I Am More Than This Disorder: A Journey of Self-Discovery
Tauri Hall, M.Ed, CCC
We are a culture that tends to compartmentalize people into neat little packages that conveniently have a label attached describing personality type, psychological profile, behavioural characteristics and a history of probable life experiences. How often is someone's name omitted and replaced with the disorder? Commonly used labels such as the bulimic patient, the obsessive compulsive, the alcoholic, the addict, the overeater, the anorexic : cheat people of their dignity, power and individuality.
A Narrative Therapist would argue that in order for clients to be successful in recovery they must see themselves as separate from the disorder. They refer to this process as externalizing the problem. They would state that, to refer to an individual suffering with anxiety, as the anxiety patient, essentially says: the patient is the problem and fails to see the problem as the problem. This can have very damaging effects. Often people suffering with illness or a disorder feel very powerless and loose hope of recovery because they have lost their identity. They frequently have difficulty separating themselves from their disorder. Labels are carelessly thrown around, are normalized and accepted and lead to statements such as "I am bulimic, alcoholic, anorexic". What incredibly harmful statements, likely to deplete self-worth, personal power and identity. As long as I am the disorder, I am also the problem. And if I am the disorder, I am also a whole lot of other things such as: lacking self-discipline, weak, a victim, powerless.
By the time most clients are in therapy they have lost themselves and have great difficulty when asked: Who are you? What do you value, enjoy, dream about, believe in? What are you proud of, excited about, striving for? To help clients externalize the disorder and see it as a separate entity, can be extremely significant in their journey towards recovery. As long as the disorder is separate from who they are, then they can fight against it. Putting a name to the disorder, such as "the monster", as well as, putting a face to the disorder, drawing it, helps to solidify the concept of externalizing. These techniques have been very successful in helping individuals break free from feeling powerless and in beginning to gain a sense of empowerment.
A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist would state that by changing our thoughts and our language we can ultimately change the way we feel and behave. The language we use influences how we feel and consequently how we behave. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy aims to expose distorted thinking and replace it with more rational thoughts. To say "I am an overeater" can create feelings of shame, guilt, frustration, self-loathing, anger, sorrow -- all of which chip away at the person's inner being: who they are, their sense of self.
Also crucial in dismantling these labels and defeating negative self-talk, is uncovering maladaptive core beliefs. A core belief such as: to ask for what I need is selfish, would cause the individual to work very hard to help others, but not dare ask others for what they need, for fear of being perceived as selfish. Many of us are not even aware how damaging some of our beliefs are. It is likely, that if you are struggling with illness or a disorder, there is a very toxic belief(s) supporting your self-defeating behaviours. It can be insightful to discover unhealthy beliefs that tend to drive our behaviour; however, it is often quite difficult to exchange core beliefs for healthier ones. They have served us in some form. If you find yourself becoming resistant to or fearful of discarding a very powerful, yet damaging belief, ask yourself: how has this belief benefited me? And what has this belief cost me? See the example below.
Belief: If I say "no" when someone needs my help they will get angry and not like me. I will be rejected.
- I feel good because I am always helping
- I don't have to deal with conflict
- I will always be viewed as dependable and helpful
- I am not taking care of myself
- I have resentments built up
- I am feeling angry, annoyed or sad
- I am tired
- I am becoming irritable with others
- I am not getting my own things done
- I am not as productive at work
- I feel used
- My self-esteem is decreasing
Often becoming aware of our core beliefs and determining how they serve us can motivate change.
Tearing away labels, separating from the "problem" and reclaiming your power is an essential step towards recovery. It is very difficult to make changes when your language is convincing you that you are worthless, powerless, and hopeless. Pay attention to your language. Start by refusing to become your disorder.
Becoming aware is the first step. At the root of your pain is a void, an empty place, within you. Test this by asking yourself: Who am I outside of this disorder? Who am I really? If you are struggling with these questions make a decision to make changes.
- Start by affirming that you are more than the disorder.
- Refuse to define others and yourself with a label.
- See the disorder or illness as a separate from the individual or yourself.
- Pay attention to the language that you use and the thoughts that you have.
- Uncover damaging core beliefs and replace these with healthy ones.
Take a step towards changing your life. Choose to discover who you really are.