Why are we so quick to label?

There is a saying “the map is not the territory”.  I would amend that to say the diagnosis is not the person.  So many times others, (most especially the psychiatric community) slap a label on someone that helps not one iota to explain firstly who that person really is and what they have gone through in their lives.

When I went for my second planning appointment pre radiography for breast cancer last week I was able to tell the nurse of how I was traumatised by the radiographer and her assistant the previous week.  She went to find the social worker and while she was gone I read the notes on my file. The radiographer’s assistant had labelled me a “emotionally labile”.  I had broken down in the appointment in grief.

When I googled the word “labile” I learned it was a term used to describe substance which were ‘unstable and dangerous’!  My therapist and I had a good laugh about this one.  I was imagining a cartoon in which I spontaneously combusted in front of the assistant’s eyes, into a cloud of smoke.  The other scenario could involve the appearance of a rescue team In white camoflague armed with detonation gear.  I also called to mind a sign I see on the ceiling at the café were I go each weekend reading Danger : Live Wire.

I was bloody angry when I read the file.  I feel bloody angry for the millions of traumatised people who have their trauma over-ridden by a label diagnosis.

As I am writing this I am calling to mind a very long excerpt from trauma specialist Peter Levine’s book In An Unspoken Voice in which he makes the claim that Post Traumatic Stress should not be labelled a disorder.  As he so eloquently explains what we are left with after experiencing trauma is a very real and totally natural reaction to life events and experiences which overwhelm our capacity to cope in so called ‘normal’ ways.

Post Traumatic Stress was the label given to Vietnam vets who returned from the war with their lives and rhythms and emotions shattered, their nervous systems severely dysregulated.  Levine makes the claim that the term shell shock was actually a more accurate and feeling connected term that the somewhat clinical monica Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in that it speaks more to the traumatised persons feeling reaction to unbearable trauma.

We may think that if we label something we have got a handle on it. But are we any closer to really understanding what the person has endured and the ways in which they struggle to cope?  Do we know what the agony of their life is as they struggle to live and function and not die on a daily basis?

This blog is a cry for empathy and understanding.  We need to be aware that our labels are just labels, convenient descriptions that in no way give us a complete understanding of the territory and can sometimes function to remove or distance ourselves even further from our own and another person’s very real human suffering.

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