Do any of these situations sound familiar?
One day, Emma was a happily married mother of two children. The next day, Emma learned that her husband of 12 years had been having an affair for two of them, was in love with the "other woman," and had filed for divorce. Emma's world turned upside-down.
Sharon worked long and hard to earn her high-level position at a large company. She enjoyed a large salary and significant prestige for her professional accomplishments. Then, her position was eliminated and she was out of work. Sharon found another job, but it was out of her field, with a much lower salary and minimal professional prestige.
While in her teens, Tanya began running, and was completing several marathons a year by her early 20s. One day, she fell on an icy sidewalk and seriously injured her knee. She can no longer run long distances or competitively.
These examples depict the type of life-altering change of circumstance that can cause chaos not only in your external, interpersonal and logistical life, but in your internal life as well. It can hugely impact how you see yourself and the world around you.
To an extent, we all define ourselves by the roles we play—wife, mother, friend, executive, hairdresser, writer, marathon runner, etc. So, what happens when these roles are changed? The change may occur intentionally, or because of circumstances outside of your control. Either way, it's a transition, and transitions can be difficult.
In the examples above, the events are negative. But a role change can also be positive. For example, moving to a new community, receiving a promotion, having a child—these may all be happy occasions, but they still require you to adjust to shifting roles. Your new role may involve both positive and negative elements, such as added responsibilities, more independence, less parental support, more isolation, different social groups, different settings or a new socioeconomic status. Besides all of these outward situational changes, there are changes inside of you that may need your attention.
Primarily, your self-esteem may need some nurturing. If you previously based your self-esteem on the lost role, it may be suffering. While the roles you play contribute to your self-concept, they shouldn’t define it. Look deeper—into the core of who you are as a person. Despite changing roles, the core is consistent. How do you describe yourself without “role words?” For example, are you kind, smart, funny, adventurous, loving, playful…? This is your core, and it’s always who you are, despite shifting roles.
If your new role wasn’t your choice, you may need to allow yourself to grieve the loss of the old role. For example, the women described above may need to work through the pain of the loss of being a wife, executive or marathon runner. You can acknowledge the loss, and express the sadness and anger as part of the process of finding some closure and moving forward. This will help you find acceptance of the new role, and its place in your life.
Your new role probably requires you to become comfortable with seeing yourself in a new way.
Hold onto your self-esteem, and find acceptance of a revised view of yourself more easily, by remembering that your new role, like all roles, is only one element of your life and doesn’t define who you are at your core.
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