Challenging Who You Are


“People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion.”
– Plato

Who are you? How do you define yourself? What do you think makes you interesting? What about you gets you the attention of others? What makes you unique?

Sit back and think about those questions…

Maybe people notice your sharp blue eyes. Or your thick curly hair. Maybe you are extremely tall. Those are a number of physical characteristics but you are also defined in other ways like your nationality or your sense of humor. Maybe you are very British and people comment on your dry wit. Or you are American with 247 different fart jokes. Perhaps you are extremely family oriented or maybe you are more of a “lone wolf”. There are lots of ways to define yourself.

Every human has a narrative, even you

It’s the story of themselves that creates their identity. It stars the person as the hero pushing forward against some kind of challenge. It gives people purpose and defines how they interact with others. We all have a story.

How damaging would that be to your psyche if you lost something that defines you? Think about your patients for a second. The college basketball player who wears nothing but her team’s warn-up gear to every session. The fisherman in the hospital whose family has decorated his room with fishing paraphernalia and pictures of him holding record winning trout. The gardener who for some reason needs to be pulling weeds in order to feel alive. The runners…oh the runners.

This is something that we as health care professionals deal with all the time

We “give people their lives back” and make them whole again. This can be a great motivator. But someone’s narrative can also get us into trouble. What if your patient was actually defined by their pain or their injury – the very thing you are trying to take away?

You have met people like this. During every conversation with them, they will bring the conversation to their illness. “Oh, I could never go hiking for a whole day. I have a bad back you know.” It is almost like they don’t have anything else to talk about. Maybe they don’t.

It can also be a source of attention and human contact (we all need that). When they talk about their knee problems people seem more interested in them. Other people ask questions, provide consolation, talk about how brave that person is in order to face such a struggle.

When that person goes to their healthcare provider they get taken seriously. They receive validation. They may also receive some physical human contact in the form of hands on treatments. For some, it is also their only social interaction for the week.

Now, tell me: How are you going to get rid of their pain or perceived injury when it is part of their identity?

You won’t. Because a person will fight with all their might to preserve their identity. Their problem is not just their pain or injury; it is also their narrative. Until you change their narrative, you ain’t changing shit.

But wait. How about YOUR narrative, YOUR identity? Does it get in your way as well?

Are you defined by your occupation? What about the specifics of your practice? Do you define yourself as a “manual therapist” or a “dry needler”? Or do you define yourself as a “movement specialist”? How much time have you devoted to be those things? Is it who you are?

What if that thing that you deeply define yourself as is shown unequivocally not work? How quick will you be to abandon it? What if it is the only thing you know?

Think about the acupuncturist who has practiced for 30 years. What are they going to do? Quit and become a barista at a coffee shop? Or will they struggle to defend what they do, nitpicking the evidence against, and speaking about anecdotal evidence and “works for the patient in front of me”? The fact that it also has an “us versus them” mentality to it (known as tribalism) really feeds that narrative.

What would YOU do? Or maybe, you are already doing it…

Don’t get me wrong. All humans must define themselves. Just be careful how you do it.

Me? I’m a physical therapist. I provide physical rehabilitation.

In summary…

  • How does your patient define themselves?
  • How do you define yourself?
  • Your patient’s “problem” could be linked to their identity
  • A person will fight with all their might to preserve their identity
  • How would you react if your identity was honestly challenged? How SHOULD you react?

The featured image on this post is “Reading” by ThomasLife via Flicker.