Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go”

Doug Cooper

One of the most important aspect of human beings is to have a stable sense of self. Having a well-developed sense of self is what helps us make wise choices in life. However, formation of self-image or identity is what has become an important conflict today. Since people and the environment around us strongly impact our sense of identity, our likes and dislikes are constantly influenced by changing trends, consumer cultures and need to be accepted. In other words, identifying with our true self has become really challenging competitive and ever changing world.

How can we really identify who we truly are when we have a constant desire to fit in with our peers, to earn appreciation or to live by other people’s standards. As a result, we switch between different identities, live confused, instead of holding on to our true sense of identity. We are influenced by what others do or want us to be, like what we ought to eat, how we should feel, what to achieve or even how to dress so we can be fit ins.

In a way, we’ve become attached to a fake sense of self more than ever. Our lives are so comfortably filtered that it is easy to experience a loss of identity from time to time. A lost sense of self can often lead to mistaken beliefs, values and inaccurate measure of one’s worth.

Our identity or true sense of self is not something inherent, but is developed overtime and is determined by number of factors. And is based on perception of the characteristics that define us, our abilities, what we like and dislike, our belief systems and our values. Even the things that motivate us contribute to our identity as a person. It is further shaped by our experiences during the course of our life, particularly during childhood and during our growing up years. 

Understanding your own identity 

The process through which you develop your own identity begins in childhood. As a child, if you grew up in a supportive environment, and you were given freedom for self-expression, you may develop a healthy sense of self. On the other, if you were raised in non-supportive environments or for some reason if you were subjected to neglect or experienced unfriendly or unpleasant circumstances, you may often struggle to develop a healthy sense of self. 

If your self expression in your growing up years only earned you criticism or punishment, you might respond to it by ignoring your true self. You might have reshaped yourself into someone more widely accepted in order to feel more secure. However, as we transition from childhood to adulthood, each one experiences a sense of confusion and may experiment with different roles, attitudes and behaviours.

Our level of social interactions and relationships too affect our sense of identity. Feelings of constant comparisons and insecurity or over identification with ego too play a role in shaping it. Since we consciously live by the rules we have been taught by our care givers, parents or teachers, they unconsciously play a role in shaping our  subjective sense of self. This creates a continuous self that remains more or less constant even as new aspects of life are developed and strengthened overtime.

Factors that lead to Identity crisis

When you are grounded, comfortable and secure in your true identity, you take responsibility of your own opinions and feelings. It helps you make wise choices as you recognise the value of your own worth. On the other, when there is a loss of identity, you end up clutching to whatever identity labels other people throw your way. Be this your family members, friends, co-workers or social groups and social trends. 

Loss of identity also occurs when you don’t really understand your true self or lack self awareness. This might lead to shifting between your different selves and often makes it difficult to know what exactly you want. Adopting an identity without self exploration or self-knowledge and giving into conformity, peer or parental pressure and cultural expectations contributes to loss sense of self.

Sometimes the busyness of daily stresses or routines tend to put pressure on your available time. Such increased demands in your time and responsibilities make it even more challenging to be in touch with your true identity. 

It is common to experience a loss of identity when you juggle many tasks or responsibilities in order to please others. This further reduces your sense of worth and increases your discontent. When you live your life trying to fit into someone else’s definition of success, you might simply drift through your life , feeling uncertain and indecisive. As a result, you might always try to adjust your sense of self or might find yourself changing in response to other people’s likes and dislikes and seek external validation to reassure yourself.

This urge to model yourself to fit into expectations of others might even extend to your personal or work relationships as a way to gain approval. For instance, faking  a certain persona at work, another one with your family, or an other one with your friends. Shifting between these different selves often can be emotionally and mentally draining.

Spending too much time focused on one thing you feel you have to also leads to you losing sight of what you truly want. Being a parent or prioritising your work over everything else can be some such instances. But the thing is that we each get to decide the right understanding of what we want to be. It comes with self knowledge, self acceptance and how you respond to your experiences, behaviour, thoughts, and feelings.

Your sense of identity depends on recognising your strengths and values 

Our moral code is what makes our lives meaningful and motivates us to make wise decisions. But in today’s busy world, most of us fail to make choices that really reflect our true self identity. Our important life choices often get lost in unnecessary trivialities. Everyone’s personal values and strengths are central to their true being. And everyone’s interpretation of their own life experiences may be one of the major driving factors in determining the values they choose to live by. 

