There’s something about losing yourself in a relationship that is abstract as it sounds. Left-brainers and pragmatists might argue: “How can you lose yourself? You’re right there.”
If you’ve experienced it though, you know it.
It might take some time before you realize it. It might hit you in the face suddenly like a ton of bricks. Or it might nag at you every day, whispering in your ear “this is not who you really are”.
Either way, losing yourself in relationship is a dangerous path that can only lead to a disempowered, less-fulfilling existence and experience of life.
A disempowered and less-fulfilled you.
What does losing yourself look like?
While it’s true that losing yourself in a relationship doesn’t mean that you turn into a ghost or leave your body, it does mean that you lose your connection to your inner self – specifically to your desires, wants and needs that make you a unique human being.
Here are some sure signs that you have lost that inner-connection to yourself within your relationship:
- You often act, think, and communicate in ways that you feel your partner will approve of and desire instead of being your true, authentic self.
- You consistently ignore your own needs and desires within the relationship.
- You sense the relationship is “bringing you down”.
- You frequently look to your partner to bring you happiness instead of looking within to be content.
- You lose interest in your own hobbies, goals and dreams and give more attention to your partner’s hobbies and goals instead.
- You’re uncomfortable being alone and prefer spending time with your partner, even if it means consistently engaging in activities that don’t resonate with you.
So why do we lose ourselves in relationship?
Reading the list above sounds absolutely awful and begs the question: How does this happen? Why do you lose yourself in relationship?
The answer is Attachment.
You became attached to your partner and addicted to them under the false pretense that they could fill up something that is empty within you.
Many Spiritual teachings say that this empty feeling began at birth. You felt whole and complete in your Mother’s womb, but when you came into the world you had to separate from this feeling of wholeness (sometimes known as ‘Oneness’) only to spend the rest of your life searching for the wholeness again.
So the most fascinating part of being attached to your partner is the reality that the longing isn’t even about them. It’s about you.
It’s you wanting what feels good and chasing that feeling.
Maybe your partner made you feel amazing at the beginning of your relationship. You felt wanted, desired, loved, and whole. Then, like a drug addict who turns to stealing in order to support their habit, you kept chasing after that amazing feeling even though it was no longer there. You kept running to your partner thinking they would bring you that good feeling again when in fact you were only running farther and farther from yourself.
You might have also adopted the habit of acting in ways you think others want you to act from your relationship with your parents (or primary caregivers) in early childhood.
Perhaps at a very early age you decided that you would do anything to please your parents — including deciphering which version of you got them to love and acknowledge you the most. You learned to play a role with those closest to you in order to win their love instead of simply being yourself, and this behavior was repeated in your romantic relationship(s).
Another explanation is what we call in the field of psychology an “Insecure Attachment”. This means your primary caregiver was not able to meet your unique desires and physical or emotional needs when you were a baby.
You were most likely fed according to schedule (or maybe even an “expert’s” schedule) instead of simply when you were hungry. Or maybe you were forced into bed at 7pm every night, regardless of whether you were tired or not. Perhaps you had no choice of what clothes you wore from day to day. From these kinds of occurrences, you learned to defer your instinctual needs and desires to your caretakers and loved ones.
Most likely you weren’t given the space to articulate your own needs. As a result, you involuntarily submitted them to your parents, became too scared to be (or take care of) yourself, and then “re-enacted” or repeated this pattern in romantic relationships later in life.
How to find yourself again
Now that you understand more about why you lost yourself in your relationship, it begs the question: How do you connect to our own internal needs to find yourself again?
Practice getting in touch with yourself and connecting to your own needs every single day.
Here are some tips and tools for you to practice finding yourself again:
- Ask yourself each day, “What do I need today?”
Check-in with yourself regarding the day’s activities including feeding yourself, attending to your work, interacting with others, being active or nourishing yourself.
You might feel you need to only drink fruit smoothies for the day or that you need indulge in that piece of chocolate cake. You might need to take time off from work to hit the beach, or put in a 12-hour day to get a task complete. You may need to call your best friend or turn off your phone. Or maybe you need a sweaty kick-ass yoga class, a bath, a nap or an hour’s worth of meditation.
Take the time to truly listen to yourself for what’s in your own best interest, regardless of your partner’s needs or what you feel like you “should” be doing. Trust your own internal messages to develop a strong sense of yourself and your desires.
You can also practice checking-in with yourself at several times throughout the day, “What do I need in this moment?” What are my needs right now? What do I desire?”
If you find that you are often putting your partners’ needs before your own, stop yourself and see where you can at the very least create a balance within the relationship.
- Become your own parent
If your own parent wasn’t able to attune and be attentive to your personal needs and you looked to your partner for direction, start to be there for yourself the way you would want the ‘Ideal Parent’ to be there for you. If you could be your Ideal parent, you would probably do some of the following things:
Give yourself space to explore Life. Acknowledge yourself for a job well done. Have true compassion for yourself. Love yourself unconditionally. Get to know yourself and how you respond to Life. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Be your own best advocate. Listen to your needs and respond to fulfill them if they are in your best interest. Show yourself how special you are. Appreciate yourself and celebrate your gifts.
- Become your own lover
Instead of always looking to your partner to satisfy and fulfill you, practice fulfilling yourself. Take yourself out on dates. Buy yourself flowers. Touch your body lovingly. Make love to yourself for hours. Be attentive and listen to yourself. Be your own best friend. Practice not looking to others to find your way.
This is a great tool to connect with yourself if you are currently lost in a relationship. You can maintain your relationship with your partner and at the same time strengthen (or start) the relationship you have with yourself. No one else can work on your relationship with yourself but you.
- Be with yourself
Ask yourself: What is it that I like to do, independent of my partner?
Explore different hobbies and activities. Spend time with yourself so that you can get to know yourself and what you need. If you find that it’s difficult being with yourself, stick with it. Sometimes you have to spend time alone hating yourself in order to learn how to really love yourself fully and enjoy your own company.
It’s important to note that you losing yourself in your relationship is not the fault of your partner. It’s not the fault of your parents or caregivers either. They did the best they could with what they learned or knew, just like you.
Instead of placing blame for your own behavior, practicing taking responsibility for all the choices in your life (conscious or unconscious) outside of the framework of the judgments of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Trust that you lost yourself so you could gain a valuable life lesson.
Perhaps you went through the experience of losing yourself to find yourself in a way that’s even deeper than before.
To know yourself even more.
To master yourself even more.
Lastly, if you are currently in a relationship where you have lost yourself, only you can decide whether to stay in your relationship or not. If you’re confused or ambivalent, trust that time will tell you what to do. It’s always helpful to work with a therapist who can hold space for you while you get clear on what to choose, so reach out to someone who resonates with you. Just remember: a healthy relationship allows you to become more of yourself, not less.