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The Power to Define Your Life

Have you ever heard someone that is physically sick describe themselves as, I am flu or I am cancer?  Typically we would expect to hear someone say, “I caught the flu” or “I have cancer.” It would be strange to hear someone define themselves as their illness and yet in the mental health world we hear people defining themselves regularly as their illness, “I’m OCD” or “I’m ADD”  Why would someone choose to surrender their personal identity to someone else’s definition?


We have all heard someone say, “I am stressed!”  I remember being in one of my master’s classes discussing the causes of stress and what methods were most effective in treating it.  Causes sited for stress included: jobs, family, finances etc. Treatments discussed included: breathing, medication, exercise etc. In the midst of this discussion I asked the class if we should first be helping people to define stress before we validate it and begin treating it.  The class, not understanding what I was implying wanted me to explain. I suggested that instead of simply allowing a client to adopt the world’s definition of stress; why not first empower the client to define what stress is or is not for them. If successful, this could possibly eliminate the need for treatment all together!


One of my favorite movie lines comes from a Western called Tombstone, the story of the OK corral.  At the end of the movie as Doc Holiday (played by Val Kilmer) lay dying from tuberculosis he asks his long time friend Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell), “what is it you want Wyatt?”, to which Wyatt replies, “I just want a normal life Doc” and then Doc says, “there’s no such thing as a normal life Wyatt, there’s just life and we get on with it”.  The reason I enjoy this line is that it reminds me that using other people’s terms to define who I am or what I want may be misleading. Just as Wyatt believed that everyone else had something he did not, a normal life, Doc reminded him that only he (Wyatt) had the power to define what his life should be.


One of the great powers we have been given as a human being is the power to define our life.  It is easy to gravitate to other’s definitions of how we should feel, what we should want or how we should think but ultimately this is our right.  Defining who we are and having a vision of who we should become is at the core of our existence.




As you examine your life, reflect on the beneficial decisions you have made that you can truly call your own.  How did you find the inspiration and courage to make those decisions? How have those decisions helped to shape your life?  Now, look ahead at the coming week and visualize one thing you could define differently that would have a positive impact on you: how you see your marriage, what true friendship means, what a fulfilling job looks like etc.  With this new definition in hand, create a simple plan of action that will solidify your new definition. In time you will find that you can be the owner of your life.

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