In other words, Our values are inherent to who we are and since they represent our unique and individual essence, being unclear of what’s important in your life can lead to loss of identity. Understanding our personal core values and strengths on the other hand helps us gain clarity on our life’s purpose and so on our authentic sense of self. 

Our identity and social comparisons

As social beings, we are always comparing ourselves to one another and we do so either consciously or unconsciously each time we interact or relate with other people. We rely on our comparisons so as to gauge our own skills, abilities, beliefs and attitudes.

However, comparing can only inspire us to change for better as long as you have a strong sense of self. At other times, it in fact leads to a weak sense of self if one is constantly measuring their success by what someone else does or doesn’t. Fear of missing out and peer pressure makes us compare with others. Also, such frequent social comparisons play out on other areas of our life negatively. We feel burdened by feelings of inadequacy, insecurity or not being good enough.

Rediscovering our identity through self-acceptance and self-compassion. 

We live in a highly competitive world that makes us rely excessively on neediness to being accepted by others. As a result, we tend to be hard on ourselves and live live constantly self-evaluating. This leads to self-criticism in areas like our intelligence, abilities, skill or worthiness. Because the relative significance of these areas changes at different stages of our life, so does our sense of identity. This constant striving to feel good about ourselves in a way, leads to undermining our true self. 

The toxic idea that we have to strive for more at all times can also bring forth our egotistical self that threatens our true identity when faced with failure or rejection. But we can always regain a realistic perception of our true identity through self-compassion.

Being understanding and practising self-kindness, and being self-compassionate to our imperfect self can help us achieve the connectedness with our inner true self. Recognising that personal inadequacy is part of human experience and is something we all go through, rather than something that happens to you alone makes you less judgmental.

Mindful self-awareness helps in reconnecting with your ideal self

At some point in our life, we all experience a lost sense of identity in some situations. When you experience loss of identity at times, choosing to overcome it is not difficult, but needs patience to raise your awareness of patterns of your mind. With a little bit of practice and reflection, you can reconnect to your true identity. Letting go of adopted sense of self however requires careful self-reflection, just like the way you train your concentration or focus. 

Relating your personal experiences to those of others and putting your own situation or experiences into a larger perspective makes you more accepting of both your perfect and imperfect selves. By practicing flexibility and openness, you develop a deeper sense of your identity. Bringing your attention to understanding the conditions that led to lost sense of identity, you begin to see how you are holding yourself back from being your true self. Instead of identifying with the past conditions, you learn to release them and reset yourself in your true nature.

To-do:

Treat yourself with kindness and without judgment. This alleviates fears about social disapproval where you can approach difficult experiences without losing touch with your true identity. Self kindness helps shift your perspective of how you relate to failure, mistakes and difficulty and helps you see it as part of larger human experience.

Notice the presence of judgment by becoming mindful of your inner critical voice and feelings of inadequacy.  This creates space to make wiser choices. Each time you recognise a negative emotion, practice unconditional positive self regard to decondition yourself from the old self-criticising ways. This paves way for self-compassion more naturally. 

Take some time out to destress and reconnect with your passions or people who can help improve your sense of self. Maintain a balanced perspective of self and avoid comparison triggers that don’t really add any value to your life. Do things that not only interest you, but can also help nurture your inner self. 

Practice a daily ritual of mindful self reflection to look inward  and to get in touch with your feelings, thoughts and emotions. When you observe your faults, weaknesses and failures, non judgmentally, you can take responsibility and accept your imperfections. 

Avoid measuring your self-worth and personal values with others socially. Don’t rely on peoples’ opinions of your abilities when it comes to assessing your own self. Instead develop self-awareness of your own strengths and values to gain a precise self assessment of your true self. 

Practicing unconditional acceptance of self, prioritising your values and assuming responsibility creates a strong identity of self. This also lets you overcome moments of lost sense of self and does not allow external circumstances or people to lower your actual sense of self. 


None of us are ever going to get to the place in life where we have no more disappointments. We can’t expect to be sheltered from every little thing. Disappointment is a fact of life–one that must be dealt with.

Joyce Meyer

It is a common phenomenon that when we misjudge a situation, or when our hopes fail to manifest, we experience a sense of bewilderment which is almost too much to bear. We all feel this way from time to time. It is a source of psychological stress and in some situations, it can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. 

