Excerpted from It’s On Me by Sara Kuburic. Copyright © 2023 by Sara Kuburic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
No one ever intends to lose their Self, but at some point, their intention becomes irrelevant. Not irrelevant in terms of responsibility, but irrelevant in terms of the consequences. If someone sets your house on ﬁre—regardless of whether it’s by accident or on purpose—the reality remains that there is a ﬁre to deal with. Later on in this book, we will explore who or what may have lit the ﬂame that eroded your Self, but remember, the origin of the spark will never be as important as what you decide to do about the inferno. It’s unrealistic for us to expect ourselves to be fully authentic and aligned at every moment in our lives, but we cannot stop trying. We have a responsibility to be our Self (and, let’s not forget, to offer ourself grace as we keep trying).
We must stop normalizing the painful experiences of self- loss. Although it’s common, this is not a condition worth settling for. If we lose our Self, we will be left with a life we are merely enduring, performing. We deserve more, and we can have more.
It’s easy to pathologize any human experience that involves suffering, but let’s not dismiss the role pain can play in our lives. I am not suggesting we should seek out pain, but rather that we can gain insight from it when it does happen (and it will). It’s helpful to understand our suffering as a signal and a messenger.
The pain that you experience when a ﬂame touches your skin is the impetus that moves your hand, protecting you from being burned. The pain of self- loss is not any different. It signals to you that something is not right, and it’s this same signal that can motivate you to change your life.
I always tell my clients that during the process of healing, things often get worse before they get better. In the beginning, the more we become aware, the more it’s going to hurt. It can be difficult to face the fact that our parents failed or hurt us in some way, or that we were the reason our last relationship failed. But here is the good news: Self- loss is not just a submergence into the darkness; it can also serve as a reorientation. It is a space for atonement (offering reconciliation and forgiveness to ourselves) and transformation, and ultimately our chance to create wholeness. It can become our opportunity for agency and freedom. Much like ﬁre, the experience holds within it-self both destruction and generative power—unapologetically molding and carving the paths of our existence.
Lost is a beautiful place in which you can feel unrestricted and uninhibited in your journey of exploring new ideas, people, meaning, and things. Lost can mark the beginning of your Self.
I have come to realize that the transformation that results from choosing to see, understand, and be who we are is un-matched by anything else. Who we are is a unique, real- time, always-evolving experience, never to be shared with a single other person. The question “Who am I?” has to be answered in the present moment—and it will change with every choice and exercise of our human freedom. It’s important for us to realize that our task is not to go back and try to “ﬁnd” who we used to beThe Self is like a painting. Every moment and interaction adds paint to our canvas. The previous layers contribute to the current picture, but with every stroke, the painting changes—becomes more of what it truly is. The painting can never go back to what it once was. Your journey only moves forward. Every aspect of your life— every failure, every change, every loss, every moment of despair or joy— speaks to who you are and the life that you’re living in the present moment.
Reckoning with our self-loss is a long and obscure journey—and I am here to help you with yours. The ﬁrst step is to acknowledge your self-loss. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed as you try to look at your Self—I mean, truly look at your Self. It’s normal to feel exhausted or discouraged as you strive to live intentionally: Every. Single. Day. It’s normal to buckle under the burden of responsibility that comes with recognizing your freedom to shape and be who you are.
The reward far outweighs the effort, though, I promise.
The reward is you. The real you that lives an authentic, free, and meaningful life. Note that this does not mean an easy, pleasant, or perfect life. This means a life where you truly experience every aspect of being alive, a life in which you fully participate, a life where you feel all of it— the excruciating and elevating moments alike. A life in which you make mistakes and emerge with lessons. A life in which you fully embody who you are.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels
Dr. Sara Kuburic is an existential psychotherapist, consultant, writer, and columnist for USA Today. She was born in Yugoslavia and raised in Canada. She is passionate about helping people seek change and live authentic, free, and meaningful lives. Her interest in psychology stems from her personal experience living through wars, navigating complex relationships, and continually learning what it means to be human.