Loss of self identity following a brain injury
Loss of self-identity following a brain injury is a phenomenon that happens quite often. However, not everyone struggles with this common outcome and everyone who is affected experiences it differently.
There are similarities though and these can be caused by both the trauma people have been through, and the immeasurable life changes that occur as a consequence of brain injury.
The loss of self-identity starts when people begin to compare different facets of their lives in respect of time. They see the brain injury as a defining marker between their life before and after the brain injury.
Sense of loss and grieving
Because of profound feelings of loss many people also see the day their injury happened as the beginning of an entirely new life.
In many respects people use this viewpoint as a way of defining that which they are grieving for – the past and a previous sense of self, goals, dreams and relationships stand firmly in the ‘before brain injury’ book of their lives.
For many people suffering a brain injury isn’t simply about turning another page and beginning a new chapter, it is seen as the ‘death’ of one life and self, and the beginning of another life and self.
In many ways these views can be based on poor information that still pervades as medical myth and outdated medical concepts and theories. People living with brain injury outcomes can find it difficult to broaden concepts beyond what they understand to be medical facts.
For example, many people are told that their personality has changed and that the brain injury is ‘for life.’ This gives a grim view of the future and can cause psychogenic effects wherein the person believes these facts and makes them a part of their story. Bad information can have crippling effects on someone’s ability to recover from a brain injury.
What is self-identity
Identity forms as a grouping together of certain attributes, qualities, personality traits and values. It also includes knowledge of our skills and abilities, occupation and talents, and the awareness of our physical attributes and what we look like.
Interwoven with this are the views we hold of how we think other people see us and these views can be a core factor in maintaining self-esteem and social relationships.
We also attach labels to ourselves so we may be a wife, mother, daughter or a husband, father, son, for example.
Our sense of self-identity helps us to connect with and communicate with others and also helps us to have a feeling of ‘wholeness’ as we connect with the sense of self and personal views of who we are.
Self-identity is also a malleable concept as we can ‘see’ ourselves in relation to time, opportunities, growth and even concepts such as threats, moral codes and standards, hopes, fears and goals.
Understanding the losses
When we understand the breadth of complexity of the data we use to create our inner picture of ourselves we can begin to understand why the loss or crisis over self-identity can be so devastating for people.
In many ways we can all identify in some way with the feelings of confusion and distress that can be felt following an extreme change in life circumstances. People can struggle with self-identity following many situational changes, such as divorce, death of a loved one, or redundancy.
The depth of loss felt will rest very much with how strongly each individual attaches their sense of self to either the inner and external aspects of their life. Those who attach more strongly to external life, such as their concept of how other people see them, often suffer more when they lose external attachments like their position or job.
Change can leave huge gaps in peoples’ lives and in their understandings of themselves and their connections to the greater world.
A loss of self-identity can result in anxiety, depression, persistent feelings of loss, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and a loss of self-confidence. All of these add to the burden and load people are already feeling and in many cases people will start to isolate themselves, which, again, adds to the problems people are experiencing. Once feelings of loneliness set in the doors open to a whole new set of self-justifications that perpetuate and deepen the difficulties people are desperately struggling with.
Sometimes people go through an interim period of seeking validation of their worth from others and may need support, reassurance, and praise from the people around them. This may encompass wider needs than just self-identity as people will also be struggling with a whole barrage of other symptoms and outcomes from the brain injury.
In many ways all the encumbrances can lead people to creating entirely new beliefs and perspectives about themselves. For example, people may realise that their worry about how others see them isn’t as important as how kind or generous they are with their time and love.
It can be difficult for people on the outside to know how much to do as many people are aware that our sense of self-identity shouldn’t come from others but should come from within. How we look, how much money we have, what kind of house we live in, these are all trivial compared to our true inner passions and motivations. These are the things people really see – our willingness to help others, to overcome adversity, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps when the going gets tough – these are the signs of character that people truly come to know us by.
Focus on who you are being and not on what you are…