Unlike the feeling of regret where we focus primarily focus on the personal choices that contribute to poor outcome, disappointment is more to do with focusing on the outcome itself. When we primarily focus on the outcomes rather than our actions and choices, such an emotional state can be quite overwhelming. 

According to researchers, frequent feelings of being let down are linked to a brain chemical called dopamine. It links our actions, experiences, people and environment to pleasure and coaxes us to recreate those circumstances in pursuit of the same feeling. Because of which we raise expectations about the future to predict what’s rewarding and motivates us to seek it. 

Disappointment thus is a subjective response related to anticipated rewards. And in most situations, this is what sets us up for dissatisfaction. We tend to use our past experience to predict whether or not our present situation makes us feel best. And when the present doesn’t match our expectations we feel doubly disappointed. In a way, it is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were. 

Disappointment and expectations 

“Expectation is the only seed of disappointment.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

When we experience disappointment, our expectations fall out of line with reality. The level to which we feel disappointed is often depends on the nature of our desire. Our desire for something we hope for is what makes disappointment a more complex emotion to deal with. Expectations are more paradoxical when it comes to experiencing disappointment. This is because even when we do get what we want, we may still feel disappointed if the outcome doesn’t bring the expected bliss and happiness. Unhappiness from the failure of something hoped for or expected to happen is the most apt reason. Expectations or preferences when perceived as an ego threat also leads to more guilt and anxiety. 

The way we handle disappointment is related to our past conditioning and our early, formative experiences. Optimism might come to your aid in recovering from certain disappointments, but it may not always prepare you for emotional cushioning in case of unexpected consequences or situations. If you think setting your goals low and avoiding taking risks prevents disappointment, then you are only setting yourself up for more dissatisfied life. And same holds true for overachievers. They too give into their perfectionist attitude and invariably it too often leads to disappointment. The tendency to attribute negative life events to your personal feelings leads to lot of self-blame. Not measuring up to the image of your ideal self can further harm your confidence.

Not having expectations in the first place isn’t however realistically possible. Imagine trying to have no thoughts or ideas about how something should be or might go is obviously not possible. Also, disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in our stride and handled well, it leads us to greater insight and wisdom. But to be able to do this is to follow the path of self-reflection. Only by reflecting on painful associations, you will be able to become free of them.

Validation through self-reflection

Reflecting on your experiences through naming a feeling can help you cope in a healthy way. Validating means accepting that you couldn’t achieve what you hoped for or that you are disappointed. Have you ever created an emotion or tried making an emotion go away. You might be pretty much aware that things won’t happen that way. Once we feel disappointed about something, it is there until it fades or passes. This happens regardless of how upsetting or uncomfortable they are at first. This may vary depending on the intensity of the situation. But however intense they may be they all fade with time. 

So, acknowledge instead of ignoring, minimising or distracting yourself from unpleasant feelings and remind yourself that it’s okay to have those feelings.Accepting disappointing circumstances, despite your emotional reaction can make things less uncomfortable. 

Self-compassion is the antidote of disappointment 

Disappointing situations or outcomes can make us question our choices, ambitions,  self-worth and our abilities. Not able to living up to our true potential invites unpleasant emotions like shame, fear and guilt. In such situations, being overly critical of ourselves can increase anxiety about it. Whereas self-compassion helps you to refocus and become more able. Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better. They spend less time reactivating stressful events by dwelling on them. 

The first step in becoming self-compassionate is to accept what went wrong. And instead of self-judging, treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Just like the way you’d be supportive and kind and listen to what exactly went wrong, treating yourself exactly same way can help ease the self blame. Give yourself enough time and space to realise where your plans went off the track. 

Respond to your unpleasant emotions and thoughts with understanding, patience, and acceptance rather than with harsh self-criticism. The ability to forgive ourselves for mistakes, large and small is important for psychological well-being. When you view your disappointment as proof of your inadequacy, it just leaves you feeling more isolated and disconnected. Instead, consider misjudgment or mistakes as part of the larger human condition. This way, you can reframe your connection to others and embrace your disappointment as an intrinsic part of simply being human. 

But you know that disappointment is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were.

Brad Warner

To-do:

Practising mindfulness let’s you observe what you are thinking and feeling rather than trying to avoid difficult emotions or to over-identify with them. Give yourself time to reflect on what went wrong or was the outcome predictable, or that you could have put in more effort or was it outside of your control. Being curious of the reason rather than focusing on the feeling of disappointment equips you to better cope. 

