Finding Your ‘Essential Self’ after a Loss or Life-Changing Event

Yesterday, I finished reading “Finding Your Own North Star” by therapist Martha Beck, PhD. I bought the book because it looked empowering and this proved to be true. In fact, the entire book is about personal empowerment and building a new life after a “cataclysmic event.” During this time we are stressed and have to let go. If you identified yourself with your job and lose it, Beck explains, your identity shifts.

According to Beck, each person’s essential self is determined before birth. As she writes, “You are designed with the ability to find the life you were meant to live.” This resource is filled with activities, exercises and tests to help you get to know yourself better.

Since I was reading for content, I only did one exercise, “Questions for Testing Your Social-Essential Self Connection.” I turned out to be very connected. How can this book help you navigate through grief?

First, it helps you understand that death changes your identity. You may be a widow now, or a widower, a bereaved parent or grandparent. “The only way to accept this fact is to grieve,” Beck notes.

Grief has bult-in stress and it’s awful. Yet you have to manage it. Beck tells readers to make getting away part of each day, “going inward, turning into your essential self.” My essential self loves to write, read, cook, and browse antique shops.

Handling guilt, which you may or may not have, is another way of coping. Friends may not understand the depth or length of your grief, for example. This makes you pull away from them, something you feel guilty about and don’t need. You goal is to take stock, gather strength, and move on.

Beck recommends writing, and I agree. After my daughter, father-in-law, brother and former son-in-law died in 2007, I decided to write my way through grief. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Some days I wanted to quit writing, but I didn’t, for I knew it would eventually help me.

As you are writing and coping with loss, never lose sight of you, or what Beck calls “the essential self.” This self will keep you moving forward on the recovery path. Expressing your grief with words will help you identify feelings, problems, family dynamics and, with the passage of time, solutions.

Keep in mind that your life has changed and you have changed. If you’re like me, it may take months for you to see these changes, But in time, they will become part of your essential self — the new and improved you.

Harriett Hodgson 2012


Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Sarah Foster says:

    When you lose a loved one you lose part of yourself; you feel hollow. Granted, I realize each person reacts differently to the death of a loved one, but the result is essentially the same. You have lost part of your identity and it is such a struggle to find your place in this world again. It is especially hard to find your place when you are drowning in your grief and you feel there is no hope for anything. This book sounds like a great guide to helping people find their “essential selves” and find their way back from their devastating grief. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for your post Sarah. Actually, I wrote about my lost essential self in an article titled, “My Daughter Died: Who am I Now?” Thankfully, after lots of grief work, meditation, and research, I was able to answer the question. I am still my daughter’s mother, still a wife, still a writer, and still grandmother to my daughter’s twins. More important, I still love my daughter and keep her close to my heart.

  • Thanks for sharing Harriet. I have followed Martha Beck on Oprah and in the magazine.

  • Thanks for your post, Gloria. I love to learn and am always learning new things.

  • Linda says:

    I lost my father when I was 5, my mother when I was 11. I am now 49. I grew up in a foster home as I had no other family living here. All my relatives live in Germany. I learned recently that my mother was offered a job to relocate back to Germany after my father passed, she refused as my brother, 13 at the time, did not want to move to Germany. I, on the other hand knew more German than English, as it was spoken in the home. I did end up marrying when I was 19, had 2 children, the best things in my life. I am now separated, my children are adults, 26 & 23 and I am thinking of moving to Germany. Lately all I think about is my family overseas. I went over as a child almost every year. I had lost touch as I was raising my family, now I wish I hadn’t. I have returned 4 times in the last 6 yrs. and am planning a trip for my 50th. Is this something I should do? I really do miss them. I thought I would read your book to see if it gives me any insight to future plans.

  • Thank you for your post, Linda. Your life story sounds like a book itself. Though ‘m a grandmother with lots of grief experience and the author of six grief resources, I’m not a therapist, and cannot give you advice about moving back to Germany. My latest book, “Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss,” may help you sort out your feelings and plan for the future. I wish you all the best.