Updated: Aug 18, 2021
When we look back on our lives it may seem like the natural progression was that we stopped doing things that we "used to do" that brought us happiness and joy, and replaced them with new activities that we believed would bring joy. We rationalize this with excuses like; we no longer have time, they are less important, or I'm an adult now with adult responsibilities . As part of clarifying who we are, we need to also take ownership in what it is that brings us joy now, as well as what brought us joy in the past. As we grow and mature, as our families grow and our responsibilities change, so do our lives. Many times, we find joy and happiness in new activates that we create with our children, spouses and friends. This is normal and good, but it does not have to replace joyful activities of the past. However, In many cases this is exactly what happens. Activities that we found joy and happiness doing in the past get squeezed out. Extra curricular activities, hobbies, daily routines, and other enjoyable practices or goals that we engaged in on a regular basis when we had "less" responsibilities come to a complete stop many times. To some this is just part of life, part of having a family, part of "growing up". To many however, it becomes a unidentifiable hole in their life . A hole that has no name or face. A void that has many activities to fill it, but none that actually make it go away.
There are many reasons why we stop doing the things that we once loved, but when we do that, we actually start to loose parts of our self. We start to be someone we are not or to engage in activities that we do not want to do. We say we have to stop doing these activities out of "necessity" or "lack of time". The consequence of this is only the loss of our personal self, nothing big, right? Wrong! When we loose our sense of who we are, what we believe, what our core values are, we become miserable, angry, lost, depressed... in short, we become nothing good. A great example of this is from the movie Zoo Keeper with Kevin James. He is a zoo keeper that loves his job, loves the animals, makes a meager wage, but is happy. He has a girl friend that dumps him because he is a zoo keeper and she could never marry a zoo keeper. Spoiler alert if you have not seen the movie! Kevin James decides to become an exotic car salesman in an attempt to win her back only to recognize that he hates who he has become and he is not happy. Even though he has lots of money and the girl that he thought he loved, he missed the real him, the animals, and the woman that accepted him for who he was, a zoo keeper. In the end he realizes that what he loved originally is what truly brought him happiness.
I have worked with individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety, or just a lack of vigor for life. As we talk in our sessions it becomes clear that they no longer have much of a sense of self. They have become dad, husband, mom, wife, church leader, as well a many other titles and in the process have given a piece of themselves to everyone until they have nothing left for them selves, and then they wonder why they feel so depressed or sad or blah!
What I tell these people is first: Identify activities that have brought them joy and happiness in the past. I follow up with the question: Do you continue to do these activates? The vast majority report that they do not engage in these activities any more for various reasons. While clarifying why these activities have been abandoned, we generally identify that many personals boundaries have been lost or abandoned in that process also. Just so we get this straight, personal boundaries are extremely important! Without them people will take take take until there is nothing left for yourself. Setting up boundaries can be the best thing you do, as well as one of the most difficult things you do! Learning how to telling people no, being okay with setting limits for others, including your children, spouse, and extended family is crucial, but extremely difficult. Learning how to step back and make some time for yourself by not giving so much of it to others is difficult. However, the results can be amazing! This may be very uncomfortable at first, especially if you are a "people pleaser", but it is a critical step in clarifying, or reclarifying, yourself.
Once you have identified how strong, and how set your personal boundaries, you can either move on, or spend much needed time on setting these boundaries and following them. Once this has happened you can move on to identifying what you did in the past that brought you joy and happiness, and start to do it again! Invite your kids or your spouse to join you. If they don't want to that's fine, but if it is important to you, make the time to do it again. If their is push back from those around you, talk about it, be strong enough to share your feelings or desires, maybe even fight about it some. This is where your personal boundaries will come into play and be tested. Intense discussions are not a bad thing! Make room in your life for who you are. Equally important is to make room in your life for those who you love also. Perhaps they want to do engage in activities that you may not like or feel like there is not time for, but allowing them to be them and making room for them to be them is just as important as them making room for you and for your wants and desires.
I am not purposing that you stop giving of yourself, of your time, and tell everyone to take a hike because you now have personal boundaries and you are going to user your time to do only what you feel like is important. This will also bring you unhappiness. However, being able to chose where and when you spend your time, what and how you use it is very empowering and very healing, and that is just what the doctor ordered for step 2 in clarifying yourself.