Losing your Sense-Of-Self Is the Worst

Take a long look at this image… then read what is below it. At the end, without looking at this image again, draw it on piece of paper.

Memory Test Image - study it, then draw it from memory later
Memory Test Image – study it, then draw it from memory later

I’ve written before about restoring a lost Sense-Of-Self, and I really feel drawn to do so again. As a matter of fact, I never fully completed the work I started, some time back.

When was it? A year ago? It could be.

Well, at least I am coming back to it.

Here are some of my thoughts from the section I’m working on:

And What About Sense-Of-Self?

The Self alone is not the only thing that can get lost after TBI. Along with the Loss of Self, there’s the Loss of your Sense-Of-Self1.

Your Sense-Of-Self is that level of comfort you have with yourself. It’s how comfortable you feel in your own skin. It’s the sense you have of being “in your proper place” that gives you confidence and security. It’s a very physical sense, a visceral sensation, that sets the stage for what our mind thinks about our surroundings. Our sense tells us if we’re safe, if we’re competent, if we are up to handling the world around us.

If your Sense-Of-Self is disrupted, nothing feels safe. Nothing feels familiar. You may recognize your surroundings, but they don’t feel the same. You don’t feel the same. And because you don’t have a consistent sense of yourself in your surroundings, it sets off all sorts of alarm bells that you are not safe. IT IS NOT SAFE. Cue the fight-flight-freeze response. Cue the adrenaline rush. You’re on edge… often for reasons you cannot detect or determine. Something just doesn’t feel right. And that “something” is you.

As I discussed earlier, the “Self” is the part of us that keeps reliably showing up. It’s the part of us that we recognize as uniquely us, which sets us apart from everyone else, and feels familiar and comfortable on a deep, fundamental level. It’s who we are — and who we can expect ourselves to be in the course of everyday life. And our Sense-Of-Self is the level of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual comfort we feel with this familiar Self. Our Sense-Of-Self is the underlying foundation of confidence we have in living in our own skin, and our level of surety we have in what we believe we will do under different circumstances. In many ways, the Sense-Of-Self is our safety net that allows us to walk into unfamiliar situations with the confidence that we will “just know” how to handle conditions we may have not encountered before. We’re solid in who we know ourselves to be. We have faith in our Sense-Of-Self. We can depend on the person we have become over the course of our lives, to do the kinds of things we expect in even the most challenging situations.

And when that Sense-Of-Self is damaged, all hell breaks loose. Literally. Not only do we not know who we are anymore, but we also have no one to reliably depend on to make the right decisions and take the right actions in the future. We watch ourselves doing things and handling situations in ways that we never would have handled them before. We hear ourselves saying things that don’t “sound like us” and that seem to be coming out of a stranger’s mouth. We witness the internal reactions to things that never used to faze us before – we explode inside, when we drop a spoon… we get tied up in knots when we can’t understand what someone is saying to us… we get bent out of shape over little things that we rationally know should not be bothering us… we weep bitter tears for hours over things that other people take in stride. All of these experiences tell us that we’re living in a stranger’s life, and the person we once were – who we worked so hard to become – has abandoned us to the world and left an idiot it their place.

And that idiot keeps screwing everything up.

Our Sense-Of-Self becomes damaged… fragmented… shattered. Over time, one experience after another of watching yourself behave like a stranger undercuts the most basic foundations of our confidence, and erodes all the assumptions and knowledge we’ve built up about ourselves in the course of a lifetime. Your best friend and longest companion – the person you once knew yourself to be – has deserted you without a trace.

1The hyphens are mine, because I am treating the sense as a distinct thing in itself

That’s part of it, anyway. There’s more to come.

I just need to collect myself and get ready for my next Big Adventure.

. . .

Okay, now remember the image at the top of the page? Maybe, maybe not… Get your paper and pen / pencil and draw what you recall it looking like.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

21 thoughts on “Losing your Sense-Of-Self Is the Worst”

  1. There is no easy way I can think of to restore that sense… it takes time and effort to re-pave the pathways of the brain… and life. It took me years, and even now, I am not sure if I am who I think I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is part of the TBI that makes me a must comment reader. I’m extremely grateful that I made it to 50 without a serious physical problem. Yet TBI is a physical problem. So each time I say that, I am not being truthful to myself or the many soldiers, athletes, accident victims etc. However, the biggest problem does not feel physical at all. I now rarely slur words and my handwriting may be far different than 1989 but it is decent. And according to standardized testing my IQ is actually higher. Yes higher. But I am dumber than ever when it comes to understanding human communication and real people’s intents. But I do not even see that as the worst part of TBI. The worst part is that I can’t integrate who I was before the coma to what I am now. I feel as though I have been one big actor for 27 years. Not to deceive or impress but to fit in and to hide my injuries from myself and others. But it is a physical problem that can improve in most cases and in some cases dramatically. The stigma changes at a much slower pace in most cases. So many survivors hide out and in some cases, it is best. I believe that. L.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Its still all so fresh to me. I get lost just contemplating that I may be lost. I know the best thing is just to take it one day aat a time. Thankfully though, due to a few key components , rather than than geeling beaten(everyday filled with the stench of my own depression), I feel much more like fighting. That’s a good feeling but there’s a harbored humanity all of sudden rushing through me. I know I have to slow it down soon be overwhelming myself again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand. It is a complex situation, and I myself have a hard time making peace with it. In fact, keeping this blog is a way for me to use up the frustration and anxious energy that never goes away because of not recognizing myself at times.


