On the dysfunctional communication of psychiatric labeling

Adapted from an earlier post….

Have you ever had anybody label you as lazy, deceitful, or some other negative personality trait and then dismiss your behavior as a symptom of the label they have placed on you? Normally you feel unfairly treated, blamed or somehow victimized. You feel unfairly judged and not listened to or valued. Normally the person labeling you feels like they are better than you and that act of labeling impacts your relationship in very real ways.

There is tons of research that say this type of communication leads to real problems in marriages and in other important relationships. Labeling leads to the other party withdrawing and putting up a stone wall. The labeler pursues and points to the withdrawal as sign that their label was correct and legitimate. At its worse the whole thing dissolves into mutual contempt.

I had a friend who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder who told me her greatest wish was that her family not see her feelings as a symptom of her “illness.” “Cant I just be mad and it just be about me…. Does everything have to be about bipolar.” I have met many people who feel the same. The great lie of psychiatric diagnosis is that life is a symptom of that illness.

I have another friend who believes that treatment works and that it works a great percentage of the time. He can point to the research showing so and makes a very convincing case. My question is always the same. If it works so well why do so many people have such trouble becoming involved in it or maintaining their involvement in it?

The answer is, I believe, what the system says to people about them. Often with not even intending to it tells them that they are flawed in fundamental ways and that they need to accept that, be realistic and not expect too much out of life.

I have another friend who according to psychiatric diagnosis is impossible. She spent 16 years in a state institution. She knew brutality on an everyday basis. The doctors told her that her problem was that she was a schizophrenic. She now owns her own home, drives and does a million everyday things that she was told she would never be able to do. Most importantly she does not define herself by the brutality done to her, but by the opportunities in life ahead of her.

Living in the psychiatric system for too many is too often like being in a bad marriage. They find themselves labeled, blamed, scapegoated and told they are deficient and will never change. Frequently they are told the problem is that they really dont want to change.

No wonder the divorce rate is so high.


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