The Identity Sort: What to do when you don’t feel like yourself

Posted On June 28th, 2021

Today we’re excited to share a guest post from RightFit member Austin Hunter, APC, about finding yourself when aspects of your identity that you considered essential have been stripped away. 


Who are you when you’re not yourself?

The previous twelve months have been a year of loss. In addition to the staggering loss of life, we are also experiencing the loss of so many small pieces of “our selves” during this pandemic. We all hold aspects of our life which we believe form our identity, and these identity pieces are often tied to the things that we do. Research even suggests that the loss of crucial identity aspects such as a job, passionate hobby, or relationships affects our minds in a very specific way: grieving. We are, truly, grieving the loss of our “self” in the wake of COVID-19 and the very real changes the past year has had on the way we look at who we are. I want you to know that this is normal and this is ok. It is how we work as human beings, and there is something we can do about it.

When Things Are Missing

Even if you never caught the novel coronavirus in the past year, you have undoubtedly been affected by it in a myriad of ways. The way you live your day-to-day life has been greatly altered, and the effects of those changes can weigh on us over time. Many of the things we consider to be “who we are” are actually things we do every day.

For example, I considered myself to be a hiker, a traveler, a family person, and an extrovert. When the trails were closed, travel was impossible, I couldn’t safely visit my family, and I had to stay home alone all of the time, who was I? The Austin I envisioned myself to be could not do any of the things that made me, me. The reaction to these losses is, understandably, grieving, but it is also opportunity.

See, somehow, against all odds, when the activities of my life were stripped away, I was still here. The question then became, “In the absence of all the things I believe myself to be, who am I?” Getting to the answer of this question is core to understanding yourself, really, and it’s something you can begin working toward right now, sitting at your computer.

The Core of You

Doing this requires a bit of mental exercise. You may not be accustomed to thinking intentionally about where our identity comes from. During good or just normal times, it just happens naturally. When things are thrown into disarray and our assumed identity comes into question, it may feel difficult to know who we are if we have never had to think about. That is what we are doing today, thinking about our self. Let’s see how, using a tool we call the Identity Sort. Of course, before beginning any such exercise, make sure you are in a safe, secure, and calm mental place. Try some deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or another favorite tool to relax.

1. Take 8 sticky notes, strips of paper, or notecards and a pen.
Make sure these are separate, and not one piece of paper, so that you can move them around.

2. On each of the pieces of paper, write one answer to this fill in the blank: “I am ________”.
Examples could be “a hard worker”, “a family person”, “friendly”, “a hiker”, or anything else that comes to mind. Try and keep these positive aspects, or things about yourself that you like.

3. Arrange these strips of paper in front of you from most to least important, placing the answers that are most important closer to you and things that are less important further away.
Thus, you’ll have a line of 8 pieces of “identity” arranged out from you on the table.

4. Now, take away the piece of paper furthest away from you and place it to the side. Take a few moments to sit silently and consider, “If this aspect of my life did not exist, who would I be?”
Take the time you need to fully answer this question and explore its implications for your life.

5. One at a time, do the same with each piece of paper, from furthest to closest, placing it to the side and considering “If this aspect of my life did not exist, who would I be?” until there are no strips of paper remaining.

6. Once all the papers are gone, take a moment to reflect on the fill in the blank statement, now having a period instead of a blank. “I am.” What does this mean to you, in absence of all the answers above?

7. Now, starting with the last paper removed, the one most important to you, add it back in front of yourself and reflect on the implications “What does it mean to be this? What does this do for my life?”

8. As above, one at a time, add the papers back, starting with the closest and working your way out, considering the implications of adding this to your identity with each one.

9. Once you’ve added the last piece back in front of you take a moment to consider these 8 most important and core aspects of your self as one person, “What does this list say about me? And who am I because of it?”

Compiling and considering such a list is a prime example of exercising some rarely used “muscles” in our brain, and it may reveal a lot more about how you feel, why you do what you do, and who you are than you expect!


This blog was originally posted on Avalon Psychotherapy and is shared here with permission. Austin Hunter, APC, holds a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Georgia. As a provisional counselor, he receives supervision from Marissa Mundy, LPC, CPCS. Austin has additional trainings in Mindfulness Meditation, DBT, and Motivational Interviewing that enable him to work with clients of multiple faiths, backgrounds, and experiences. Learn more about Austin and Avalon Psychotherapy here.