  5. That sounds very familiar. The fight is what keeps us afloat, some days. For me, someyimes that’s all there is, but then the depression and defeat sinks in, and I have to start from scratch again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well said! it’s either i am fighting or I feel defeat somehow. And what I’m fighting is something nobody can see. It’s fighting for personhood of some-sort. People say “life is a battle” or the “battle is in the mind” but they do not understand. That is like a runner telling somebody who can’t feel their legs that life is a race, a marathon. True. All statements. But just misses the truth of my personal existence since 89′ that has me nodding in agreement and then isolating myself. It is better to be alone than feel so lonely with well-intentioned people.


  7. One brother who I respect very much, tells me that the brain is not the mind. He is trying to say (I think) that we control our thinking not our brain. Again I nod in agreement and isolate.


  8. I understand. I do the same thing. I let people think and say what they want, and keep my own beliefs to myself. Even my spouse does not know certain things about me, and they sometimes complain that they don’t know me better. But what can I tell them? It will just bring trouble.


  9. Some folks believe the mind is a larger consciousness that the brain is part of. Personally, I believe the brain/body controls our thinking more than most people want to believe.

    I let them think what they want. Everyone wants to feel intelligent about things that matter to them, so I don’t argue.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Perhaps it is the new definition of my post concussive status self that is the issue and it is the quiet epiphany i must work through. I know I am not “my self ” anymore but trying to describe that to even my sister is met with a shared but everyone feels that way. My drive and efforts to be what I was are exhausting. However I do not feel my spirit is with out joy and engagement it just all takes more work. I miss the ease that I had before.


  11. Yes, everyone feels that way, but with TBI, it is different. That’s something that only someone who’s sustained a concussion with lasting symptoms can know. Our wires get frayed and crossed, and unless you have a deep understanding about how many thousands upon thousands upon millions of connections are required to do even the most basic things — and how vulnerable those connections are — you’re just not going to get it, if you’re looking in from the outside.

    People who try to “reassure” us this way, are really seeking to reassure themselves. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, after many years – and numerous attempts to explain to others, who were more concerned with their own state of mind, than seeking to understand mine.


  12. It seems to me that when one says I’ve lost my sense of self, familiar feelings are missing.

    But I once read that to restore your sense of self, is too stop expecting it to happen, and obsessing over it, and let it come on it’s own by simply following your heart, love others, and the rest is a bonus.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have gone through a ‘spiritual transformation’/mental breakdown (take your pick) over the past four years. I no longer know who I am and I have an overwhelming urge to run away, because home isn’t ‘home’ anymore. A few weeks back things got so intense that ‘reality’ seemed to crack open and I felt like a stranger in my own house. The things I used to love doing have now become chores which I have to force myself to do. I don’t get enjoyment from them anymore, they have just become a task I have to do to keep those interests and skills alive. I have also quit my church and will never go back. As with one of your other corresponders, I also see myself as nothing but an actor, and I see others acting too. Nothing is real. Everything is strange. But it gets even worse, for I see that love isn’t real either. It’s part of all this sham acting. For me, “letting myself just ‘be'” is not an option, for I fear I will just vegetate.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It sounds like you’re at a critical turning point in your life. This happens. I’ve been going through that somewhat, myself, over the past years. Suddenly, so much looks ridiculous, and I have no interest in playing along. And like you, some things that used to really move me, no longer do.

    For me, the trick is finding new things that keep me engaged. I have to learn how to let the old things go (and it’s not easy), but when I do, and I find new things… that makes it worth it. I’m still looking for answers, of course, but a bit at a time, it comes clear. I have to let go of my expectations, and then things become easier.

    But it never actually feels like it’s a natural thing to me, if you know what I mean. It feels contrived. Like I have to work at it. Which I do.

    It can all be very strange at times…


  15. When you lose your sense of self what happens? I think something like this happened to me but I was wondering if you experienced something similar. My experience was as follows. My mind felt detached from my body. What everyone else was saying seemed to be thoughts coming from my consciousness. Everyone seemed to be me and I seemed to be everyone. It was very unnerving and I found myself trying to distract myself by looking for tasks to due. Everything I thought of trying to do however also seemed pointless with no real meaning. Eventually I left this state where everything anyone said was part of me (or whatever I described) and my reality turned back to the one I have lived the rest of my life in. I am curious as if this is the same thing you experienced or if it was different.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have had experiences like that – as though my own individual self had ceased to exist, and I was a part of everyone else – and vice versa. It can be unnerving. And annoying. And meaningless. It’s like the distinctions between everything just disappear, and you’re floating… like you said.


  17. Briefly said, living your life and creating positive habits that predictably bring out the best in you, is the number one way I’ve found to do that.

    If you’ve lost your sense of self, you need to learn how to recognize yourself again. And that recognition comes through repeatedly reinforcing “who you are” with similar experiences and behaviors. Consistency and predictability are what tell us who we are and HOW we are. So, forming habits and routines – each and every day – that reinforce your own predictability is a great way to build a foundation.

    It begins with simple things. But simple things can be powerful.


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