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Moving Beyond the Loss of an Ability

If we let our abilities define who we are, it makes sense that we might think less of ourselves when they are gone. However, we can move past any losses we encounter by using our most valuable skill: the ability to make choices.

Common losses and perceptions

People lose abilities such as speech, sight, hearing, recall, reasoning or mobility every day. The degree of impairment and the value placed on the ability will significantly change a person’s lifestyle. This is particularly true when the lost ability is one that we depend on for work, pleasure or daily living. Common to many losses are the perceptions that we have lost control over our lives, that we are no longer complete and that we can no longer make meaningful contributions. These perceptions can profoundly damage our self-image.

Who loses abilities?

Everyone. Losses are caused by accidents, violence, medical conditions and aging. Consider illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, emphysema or rheumatoid arthritis. The outlook for these conditions is a slow but progressive loss of many of the abilities we take for granted. Strokes, heart attacks or accidents often cause sudden loss of abilities. Even if we remain healthy and accident free, we all experience the gradual loss of abilities associated with getting older.

Suggestions for healing

Restoring a healthy self-image begins with choosing how we perceive the loss. As noted by Linda Noble Topf in “You Are Not Your Illness,” life is more than our past achievements or future expectations. Rather, a healthy self-image is molded moment to moment, day to day as we decide what goals to work toward and what accomplishments are meaningful. It is the ability to accept the negative feelings associated with a loss for what they are, a human response, and then to make the choice to move on. Choosing to let go of negative beliefs and perceptions opens doors for other opportunities. Changing how we think can literally change our lives.

Healing is like life. It is a process, not a single event. The following suggestions can help you, or a loved one, through the process of repairing a damaged self-image:

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  • Accept and work through your loss. Counseling may be helpful.
  • Reframe your situation into an opportunity to develop new skills, insights and interests.
  • Join support groups and learn from others.
  • Set goals that are measurable and attainable.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishments.
  • Increase your social involvement.
  • Help others.
  • Focus on what you can do.
  • Communicate your needs.
  • Express your self through writing, music, art, activity, etc.
  • Engage in an appropriate type of physical activity, if possible.
  • Stop negative thinking.
  • Educate yourself. Learn about your community’s medical and social services.
  • Be kind to yourself.
Moving Beyond the Loss of an Ability

Ben Martin, Psy.D.

Ben Martin, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He also writes psychoeducational articles about mental disorders and mental illness.

APA Reference
Martin, B. (2020). Moving Beyond the Loss of an Ability. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.