October 2019 Q & A

Why Self-Labels Are Toxic

Today I’m responding to the controversy stemming from the article I published entitled “Immediately Overcome Sadness, Irritation, and Depression.” You can read it here.

(Watch video or read transcript below)

I was inspired to share about self-labels because some people were agitated that in the article I said depression is not an emotional disorder. 

The rest of the article seemed to resonate with people, but a handful of people disagreed with phrase.

I want to explain why that phrase agitates people and why self-labels are toxic. By self-labels, I mean a label or diagnosis from someone qualified, or one you’ve identified for yourself.

Some examples are depression, thyroid disorders, ADHD, and survivor to identify someone who survived sexual abuse.

A popular label among middle-aged divorced women is narcissists. 

They love to label their ex as a narcissist and I challenge you to find a middle aged, divorced woman that doesn’t. 

On the flip side, I challenge you to find a middle aged divorced man that doesn’t refer to their ex as crazy.

A label I’m guilty of is referring to people as liberals. It’s a running joke at my house that anytime I want to explain someone’s peculiar or irrational behavior, I call them liberals.

Recently, we were in Santa Barbara where they use cardboard straws that taste like paper. My son asked why they have these terrible straws in Santa Barbara. 

I rolled my eyes and said, “liberals.” That’s the type of label I’m referring to and it’s a lazy way of explaining a more complicated situation.

I suspect the long answer to the cardboard straws is because many people have never faced adversity, so they’re bored and unfulfilled. 

They need a common enemy to fight and that became straws. Although it will have zero impact on the environment, they think they’re saving the world because they haven’t had anything serious to worry about in their own life. 

Rather than explaining all of that, it’s just easier to say we can’t have plastic straws because of liberals.

Why do we use these kinds of labels? 

The most obvious reason is because labels provides comfort. If there’s a label or diagnosis for our ailment, it makes us feel comfortable because it provides understand of the situation.

But labels tend to remove our ability to solve the problem. For example, if we can label our kids as having ADHD, it’s much more comforting to blame their behavior on ADHD rather than a fault in our parenting.

It’s much easier for me to label an ex-wife as crazy, rather than accepting there was something I contributed to the relationship problems.

Thyroid disorder is another one. It’s easier to say I have a thyroid disorder than to accept I have poor eating habits. 

It’s comforting to have a label, which is why we turn to Google and start searching.

If it’s a medical issue, we go web MD to find a label, or go to a doctor or a therapist to have someone in a white lab coat and letters after their name to provide a label to your problem.

But the problem is the label can consciously, or unconsciously, remove responsibility. It’s no longer your fault, so you don’t have to feel guilty about the problem, but that also removes your ability to improve the situation.

Returning to the emotional disorder comment in my article, we can find varying opinions from people who believe, or not, that depression is an emotional disorder, but it’s really a matter of semantics.

I think it agitates people to deny that depression is an emotional disorder because it suggests you have control over it. 

If it’s an emotional disorder, that implies it’s not your fault, but that also remove your ability to solve the problem.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues can be improved by reprogramming the way you think and there is a ton of research  supporting this.

In fact, a lot of the CBT research has suggested that it’s on par, or equal, to the positive results of medication. 

If changing the way you think has the same outcome as treatment with a pill, you have to start questioning if it’s an actual disorder, or is it a matter of reprogramming the way you think.

The interesting part about a lot of this research is that medications have similar results as placebos. 

If a placebo is treating depression equally as well as a pill, it’s not the pill, it’s the belief that you’re doing something that is solving the depression.

If research suggests that placebos often have similar effects as antidepressant medication, then there’s evidence suggesting depression is not necessarily a disorder as much as it is about how you think.

The essence of my article was that we can change the way we think and change our moods by restating our thoughts. 

If our automatic thoughts are always negative, then we’re going to lean toward a depressed emotional state. If you consciously change your automatic thoughts, then we can  influence depression.

The point of my article was not to get hung up on labels, regardless if they’re assigned by an expert or self-diagnosed. 

Just because someone with credentials claims something is a disorder, that does not mean they’re right. In fact, very often they’re wrong.

This has been shown time and time again throughout the history of the medical profession where doctors in white lab coat claimed smoking was good for you. 

Not that long ago, the same people that call depression a disorder, also called homosexuality a disorder. I imagine that’s controversial to some, but for the most part, people don’t feel homosexuality is a mental disorder today.

It’s important to question the motivation of the professionals who create these labels because it’s heavily influenced by the politics within the organization that defines the labels.

Another factor is that a lot of these things are driven by insurance. 

All these diagnoses have health insurance billing codes. If you can categorize your problem as a disorder, you have a greater likelihood of getting approved for insurance coverage for your therapy. You must question if you really have a disorder or is the goal to be reimbursed for therapy.

Be leery about seeking or accepting a label, because once you have that label, it makes it very difficult to overcome the symptoms. 

Our minds are incredibly susceptible to suggestion. If we accept a label such as PTSD, survivor, depression, or thyroid disorder, we will ensure that it’s right.

It’s incredibly painful to be wrong. If yon’t believe me, argue with your spouse and rarely will anyone accept they’re wrong. We will fight to the death to prove we’re right.

If you have labeled yourself as having the emotional disorder of depression, I guarantee you will always be depressed. 

But if you reprogram those thoughts and change the negative to the positive, I guarantee your mood will improve.

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