How did you do it? How did Hugh do it? These are questions we hear every day from people just beginning the TBI journey. Traumatic brain injury disrupts everything for individuals and families, but there’s one thing that can remain strong if we own it: our sense of self.
A strong sense of self is critical to our self-esteem, self-respect, and happiness. It reflects how we take information in from the world and how we give it back. Our sense of self grounds and fortifies us. Without it, we cannot declare our needs or defend our actions.
When Hugh lost his sense of self, he told me he no longer felt like an athlete. I told him that being an athlete was not about the things he could do but who he was — a person who strives for his personal best, a person who never gives up. Hugh has always been an athlete. When he realized that he still possessed all those qualities, he began working harder for his recovery.
After experiencing a TBI or caregiving for someone with a TBI, one’s sense of self can blur. For the injured person, a sense of self may be completely lost for a time. Memory loss, confusion, and the sudden loss of independence and good health can feel soul shattering. For the caregiver, consistently calling on the inner forces of compassion, empathy, and patience through the grinding irritation of brain injury is exhausting.
To find or reinforce your sense of self, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you hold dear? Is it faith, work, athletics, family, music, art?
- What are the priorities in your life — not in words, in deeds?
- What are the absolute must-haves in your life?
- Where and with whom do you spend your time?
- What are your beliefs?
The answers to these questions create a sketch of you. Your mission fills you up. What is a personal mission? It’s your purpose for living, your reason for existing.
Once you name it, you do everything in your power to nurture, preserve, and live your purpose. You bring your mission to every activity in your life. I find this exercise very powerful. It’s a foundation for shaping your sense of self. Your mission statement will color the sketch you created above.
What is your personal mission?
- Is it to contribute to world peace?
- Is it to seek beauty in every detail of life simply because you are alive?
- Is it to always be true to yourself and others?
- Is it to lead others to a better life? To inspire others?
How will you accomplish this mission? Here’s the tricky part. Let’s finish the statements above with an intention and an action statement:
- I will contribute to world peace by modeling it in my everyday life.
- I will seek beauty in every detail of life simply because I am alive by practicing mindfulness as much as possible as I interact with the world around me.
- I will remain true to others and myself by speaking honestly, opening my heart, and listening to each person without judging.
- I will lead others to a better life by using my ability to educate.
- I will inspire others through my attitude, my work, my words, and everyday actions.
Every person’s personal mission will be different, but they will have one thing in common. Your personal mission will be reflected in everything you say and do.
You won’t feel defined by others because you have defined yourself.
Although you may feel off kilter at times, circumstances won’t crush you. You will feel secure in what you know to be true about yourself and no one can take that away from you.
What is your mission? Find the words that construct your sense of self and stand strong.