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the difference between feeling lost and being lost

Posted Sep 01 2010 11:54pm

Ok, on to this post about the difference between feeling lost and actually being lost.

This is one of those things that makes a lot of sense in my mind, but I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work getting it into words for you guys. So, bear with me a bit here. And you know the deal- ask questions and add your own thoughts and perspectives :)

I get it that feeling lost can possibly occur when we are actually lost as well as when we are not actually lost but totally feel like we are. So, part of the tricky thing is how we can differentiate between these two reality.

We can feel lost when we perceive things to be out of our control, unpredictable or erratic, or when we are in transition (since being in transition often leaves us feeling out of control and/or out of our comfort zone). These don't automatically mean we ARE lost.

Feeling lost is a miserable experience. And it's downright frightening. And... in of itself feeling lost is not dangerous to us. The same can't be said for actually BEING lost. Being lost can be super dangerous to us, even lethal.

So, how do we know if we are lost, and not just feeling lost.

I thought I'd give some examples and we can see if we can figure out which of these people feels lost and which of them actually is lost. Sound like a plan? Ok, here we go
1. a middle aged woman who just lost her husband of 23 years to a long illness. she has two kids, each with families, and they have come to town to stay with her for as long as she needs them. this woman dearly loved her husband and they were best friends. she feels lost without him.

2. a teenage girl who has been restricting her food intake for 5 months, has lost significant weight, and who feels like everyone is "over-reacting" about her health and should leave her alone.

3. a 35 year old man who drank quite a bit of alcohol in college but hasn't much since then, and who has been under increased stress at work this past year. he finds himself drinking "a bit" more than usual, hasn't blacked out or missed work or significantly affected any relationships as a  result of his drinking. he worries that he's "become lost" and that he may have a "problem" with drinking.

4. a 31 year old single man who moves across the country to take a new job. he knows no one in the new city, and the job is one he very much wants and has worked hard to get. he has family in his old city and a strong circle of friends, but he feels lost in this new place.

5. a 40 year old woman whose family says she drinks too much, and who has had several incidents of aggressive behavior when drinking and one arrest for driving while intoxicated. she admits the DWI is "a problem" but doesn't think there is anything "terribly wrong."

Now, which of these people feels lost and which are actually lost? I made up these people and their circumstances, and life can be complicated- so remember that I'm just intending these as examples for us to think about and for our use to differentiate between these two states. Also, it's possible to go from feeling lost to actually being lost, and vice versa. Ok, enough disclaiming...

I'm thinking that persons 2 and 5 are actually lost and persons 1, 3 and 4 feel lost but are not truly lost. Why do I think that? Because of a few things: awareness, support and connection. Persons 1, 3 and 4 are aware of their situations- they understand, at least to some degree, why they are having trouble, and they are aware of their need to take extra care with themselves and pay attention to what they need. Persons 2 and 5 are relatively oblivious to their realities- and we know how dangerous and damaging being unaware of what's real can be.

Also, persons 1,3, and 4 have support systems and/or the ability to search for and find a support system. Persons 2 and 5 sound like they have people around them, ones who may indeed care about their well-being. But they don't seem as if they can access real connection with their support people- they don't believe what their support people say, they don't trust the perspective of their support people, they won't allow any feedback into their psyches other than what they themselves think and see. They are disconnected.

I'm not at all saying that persons 1,3 and 4 are not suffering. I mean, they do, after all, feel lost, and that's majorly hard to deal with. What I'm saying is that it's crucial to figure out if we feel lost of if we are lost (and you can see from persons 2 and 5, that sometimes when we actually are lost we are unable to even see it! that makes it even more dangerous).

Feeling lost sucks. It's a horrible feeling (and in general it is a time-limited one that recedes as our life settles back down- unless it turns into clinical depression, but thats a whole other, and rarer occurrence than what usually happens). But that's what it is: a horrible, shaky feeling. BEING lost is a precarious state of being- and it can feel either as if we are lost or as if we have nothing wrong.

I was trying to convince (reassure, really) someone the other day that although she feels lost, she isn't actually lost. I'm not sure I did a very good job. I really did mean it to be reassuring- for her to get to realize that she, in truth, is pretty darn grounded in her life and in her support system.

But I know that feeling lost can sometimes be so powerful that we accidentally become convinced that we are indeed lost.
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