why losing your self-concept is normal
To understand why losing your self-concept is normal for veterans, you need to understand the science – like many things.
The self-concept is made up of a few social factors; personal identity and social identity. As a human, you are not just born with this idea that you are yourself.
What is the self-concept?
The self-concept is the total sum of a person’s beliefs about his or her own attributes.
At a basic level, the self-concept is the perception of your own behaviour, abilities and characteristics that make you, you. The who am I questions.
As your brain develops so too does your understanding of who you are. Even to the point of just recognising that you are not one with your mother (cool huh?)
As you can imagine, we all have a point in our lives where we start to ‘figure out’ who we are as individuals. We go through the self discovery process of what we are good at, what we like and dislike, and the characteristics of our personalities really start to define our choices.
Where it can get a bit tricky is when you start to talk about a mismatch between your self concept and reality – congruence and incongruence.
What is congruence and incongruence?
When your self-concept aligns with reality, that is congruence. Actions such as showing an unconditional love towards a person would promote congruence. The person would not feel the need to constantly change their self-concept.
Incongruence is the opposite. A mismatch between your self image and the ideal image. This mismatch of your self-concept can negatively impact your self esteem. Often believing that you need to ‘earn it’ when it comes to feeling worthy.
There are many theorists who have added to the main ideas of the self-concept over the years. The above gives you a good overview to discuss how it affects veterans below.
Why is losing your sense of self normal for veterans?
Going through your initial training is all about breaking you down and building you back up. It makes sense for a few reasons. You need to rely on the team to succeed, without your team you are alone, vulnerable and at risk. In some cases, your team is the key to your survival.
Even as a admin clerk, you are first a soldier.
That’s the point of the military.
As pointless as it may seem to those who just don’t “get it” we need that to happen.
But here’s what can happen in that process. veterans sense of self can become intertwined with the squadron. Your self-concept and associated self-esteem is based on the comradely within the “team”.
Lose the “team”, lose the sense of self that was built up over the many years of serving.
There is a theory called the terror management theory. It explains self-esteem as a protective shield against anxiety felt when we consider the meaninglessness of our own existence.
Using this theory you can see how in the case of no longer serving, veterans can often have a sense of self and/or self-esteem crisis.
In some cases, veterans have spent lifetimes training for the good of the squadron. They are not thinking about themselves as individuals any more.
At the forefront of veterans minds is the cultural values of the squadron. The crew. The military. ( why mental fitness is important)
Their perceived purpose in life is to serve the squadron, if they cannot serve that purpose, their life becomes meaningless.
Without our self-esteem we are not as capable at living everyday functional lives. It’s necessary for our existence. On top of that, veterans may find themselves struggling with negative emotions.
Which can stem from self-discrepancies, such as between the actual and ideal selves. Causes things like disappointment and depression.
The affect on veterans will depends entirely on a few things. How many discrepancies and if they are aware of them.
If this is the case, that’s when you will see mechanisms such as heavy drinking as a means to cope.
What can you do if you experience a loss of self?
Gaining back your sense of self requires work with a psychologist on skills such as reprogramming and reconditioning your subconscious.
There are constant changes in the ways in which psychologists are approaching these topics, with more technology than ever at their fingertips.
It won’t all be comfortable strolls through the park, but neither was the training it took to get your job in the first place.
Information and education is key to understanding what is going on. Arm yourself with as much knowledge about what you are experiencing or what the person you are supporting is experiencing.