Recently, I ran into a young woman in her thirties who had cancer a few years ago. Thankfully, she successfully treated it and has remained physically healthy ever since. Shortly into the conversation, she started talking about being a cancer survivor and reliving many things she experienced while she was ill. After she left, I realized that we actually never had a conversation that she did not redirect back to cancer.

So, what’s the problem with that? She’s allowed cancer to become her identity rather than something she experienced. In shamanic healing traditions, this is referred to as “wearing the wound.” And when we do this, we never fully transcend illness and experience true healing.

Believe me, I understand the inclination. I have experienced serious illness that, at times, was unbearable. And when you spend most of your time going to medical appointments, managing symptoms, and explaining to loved ones why you can’t do certain things with them, it can seem impossible not to designate yourself as “the sick one.” But, if you do this you are giving illness power over you and a permanent residence in your being.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Great, what am I supposed to do – pretend it didn’t happen?” Of course not. Refusing to adopt an illness identity does not mean you never speak about it or deny its existence. There is no question that experiencing a serious or chronic illness will impact your life experience and test aspects of your character. However, it does mean that you surrender to the experience, learn the lessons it inevitably brings, and then release it and move forward. There is a difference between learning from an illness and using it to be of service to others and building an identity around it.

So, how do you avoid creating an identity around illness? Here are some tips:


  1. Limit Participation in Social Media Groups: Facebook has a group for every type of health issue you can possibly imagine. While connecting with others who share a similar experience can provide insight and comfort, it can also delay your healing. If you’re spending several hours each day in online forums, consider cutting back. As a dear friend always tells me, “don’t breathe life into what you don’t want.” If you are choosing to identify with something, why not choose health instead of illness?
  2. Be of Service To Someone Else: Take some time to help someone else in any way that you can. This could mean volunteering at an organization that is meaningful to you, or be as simple as talking to a friend in need on the phone. No matter what you are going through, there are always others who need your help.
  3. Surrender to Your Current Situation: Surrendering means to fully accept where you are right now in the present. It doesn’t mean you have to like your current situation; it does mean you acknowledge that it is what it is. When dealing with illness, we often have one foot in the past (pre-illness) and one foot in the future (restoration of health). But the truth is that all we really have is the present, and until we surrender we are resisting healing.
  4. Do Something That Brings You Joy Everyday: If you are experiencing a serious illness, it can sometimes feel like every minute of every day is consumed by your health. Take time each day to pull yourself out of that head space, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Watch a funny movie, invite a friend over to spend time with you, or read a great book.
  5. Watch Your Thoughts: Mother Teresa once said, “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally invite me.” She understood the importance of focusing your intentions and thoughts on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Shift your thoughts from “fighting or surviving an illness” to “restoring health to your body.”
  6. Meditate: Meditation can be a great way to focus your energy and intentions on healing. And you don’t have to sit in the lotus position in front of an altar to do it! When you first wake up and before you fall asleep, take a few deep breaths and then imagine yourself in perfect health. But, don’t just imagine it – FEEL it as if it was happening right now. What do you see, smell, hear, and feel? By doing this every day, you are consistently aligning your energy with health and healing and drawing it to you.
  7. Love Yourself: Give yourself credit for all you are doing to heal!