Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Do Labels Hurt Or Help?

Many years ago when I was first recovering and beginning to come to terms with the child sexual abuse I experienced, I kept trying to find labels that applied to me.  In fact at the time, I could have used several labels.

Some of the labels that I could have put on myself included the following
  • Conversion Disorder Survivor
  • Depression
  • Child Sexual Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Trauma

There are probably many more that I don't recall or would have to really search for the proper label.  It is my understanding that labels for mental health and other conditions came out of the DSM or the Diagnostics And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  In fact, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk talks about this in his book, The Body Keeps The Score.

During one point of my recovery from child sexual abuse, I was struggling with porn and adult bookstores and all the 900 numbers that were around in those days.  It got to the point that one month I got my phone bill and wondered how I was ever going to pay the $600 that I owed.  Keep in mind that this was many years ago and $600 was a heck of a lot of money back then (still is today).

In addition to that, I was seeking out the anonymous sex in adult book stores and almost got arrested a couple of times but luck was on my side.  Every weekend, I would exclaim I was not going to go to these places and I would keep exclaiming that up until the point when I walked into one of the booths.

I started to use labels... but she stopped me

As I finally got the nerve up to share this with my therapist, I started to use labels like sex addict and addicted to sex and other things that I thought described me and my behavior.  She stopped me dead in my tracks and urged me to not apply the labels.  Paraphrasing her, she said that if I used the labels, then there would be a much better chance that I would try to live up to the expectations of those labels.

At the time, it seemed confusing.  I didn't see the harm, but I trusted her.  Lo and behold, years later, I understood exactly what she meant.  Where we focus our mind, that is where the body follows.  If I focused on being the label, then I had to evolve a world that fit around that label.  It was a double-edged sword because on one hand it might have been able to help me, but on the other hand it would cut through me like knife in a brawl.

Labels can help...

Labels can help.  I'm not going to deny that because sometimes you need the starting point.  However, if you take the label and put it on as one of your most comfy shirts to wear, then you're entering the danger zone of needing to evolve a world based upon that label.

I'm not sure the DSM helped anyone with mental disorders, but it gave those that help people suffering from mental health issues a way to communicate.  It gave insurance companies a way to bill and classify the problems many face.  Is that helpful?  I'm not sure I am qualified to say.  I can see the pitfalls and dangers of the labels.  I can also see the necessity for this practice.

My final thought in labels hurting or helping you is that be careful with them.  In the early days of recovery and healing, labels can give you stilts to walk through some of the muck.  However, if you're not careful, the stilts begin to swell up from the moisture and soon they will not be lifting you above the muck.

Find ways that use the labels effectively, but not that they hold you back.  So much of this is unconscious and so sometimes it is hard to see that we are doing it.  Just be aware of it and look for ways that the labels become something that you needed, not what you have become.  All of us that have been wounded in life are much more than what was done to us.  Let us honor that part of ourselves.  Let us honor the part that survived and is now making it in life.

If you would like to read more about my own story, check this blog post out 

What's your thoughts?
  1. How do you use labels?
  2. Do labels hurt or help you?

Blog Post And Images (c) 2016 by Don Shetterly
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