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Identity loss is commonly seen in cases where a good status changes for worse after a long time.
I suddenly lost my job in 1997. I had been working in the organization for twelve years and had risen several steps to become Head of Division. My income, perks, benefits, and status in and outside the company had consistently grown. I had become known as part of that organization. The customers recognized me with that reference; the market also knew me with the same reference. Suddenly, all of it turned off. Chances of finding an equivalent job immediately were non-existent. As a natural reaction, I tried to find something close but found out that it will not be happening. The loss of income and benefit are tangible losses, but loss of a particular Identity, a reference point, an introduction of self was equally, if not bigger.
A married woman having a decent, affluent life, gets divorced; reasons are besides the point. She is facing multiple challenges, the biggest of which is that she is no longer Mrs. so and so. The social circle refuses to accept the new introduction and makes it clearly known to the person.
These are classical cases where we, after becoming known with a certain introduction, lose that reference point. Identity loss is natural because we had worked hard to build it over time.
We do talk about employee engagement, dedication and giving our all to job. Similarly, a relationship is much more engaged and has much deeper roots. The more we are ‘in it’, the more the identity loss is serious. Depression is common in such cases, and it often requires medical intervention to control.
All losses of this level pass through the same five stages which are known for how we usually handle grief. The five stages are:
First, we deny that it did not actually happen. We plead with others that there is some misunderstanding and that it could not happen. Second, we become angry when others do not endorse our denial. We are angry at our bosses, spouses, colleagues, organization, families on both sides, and even God. Thirdly, we try to negotiate to regain the lost status. We offer concessions and promises. Fourthly, we become depressed because none of our tactics worked and we also start coming round to the idea that the loss has taken place and cannot be undone. This leads to depression which may be severe or mild. After these stages have passed, then comes acceptance. Two things must be noted. One, these stages are not like frames in a movie that one scene will be completed and next would start. These stages merge into each other, the order may vary a little and couple of stages may be running simultaneously. Two, the time frame for any stage or the whole process cannot be fixed. There may be huge individual variations.
Back to the topic of identity loss, which can have following consequences.
Sense of being lost – which may be acute. It may be profound and long lasting, or it may pass more quickly. The severity of loss and psychological makeup of the sufferer will determine how severe it will be and how long it will last. The person finds it hard to find his/her place in time and space and is unable to do so.
Social Isolation – may be common and long lasting. In our society, it is common practice to blame the victim/sufferer. We find sadistic pleasure in doing so. You would notice this attitude in many situations. For example, when we go to see a patient, we do not ask, ‘what happened’ or ‘how did it happen’. Instead, we ask, ‘what did you do to get sick?’. This is a common observation. The person losing a job will likely listen to many lectures emphasizing the importance of taking our job more seriously. There may be harsh judgements, blames of inefficiency etc. Divorcees will listen to much more in severity and volume. Due to this reason, they tend to isolate themselves socially so that they are not subjected to more torture.
Loss of Self Confidence – another common event is loss of confidence in own self. Self-doubt takes away courage to fight further. The job-loss person especially gets caught in a vicious cycle. They lose confidence and isolate themselves, and lose the prospect of finding a new, equivalent job.
This list does not cover all but is more of a pointer.
In the next post, we shall look at some remedial measures.
To be Continued……
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Acknowledgement. The central idea came from an article by Susan Peppercorn, a fellow RExer, which was published in Fast Company during August 2021. [the link appears at the end]. Most of the content is mine.