person would likely approve of, you are probably losing your identity.

How to Get Yourself Back

Reconnect with other people important to you – Schedule in time with friends or family.  These people were important to you before for a reason. Go for walks, have dinner, do what you love with those people.  Be sure to carve out time, don’t see if you can “fit it in” around everything else you and your partner are doing.

Pick your hobbies back up – Doing things that satisfy and nurture you are important in keeping mentally and physically healthy.  Staying true to what “feeds” you is part of what made you yourself.  If your partner is open to trying it with you, then great.  If not, do it anyway.  You deserve it.

Set boundaries – Having your own time, activities, or “space” (however that looks for you), are normal and healthy in a relationship.  This doesn’t mean you’re shutting your partner out.  There are lines, and then there are walls.  Define the lines that make you most comfortable.

Pursue your dreams – If finishing that degree was always your plan but got lost, what got in your way? Sometimes we have to postpone things because other things are pressing, but if it’s important enough, we’ll get back on track.  Going for our passions energizes and propels us to better things.  Your vision for your future is yours, and in a healthy relationship, there’s room for your “full” self and a partner.

Your First Steps

Figuring out how you got “lost” might not be easy.  Was it because you grew and developed together?  Did you feel a need to adapt your personality and lifestyle to keep your partner happy? Or did you tell yourself his/her definition of what’s good in life was better than yours?  Figuring that out is the first step in knowing how to move forward. In some cases, a good therapist can help you tease that out and determine the best direction to take.  Sometimes, letting go may be your answer.

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Susan Masterson, PhD Psychology
Susan Masterson, PhD Psychology

Susan holds a PhD in Health Psychology/Behavioral Medicine, an area focusing on the mental and psychological aspects of the wellness to illness continuum. She is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Kentucky, with experience that has included physical rehabilitation hospitals, an EEG neurofeedback laboratory, and Federal Prisons for inmates with chronic medical and mental illnesses.

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