Check whether your expectations are unrealistically high or are you setting your goals too low. If your goals are too high, work constructively to modify your expectations and focus on how you want to feel in the moment, rather than how you believe you’ll feel once you get the thing you want so badly. Instead of pinning your hopes on unrealistic outcomes, break your larger goals into small manageable steps.

Indulging in social media comparisons makes you set unrealistic expectations from yourself and others. If you see others reach their goals quicker, you can become disappointed for not reaching yours. Reevaluate your perception and behaviours. Set your own milestones, be it your career, relationships or academics and stay focused on the process of reaching them no matter how long it takes to get there.

When something doesn’t go according to our plan, we may interpret it to mean that we can’t have what we want. It is important to keep an eye on what you truly want and at the same time stay open to various ways that the outcome can be realised. Particularly when you are going after something new that you really care about. Strive for improvement and not perfection. 

Some instances of disappointment are predictable and preventable. But there are others that are unavoidable and beyond our control. Try and differentiate between situations that fall within our control and factors that are beyond it. Being able to recognise the difference will help you to deal with your frustrations more appropriately. 

The more you dwell on the disappointment, the more it will hurt and disrupt your ability to focus, concentrate or be creative. Give yourself limited time to acknowledge the feelings and move on. There is always a next opportunity regardless of what disappointed you. View your disappointment as an opportunity for growth and to your actions to achieve your goals. 

Avoid for any mind altering things or engaging in impulsive behaviours. Explore the thought processes that led to your feelings of disappointment. Instead of blaming yourself, or circumstances, reframe your disappointments as learning experiences.

The thing about being unpleasant emotions like disappointment is that it reveals what you actually care about, where you are and where you want to be. They might mean you are passionate about something. Even though you feel like shying away from things that aren’t turning out your way, taking time to learn from your unpleasant experiences, you will be more prepared than ever before the next time you face such situations. 


There is no advantage to hurrying through life.

Shikamaru Nara

Patience is an essential virtue to practice in our daily life, and many of us view it as the ‘right’ thing to do or as a ‘should’. It is the most virtuous in the face of adversity or frustration. There can be some real value in remaining patient and optimistic about hard situations in life. And yet, the ability to accept and tolerate trouble, delay or suffering without getting angry or upset is hard to develop.

Inspite of being able to ‘wait’ is a desirable quality, we become impulsive and our patience wears thin within no time. Since it is something that goes against our natural instinct, most of us fail to maintain a good attitude while waiting. We begin looking for things to instantly gratify ourselves in our daily instances where it is most important.

It is through practising patience in the present moment that the spiritual dimension of our life opens up. And is one of the most important spiritual quality that we can develop to build a life of more meaning and fulfilment. We get many opportunities to practice it in our day to day life experiences like at home with our kids, at work with our subordinates, in traffic, at a store and with strangers. But in many life situations, we lose our control and venture into things without considering all the options or waiting for the right moment for action. Often our emotions, the fear of future, ego or the desire to be in control of every moment become the major hindrances in practising it in all situations.

We generally grow impatient in response to some sort of situation that is not going according to our expectations or when something interferes with our plans. Our own expectations keep us from accepting the present moment on the grounds that it has to be replaced by some more ideal future. We tend to fight against things that are undesirable and try to change them. In a way, we refuse to adjust our expectations and reject how things are in reality in wanting to control something that we are powerless over.

Impatience is most times the result of not surrendering to the situation that we really cannot fight. We tend to accept things we like or surrender to certain realities of life that we can’t change. For instance, seasons, day and night. This is because we are sure that we cannot change them, so we choose not to fight it, rather we accept. But when it comes to unexpected changes, delays, difficulties, or undesirable things, we refuse to accept or tolerate the situation without getting angry or frustrated. It is important to remind ourselves that there are more things in life that we are powerless over and what we are really in control of are our own self, thoughts and actions.

To be impatient means to give into our ego.

Impatience is a natural human instinct and does not make you less human. It is simply the result of identifying more with your ‘ego’ part of self. When egoistic self gets in the way, it makes you think you need to be in control and forces you to act impulsively without considering the consequences or the other options. There are many situations where we let our egoic self take over and end up taking decisions or actions without waiting for the right moment.

