Grief and Loss of Identity

Grief is like a tsunami.  It overwhelms, with waves of unexpected emotions and uncertainty.  Additionally, there is a hidden undercurrent that can create more to cope with than the primary grief- the loss of identity.  The grieving person often wrestles with the question “Who am I now?”


Any type of significant loss can change how one sees self, and lives life. In a recent post on What’s Your Grief, it was reported that increased rates of depression and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) were correlated with loss of identity. However, the loss of self is broader than relational identity. Other identities that can suffer loss (and are subject to depression and PTSD symptoms) include professional, spiritual, financial and physical identities.


To counteract the negative impact of identity loss, the following are considerations to take in account when re-establishing self:
  1. Accepting that the identity will be different than it was before, but different is not necessarily bad.
  2. Belonging is one of the best antidotes to grief and loss. Engaging in moderate-sized communities allows for healthy connection. Supportive feedback from friends and family can contribute to the healing process by identifying strengths and gains in the identity shift.
  3. Reflect on identity. How has your identity shifted? what is true, and what is a product of sadness or depression?
  4. Give permission to release, and engage. One of the common misconceptions is that the grieving person must separate from the past, or the lost person. “A continued connection to the loved ones as well as continued connection the person we used to be can be a very healthy part of moving forward.”

Getting back to what once was may no longer an option, but a focus on new identity and purpose can lead to a fulfilling life.

Sheri Schulze, APC