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Mel Menker

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Dealing With Loss of Personal Identity"
by Mel Menker   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, October 05, 2006
Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006

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Every person has an identity, that which defines who and what we are. There are tests and trials in life that will challenge our identities and maybe even force adjustments as well. The following contains some helps to see us through possible changes in who and what we are.

As the advent of autumn begins to unfold, resplendent with the vibrant colors present in the leaves, we are reminded there are seasons in our lives – seasons that contain great joy and happiness and seasons that are filled with suffering and challenge.

In the Bible, the letter of James 1:2 reminds us to be joyful in the midst of the temptations, tests, and trials we will face but our personal pain in those moments seems to overshadow the joy the Lord has given us through Christ. This is especially true when we are experiencing some form of loss of health.

Studies have shown that the loss of health is one of the greatest fears people have. I think that fear emanates from the fact that all of us develops an “identity” as to who and what we are, and temporary illness tends to either place our identity on hold as wellness unfolds, or serious illness strips us of our identity and forces an alteration of the definition of who we are. An example is the heart patient who develops a serious condition that demands a restructuring of his/her activities. Their physical activities, occupation, eating habits, etc. may be forever altered and they discover that the cleanly defined understanding of self no longer applies. Illness is one of those things that forces us to re-evaluate our identity and, if a change in the definition of who we are is necessary, we will actually go through a grieving process as we experience the loss of who and what we have been.

The first stage in this process is DENIAL. Denial is the step in which we find it hard to believe that our health is deteriorating. This situation may have come on suddenly or over the course of time, but we are facing it in the immediate present and we find it difficult to accept what is happening. We desperately want to think that nothing is happening and we try to go forward with that attitude. We go to the doctor with the full expectation that we will receive a simple pill that will enable the illness to pass or be placed under control so we can continue our lives unabated. We may even avoid going to the doctor because we don’t want to consider the possibilities of what that annoying pain might mean. We are actually denying that our definition of self is possibly subject to change.

The second stage of the loss process is that of ANGER. I may become angry toward the illness itself, those whom I feel may have contributed to my condition; myself as I consider any role my lifestyle may have played in the illness, or even God who has permitted this to take place. I may internalize this anger or I may direct it outward on others. The primary issue behind this anger is that my identity – my definition of self – is being challenged and may require adjustment. I don’t want to adjust; I want things to remain they way they are.

The third part of the process is that of GUILT AND/OR BARGAINING. I may feel guilty over the transition, that there must have been something I could have done better or differently to avoid this moment. From the bargaining perspective, I may try to “bargain” with whomever or whatever to attempt to regain my previous position or identity.

The fourth part is that of DEPRESSION. This is where genuine grief unfolds. Who I thought I was has been forever altered and there is no longer any chance of return. I may even feel as though I will never recover from this painful experience. I wonder who and what I am now that my identity has been harshly stripped from me. I may feel that I no longer have any direction in life. I may even wonder if God still have a purpose for me.

The final stage is that of RESOLUTION. It is at this point that I begin to accept my situation. I may not like it but I realize that it is factual and that I must face the transition “head on.” The constant to which I can hold on is reminding us that God still has a plan for me and I need to discover the new direction He desires to unfold in my life. It is here that I begin to discover my new identity based upon my new limitations and then press forward in the new direction. I am reminded that my self-esteem is not tied to what I or anyone else thinks of me but on whom God says I am. I make the decision to embrace my new self and agree that I will give my all to live within the confines of the new definition of who and what I am and give my best to serve others as God has purposed.

As I am facing a possible crossroads of identity in my life, I wanted to take the time to remind each of us that we are all in this together, each of us facing this struggle at various times in our lives. We are not alone in this battle. We have each other and we have our God who remains that shining constant within us. He is still the Potter and we are still the clay. Just because we were once a pitcher doesn’t mean we can’t become a glass or cup or a dish at another time. Change in identity does not make the end of life, as we know it; change in identity simply offers us greater possibility to expand our horizons and continue to grow and become everything He has ever intended for us to be.

© 2006 Mel Menker

All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

NOTE: Some of this information has been taken from my book "M.E.S.H.: How to Have Mental, Emotional, Spiritual Health for Life.

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