We all have heard of this word ‘loss’. Going by the dictionary definition, it means the process of losing something or someone. With loss the most commonly associated word is grief. Lots of articles and books have been written about how to cope with this form of distress. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be a highly stressful event that brings in significant shock and despair where one is left deprived and helpless in front of death. But what about the loss of self while one is still alive? Such a loss may seem quite surmountable when compared to the loss of life, but it cannot be discounted just because it is manageable and common. Yes, common because we are habitual of being surrounded by many such people experiencing this loss of self. Loss of self or identity loss is all-pervasive. It is often described as a psychosocial conflict where one experiences a sense of loss of continuity to ones’ personality or a state of confusion regarding one’s nature and direction.

Recently when I met an old friend amrita after 10 years, I was surprised to know that she was struggling with depression. With a caring husband, two adorable kids her life appeared perfect from the outside and like others, I wondered what could have made her depressed? It was only after a long chat with her that I realized she was experiencing identity loss. Having graduated from the prestigious IIMA and with ten years of rich corporate experience, the job had become an integral part of her identity. Due to lack of family support, demands at home, she made the decision of resigning from her job. Within a span of a year she realized that with the loss of this job probably she had also lost a part of herself. Unable to join back being desperately needed at home, she now suffers each day internally in silence. To make things worse, society makes her feel guilty for feeling so-for she is a mom- and what can be more important to a mother than her kids? This kind of identity loss due to the role- loss is on the rise as women are being successfully trained for a full-fledged career. The question arises now as to who will fill the shoes of a homemaker, specifically if the situation demands complete withdrawal of one partner from his job? In most of such cases, we see the women taking the decision to quit and with it comes the anxiety and loss of sense of ‘self’.

We also get to see this kind of loss in bureaucrats and professionals at the time of retirement when they experience a scenario of ‘role-lessness’. Phrases like “I am a teacher,” or “I am a scientist” etc. make clear how the profession is a huge part of one’s’ identity. Being defined by a job and then having to live without it, has an acute impact on their sense of self. Those who are not prepared to deal with it often experience a sudden decline in their physical and mental health. I personally saw it happening with one of my best Professor at college.

Our piece of identity can also be based on our relationships with another. When a situation demands a person to distance oneself from that relation, a person may experience a relational loss of sense of self. We see this very common among mothers who dedicate their life purpose and existence to their kids, and when kids grow up to leave the nest, they find themselves lonely and lost.

So, learning from the experiences of others around me, I surely learnt something that I am penning in the points below:

-Know what role gives you a sense of identity and completeness. Hold on to the one that gives meaning to your existence. Nurture it as far as possible!

-If you are struggling with identity loss, acknowledge it and try to address it lest it makes you feel insecure, and you find yourself seeking your self -worth in others.

-To safeguard yourself from identity loss which may be unavoidable at times try to engage in multiple meaningful pursuits in life. Take time out for your hobbies, fitness, club activities or for chasing those dreams that you may have postponed for a later date. Multiple pursuits and broader perspective of self is not only good for psychological health but will leave you energized, reducing the pain caused by one particular role void.

To quote William Shakespeare- ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances.’ While Shakespeare talks of one person playing multiple parts in the seven ages of life, it’s good to remember that though we are mere actors in the stage of life we should not be so glued to any ‘one’ given idea of our role identity, that our existence becomes questionable without it. The positive attachment in such a case will become an unwise one.

About the author

Dr. Farah Naqvi

Is an academician, corporate trainer and HRD consultant associated with many MNCs and institutions in the field of academics, behavioural training, consulting and research. She has worked with premier institutes like Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), IBA Bangalore, Centre for Organization Development Hyderabad (COD), ICFAI Hyderabad where she pursued her research, teaching and training pursuits. She has to her credit more than 20 research papers published in International refereed Scopus, and ABDC listed journals. Her research work has been extensively cited by researchers in India and abroad. Her research project on ‘Perspectives of Indian Women Managers in the Public Sector’ published by Indian Journal of Gender Studies- Sage Publications created ripples in the field of gender studies. She was invited for the same as a key note speaker in the sponsored session by United Nations development fund for women. She has presented and chaired in many conferences in premier management institutions like IIM’s. She has reviewed the works of famous authors like William A Cohen, James M. Hunt, Joseph R. Weintraub, Barry Gerhart, Sara L Rynes and Roy.H.Lubit as a book reviewer for South Asian Journal of Management. Dr. Farah has conducted consulting & Management development programs for a diverse clientele throughout her career including Ministry of Finance Govt. of Afghanistan, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Power Grid Corporation Ltd., Bharat Electronics Ltd., National Mineral Development Corporation Ltd., Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, College of Defense Management, Hyderabad to name a few. 

Currently, she is based in Kuwait with her family and providing training, advising & consulting services to higher education institutions. For her debut fiction novel- ‘The light in Blackout’ she has been featured in leading English newspapers like The Hindu, Business Standard, Dailyhunt, Newstrack, Newsnow, The India Observer(TIO), Namibia Press Agency and many other online and print media.