Leave the Labels Alone

April 11, 2018


I am OCD.  I am Bipolar.  I am Borderline.  I am Depressed.  I am Dying.  I am Sick.  I am Absent-minded. 


I’m a therapist.


People come to me seeking answers.

Inevitably they come to me with answers.


They sit down across from me and start telling me what they are.


My all time favorite: I am CODEPENDENT!


It makes sense.

Folks tend to think this is what we do.


Therapists label people.


You come in. Lie on our sofas. Say a few words.

We give you a label and tell you how to stop being so much of whatever your label is.


How much faster you will feel better if you come in label in hand!

Skip all that silly word association right to me telling you how to stop, right?

This isn’t your first rodeo.


There are likely some out there who deal in labels.

And of course the medication managers must.


But most therapists don’t.


So the next thing you know I am asking me to you to tell me WHO you are.

And you start to wonder who is the crazy one in the room and labels for me are running through your head…psychotic?


That’s okay. I’ve had my share of labels thrown at me.

I can handle yours.


One of the things we like to think in our business is that early memories are pretty critical. They tend to drive a lot of the things we do, fear, love, seek, etc., for the rest of our lives.


This isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s a tendency.


For instance, when I work with adult survivors of childhood abuse, eventually I hope to get to a really early memory. Now I don’t ask my clients to go anywhere they don’t want to. It’s not necessary to relive anything. But with an early memory, no matter what it is about, we can often find a clue to how they would later view their abuse.


So a person might recall getting in trouble as a toddler for disrobing for an older kid and subsequently blame herself for every instance of every type of abuse ever.


She doesn’t need to relive childhood abuse. She needs to revisit that memory.


Of course she obeyed the older person. Three year-olds are taught to obey. She had no way of knowing what she was doing was “wrong.”  


But folks come in instead with labels like codependent. Why? Because they “let” people abuse them. Because abuse is “comfortable” to them.


When in reality what they were taught from their earliest days was that they are not being abused, they are in fact “causing” everything that is happening.


How? Because they are bad.


B. A. D.


Because at the ripe old age of three they wanted an older kid to see them naked. Then they must have wanted a man to touch them. Then they must have wanted mom to beat them senseless. Then they must have hoped everyone would stay drunk and high. Then that was so darn comfy, they looked high and low for people who would for more people who would accommodate their desire to be totally violated during their precious childhood and tell them it was their fault and if they ever told anyone, their mothers and fathers would end up dead and that too would be their fault. Why? Because these precious little ones were rotten to the core.


And they grew and grew, trying to understand why they were so bad and trying so hard to be good, all the while knowing they deserved all the abuse. So when, as adults, the abuse continued it made sense to them. They deserved.


Only now, they are told they picked it. They chose it. Because they are codependent. 


Wait. What?


Yep. You picked it. And if you don't admit it, you are going to keep picking it. 


Head scratch.


Here these poor kids just thought they were trying to stop being bad and be good like the abusers keep telling them so the abuse will stop. 


Now they find out they have a label that insists not only are they the cause of the abuse, but the abuse is comfortable. They are looking for it!


Don’t get me wrong, there is some pretty good literature out there on codependent behaviors. But not every person given that label, by themselves or someone else, deserves it.


Enablers of addicts? Yeah. It's helpful there. Addicts themselves. Probably. But even as a label I'm not so sure...maybe we could still just talk of behaviors that can change. 


But please. Not for the abused. It plays right into the hands of the abusers. It uses the exact same language as the abusers. 


For folks who are already convinced they are bad and to blame for the abuse they suffer, being labeled codependent and, therefore, seeking even more abuse offers them just one more way to self-flagellate.


Come to me with your labels.

Some of them, including codependent, may be accurate and helpful at times.


But I’m going to keep asking you who you are.

Because it is in who you are that we will find your healing.

It is in who God made you to be that labels fall away and your beauty is revealed.


That is the thing I seek.

That is the part of you that matters.

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