Where Has the Old You Gone?

Where has the old you gone? This question can make you rethink both your existence and your identity.
Where Has the Old You Gone?
Cristina Roda Rivera

Written and verified by the psychologist Cristina Roda Rivera.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

An accident, a breakup, or a change that you don’t accept can make your identity suffer. Suddenly, you have a rethink and might not even recognize yourself from the person you used to be. Perhaps you no longer have the same dreams or the same references. However, there’s far more to it than this.

Asking where the old you has gone isn’t a question of age. In fact, you might’ve recognized yourself as a stranger to your past from a really young age. For example, when you reached puberty, your transition from a child to an adolescent might’ve been more or less traumatic, depending on how you accepted changes, internalized your new roles, and gave up certain of your childhood privileges.

Perhaps you didn’t ever completely recover from the fact of having been a child. Or perhaps it was only at that stage that you felt like your true self with all your hopes and dreams still intact. Maybe, on the way to maturity, you lost your spontaneity.

worried teenager
Depending on the stage of life you’re at, you might feel closer or further from your true self.

The need to recognize yourself inside and out

We all need references. Parents, siblings, friends, classmates, etc. With them, you can, look beyond your immediate context and see what it’s like in the world outside. For example, you might look at celebrities and influencers, read biographies about historical figures and analyze what you find attractive about them.

Curiosity about the social world doesn’t distance you from your inner world, but sometimes it does disturb it. It’s at the time of adolescence, when you construct your ‘social avatar’, that you understand what you might have to offer the world and what it has to offer you.

Adolescence is a time when certain disorders increase. For example, many suffer because they think that their body image is far from the social ideal. Others will feel that, perhaps, they’re not as masculine or feminine as others expect or wish. Many are going to face the difficult task of being accepted by themselves as being ‘different’ from their own family.

In the midst of this struggle for personal identity, you also have to deal with social acceptance within a social and reference group. Depending on how you get on, you’ll arrive at a more or less consolidated representation of ‘yourself’.

Nevertheless, your motivation to be ‘yourself’ will be challenged. In fact, you’ll feel it dissolve or disappear if you do things that your identity has never had to deal with before. On the other hand, you’ll feel that your identity is endorsed and strengthened if you do things that it recognizes as values. Those that you’ve been building yourself. Not those that are alien to you.

Identity: a journey toward yourself that lasts a lifetime

Finding yourself may sound like a rather self-centered goal. However, it’s actually a selfless process that’s at the root of everything you do in life. In fact, to feel like a valuable person, you must know what you value and what you have to offer.

This is a process that involves breaking down and shedding layers that don’t do you any good in your life and don’t reflect who you really are. It also involves a tremendous act of construction. Indeed, you have to acknowledge who you want to be and passionately embark on fulfilling your unique destiny, whatever it may be.

You must acknowledge your personal power, at the same time being open and vulnerable to your experiences. It’s not something to fear or avoid, but rather something to seek out with the kind of curiosity and compassion that you’d show toward a fascinating new friend.

The distressing feeling that you don’t recognize yourself

There’s a really distressing feeling you might experience at certain points in your life. It’s when you don’t recognize yourself. This is either because you’ve made so many changes, haven’t made any at all, or those that you’ve made have taken you in the wrong direction.

These moments are extremely delicate as you could suffer episodes of depersonalization and disconnection from your own reality. There are numerous causes that can awaken this feeling of having lost a part of your identity.

They might be sensory, social, or ecmnesic experiences that cause you discomfort and feelings of displacement with regards to your sentimental, social, or work life.

Some examples:

  • Seeing a photograph taken in the past. A photograph is a vision of yourself  ‘from the outside’. It provides you with details of what you were experiencing at a certain time, what you were involved in, how happy you were at that moment, etc. In fact, feeling that you’ve disconnected your life from a certain past image that was pleasing to you can induce feelings of hopelessness and personal failure.
  • A piece of paper that summarizes a particular time in your life. A plane ticket, instructions for a medical procedure, or notes on what you were to do during that week. It isn’t necessary to open up a journal to go back to a past moment that reminds you of what you were doing or where you were going in your life.
  • Meeting a person you haven’t seen for a long time. This can be one of the most rewarding or painful experiences you can encounter. Outside the visual filters and narrators of social media, when you meet someone, for a few minutes, you’re exposed to a visual and experiential ‘examination’ for which you might not have been prepared.

These are some of the situations that can make you feel that your identity has been lost or altered because you don’t recognize yourself as that person who once had such great expectations.

Having great life plans can be both inspiring and problematic for your personal identity. They can help you to build yourself. On the other hand, you might project too much of what you think you are, thus ignoring the circumstances that are crucial to understanding what you do and why you do it.

Woman with crystal ball thinking about personality accessories
Feeling that you’ve lost part of your identity can lead to anguish.

A reunion or a reproach

Asking yourself where the old you has gone might be one of the first questions that lead you to a reunion with yourself and toward accepting what’s happened in your past. Alternatively, it could be the first of a series of reproaches toward yourself that leads nowhere.

For your journey of identity to be creative and not repressive, you have to equip yourself with the tools to do so. A good psychology professional will give you the necessary tools to resignify some of your daily experiences and give them meaning again. If not, you’ll be pursuing an ideal that’s totally alien to the reality you live in.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Arias Sánchez, S. (2015). La construcción del yo laboral en los escenarios culturales.
  • Burón Masó, E., Jódar Ortega, I., & Corominas Díaz, A. (2004). Despersonalización: del trastorno al síntoma. Actas Españolas de Psiquiatría32(2), 107-117.
  • Vino, N. A. (2014). Relato y construcción del yo. In VI Congreso Internacional de Investigación y Práctica Profesional en Psicología XXI Jornadas de Investigación Décimo Encuentro de Investigadores en Psicología del MERCOSUR. Facultad de Psicología-Universidad de Buenos Aires.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.