Ego tends to make you think like “my time is more valuable than yours”, “my opinion matters more than yours”, or “I want to be in control of every situation.” Because of which we blow things out of proportion, lose perspective over a situation and make impulsive decisions. This often leads to many negative emotions and creates stress. And when you feel all this negativity, you pass it onto others. Being more mindful and self-compassionate in your moments of impatience is what paves way to practice more patience.

Patience is a compassionate act

Impatience often involves other people getting in our way in some shape or form. And sometimes it is our indifference, harshness or selfishness which gets in the way of being patient. We choose to react or behave impulsively when we feel something negative. Then we grow more impatient and reactive to the way we ourselves reacted—unkind and unmindful. Living life at fast pace, busyness and time constraints make us intolerant of our present moment. This results in frequent frustrations, anger and annoyance.

Actions arising from such annoyances can have consequences that are detrimental to one’s well-being. When anger intensifies, it limits our ability to use sound judgment and envision the consequences of our actions. As a result, we tend to consider others just as objects in our subjective life which makes us inconsiderate towards their concerns or feelings.

To be fully present with other requires a conscious choice to give the other your undivided attention. When you choose to empathise over reacting, you can really take time to listen actively, attend to yours or others’ concerns or emotions. Taking a pause between your immediate reactions to annoyances and your response to the feelings that arise within those instances, you can slow down, prevent yourself from saying hurtful things or avoid anger.

Impatience makes you inward focused, on you, on what you are not receiving, whereas, with patience, you are more focused outward. This can make you think, and choose care and compassion for not only the other person but also towards your own self. You can release your negative feelings and see ways to forgive unskillful actions of yours or others.

To be patient is to develop unconditional positive regard

The skill of patience helps you develop unconditional positive regard towards others where you grow more accepting and forgiving. Making an attempt to understand that every person is a product of so many conditions, their experiences and things that they have no control over opens you up to others’ weaknesses or flaws. Taking the necessary time to actively listen and understand what the other person is conveying to you makes you more tolerant even if you disagree or are offended. With compassion and willingness to forgive, we grow more accepting what the other is in a relationship.

Our emotions are natural and there is no quick fix to control the unbalanced emotions which are driven by unpleasant circumstances or thinks that we have no control on. However, we can make a conscious effort to manage how we think, choose to respond and be patient in any given circumstance. Patience will help you be more focused on being present with life as it is occurring and more grateful you become for what is good. It make you grow more resilient through difficult situations and persistent towards achieving your purpose.

To-do:

  • Grow mindful of the causes of your impatience. When you are aware of your triggers, you can learn to minimise them. Reframe the situation by being aware of what expectations you had of it before you became impatient. Is it your ego in play or your expectations of a situation or of a person or of a relationship. When you are conscious about the condition you are in and what’s at play, you can reframe it to understand without frustration.
  • Manage your thoughts in the event of stressful situations. If a situation is intensifying your negative emotions, think in response to that particular feeling. This will allow you to choose your response or behaviour. Focus on the big picture rather than as good or bad out right or wrong. Life is often a combination of positives and negatives.
  • Be aware of the signs of impatience. Explore and know how it plays up for you in the moment – on your physical, emotional and mental aspects. Tune into and notice the bodily signs that alert you to your impatience. Such times, pay attention to your breathing, take few and deep breaths to slow down. This improves your awareness of the impulse to which you typically react and behave so you can step out of such unhelpful patterns.
  • When you notice self-critical thoughts and self-judgments that make you impulsive, take a self compassion break. Acknowledge that this particular situation is making you self-critical and instead of getting wound up in it, change your self-talk. Say to yourself, “I will adjust my expectations and try to be patient.”Be compassionate towards your own imperfections and vulnerabilities.
  • When disagreements make you feel impatient or angry, don’t suppress. Instead respond to others without becoming unkind and abusive. Maintain a positive perspective, instead of dwelling on things that are making you impulsive. Accept things and people as they are instead of wanting others to conform to your expectations.

Patience is a silent virtue to practice. When you are impatient, others have your control, but when you have patience, then you have control of yourself even in most frustrating situations. As the saying goes, “There are no honours too distant to the person who prepares himself for them with patience.” It doesn’t matter how difficult the situation may be, you can endure it if you are willing to have the patience to go through the things and spend your time working towards your purpose.

When we practice patience, we gradually create more peaceful world within, where we grow more hopeful, trusting, less complaining, and more tolerant and accepting of difficulties and mistakes.

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

Lao Tzu

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