Over time, stress and trauma distort our very sense of self. 

You know that feeling of, “I don’t know who I am anymore?” That’s what I’m talking about.

That happens because we’ve had to divert so much focus and energy toward survival and basic coping over a long period, that we’ve not had the opportunity to focus on or develop ourselves. 

The things that we need to do to feel secure and confident in our identity, or to grow as a person, are virtually impossible when every waking hour of our day is occupied with our attempts to survive under stress. 

This very often happens when were’ living in a stressful situation day after day. 

It’s common when people are dealing with a prolonged illness. 

It’s common when people are in a situation where they are being abused by a partner, but are unable to leave the relationship. 

It happens when people are in an exploitative relationship with a cult or other high control group, which they are unable to leave without consequence. 

It even happens when people are immersed in a highly stressful work environment or working multiple jobs at once— and unable to walk away because they need the financial security. 

In each of these situations, people feel forced to remain in the stressful situation— and the demands of the situation leave little or no room for developing themselves as an individual, independent from their interaction with the stressful circumstance. 

Over time, people slowly start to realize that they don’t recognize themselves anymore. 

It becomes difficult to remember the last time they took time for themselves. 

They can’t remember what they used to enjoy. 

When you’re living in a chronic, high-stress, high-demand situation that you’re unable to leave, symptoms of depression start to creep in over time…but you’re often too “busy” handling your daily load that you literally don’t notice. 

Then, one day, something happens that makes the entire situation grind to a halt. 

Sometimes the depression actually breaks through to your awareness, and you become aware of how miserable you are…and have been. 

What’s more, though, you have this weird feeling that you can’t quite remember who you are and what you’re all about. 

Some people describe literally not recognizing  themselves in the mirror. 

Managing stress and avoiding high control situations when we can is about more than general health or wellness. 

If we don’t want to literally lose our very personalities in the stress and trauma, we NEED to cultivate self-awareness and the assertiveness to set limits with people and institutions. 

Even in situations, such as a chronic illness, where you can’t walk away from your chronic stressor, we need to cultivate the kind of self-awareness that will allow us to understand what’s happening, when it is happening. 

The truth is, we NEED to take time to remember who we are. 

We NEED to take time to grow and heal as individuals. 

We NEED to carve out an identity and life for ourselves separate from what we do or what our current situation demands of us. 

Remembering who we are, and giving ourselves time and oxygen to grow and heal, isn’t optional— especially when we are under chronic stress and at risk for complex trauma. 

The good news is, taking care of ourselves can be a day by day project, to which we attend with simple, straightforward actions. 

Remembering and saving ourselves is not complex. 

But it does need to be done on purpose. 

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2 thoughts on “Careful to not lose yourself.

  1. Yes. Even doing some little thing every day that is about you, about your comfort, about your personal well-being, about your sense of self, can make a huge difference, but you have to do it every day. It can be as simple as smiling at yourself in the mirror for six seconds, or as complex as ritual dressing and grooming. As you’ve said so often, Dr. Doyle, what works for you, works for you — you just have to make sure it’s properly employed.


  2. We are in the middle of a pandemic which is adding more stress to our normal challenges.
    Its been tough. I live in New York and my children & my grandbabies in California. I have not seen them nor my new granddaughter since January.
    I am taking the plunge and flying out
    In November…I used to fly often to California but Covid put my trips on hold.
    I needed to read this tonight.
    The anxiety over flying in a pandemic is doing its best to derail me but common sense love and skills will get me there.


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