“‘Finding yourself’ is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” ~Emily McDowell
Somewhere between becoming a parent, a wife, and a career woman, I began to lose myself.
I wouldn’t say it happened all at once or as the result of any one thing. Instead, it was a gradual process of disappearing under layers and layers of masks I had to wear in order to play the role of the person others needed me to be.
The self-sacrificing stoic.
But who was I really? I started to think I was none of those things.
My true self was buried under years of conditioning, wounding, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, leaving me feeling incredibly lost, anxious, and dissatisfied. Like a hamster on a wheel, I was going through the motions of life with no real purpose and no understanding of why I was doing the things I was doing.
It wasn’t until 2019, when my life came to a screeching halt, that I finally realized just how far from myself I had wandered. A major wake-up call and life-changing moment brought everything into the light.
My marriage was crumbling. My anxiety was through the roof. And my career was sucking the life out of me. Something had to give.
So began the process of unraveling.
It started with a career change, followed by the dissolution of my nineteen-year marriage, and then months of self-exploration and healing. (I excel at dismantling things that are no longer working.)
In order to find myself again, I would have to strip away everything I was not. I would have to peel back layer after layer of masks and facades, wounding, and conditioning, to rediscover who I was at the core… who I was before the world had changed me.
This was no easy task. First, I began with the question, “How did I get here?”
Why had I made the choices I had? Why had I settled for a marriage that was neither healthy nor life-giving? Why had I stayed in a career that was no longer fulfilling and was burning me out? How had I developed self-sabotaging habits and behaviors?
To answer these questions, I dove deep into psychology: my childhood wounds and traumas, the negative coping mechanisms and self-concept I had formed over time, and my unconscious patterns and behaviors.
Through all of the psychological work, I realized that the first step to finding yourself again is to go back to the source of what harmed you. When you know where your patterns and behaviors stem from, the origin of your negative or limiting beliefs (about love, about yourself, about your worth), you are able to carefully target your healing. As any therapist will tell you, we cannot heal that which is hidden.
These are some important things I learned during the process of uncovering.
1. We all have inner child wounds.
When we can trace our feelings of unworthiness, abandonment, or rejection back to their source in our childhood, we will discover that one particular incident (or sometimes a series of repeated incidents) caused the wound. Heal that wound and your spirit will be free.
2. We all have trauma.
Sometimes our trauma is the kind with a capital “T.” Other times it’s a series of smaller, compound traumas that affect us in a big way. Trauma left unhealed will continue to live in the body years after its onset, often presenting itself in physical symptoms and ailments, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, digestive issues, and more serious illnesses. Heal your trauma and your body will thrive.
3. Our patterns of thinking and behaving are often not our own.
As we move through life, we learn and adopt other people’s ways of thinking and viewing the world. Family members, teachers, pastors, political leaders, and society all shape us. As adults, it is up to us to unpack these belief systems to see which belong to us and which do not so that we can release what is no longer serving us. Clear the clutter in your head and you will be blessed with peace of mind.
4. As well-intentioned as our parents were, they couldn’t give us what we needed.
The wounds our parents left unhealed inevitably affected the way they showed up for us. They did the best they knew how with the tools available to them, yet they most likely fell short in some way. Recognizing how our parents’ upbringing impacted their ability to love and support us will help us accept and forgive their shortcomings as well as our own.
Some of the patterns and behaviors I developed over time arose as a form of self-protection and safety. The need to constantly be busy. People-pleasing. Perfectionism. Control. All of these, I later learned, were trauma responses to times in my childhood where I had either been thrown into chaos, abandoned, or made responsible for my caretaker.
For one, I grew up with an absentee father, who also happened to be an alcoholic. His absence and inability to reciprocate love left the child in me feeling unlovable and unworthy. I would carry this wound with me into adulthood, constantly searching for someone or something to fill the empty space his absence had created.
Secondly, my one remaining parent, who was supposed to be my rock and safe space, developed mental illness as a result of the pressure of being a single mom and her own childhood trauma. This hurled my twin sister and me into a tumultuous family dynamic, lacking both stability and emotional safety… one where we had to become the caretakers and grow up way too fast.
Had I known about attachment wounds and trauma earlier in my life, I could have perhaps saved myself a lot of heartache and suffering. It was only through my own willingness and desire to break the cycle, both of my own unhealthy patterns and also those of my family lineage, that I pulled back the curtain to reveal what was hidden.
All of the things keeping me stuck, feeling unhappy and disconnected, were brought into the light. The exposure of my deepest wounds was both uncomfortable and liberating. It was what I needed in order to make peace with my past.
Once you have identified the source of the patterns and wounds that caused you to lose touch with your true self, you may finally begin the beautiful, yet painstaking journey back to yourself.
That’s precisely what I did. After spending one year answering the question, “How did I get here?”, my next question was: “Who am I?”
This involved moving beyond healing and trauma work into the things that lit a spark inside me: my passions, my hobbies, my gifts, and my purpose. I began the quest to reignite my inner fire.
When you know who you are, and you live from that authentic, divine truth inside you, you will experience a kind of freedom and bliss you have never known.
Discovering your innermost self takes place by listening inside, following your joy, and allowing your dreams and desires to take the lead. It happens by spending time with yourself, getting to know yourself, and allowing your heart rather than your head to foster a life of contentment, meaning, and purpose.
You must do these things intentionally. You must say no to some things so that you can say yes to yourself. You must be willing to try new things and go back to that secret world inside you… the one you used to visit as a child when your imagination would run wild and you would allow yourself to play, pretend, and create.
The person you are at the core has never changed. They have just been buried underneath the demands of the world, waiting for you to find them again.
I hope that you will have the courage to take this journey back to yourself…
to let yourself be seen…
to create things that bring you joy…
to cultivate your gifts and share them with others…
to follow your heart and your passions.
Only you will know what these things are for you. You must not allow life or others to decide for you. Each of us was brought into this world to share our unique gifts and talents. Our only job is to remember who we are at the core and then to live from that authentic place.
THIS is what it means to live. This is what it means to come home to yourself.
You need only connect with that deepest part of yourself to uncover the answers you’ve been seeking all along. They have always been there. You just lost yourself for a while, and that’s okay. We all do.
Welcome home, love. It’s good to see you again.