As a student of depth psychology, I study lots of different mental disorders.  I have often joked with my fellow students about my tendency to depressed_man1self-diagnose in every class, seeing a bit of myself in each of the “disorders” as we learn about them.  This got me to thinking, what if we stopped labeling ourselves and each other with these very limiting terms?

Disorder: If I look at the breakdown of the word, from the Classical Latin, it is a combination of two ideas: dis- “take away” + ordinare “to order, regulate.”

From the perspective of mental disorders, this could be thought of as, the “taking away” of one’s ability to mentally “order, or regulate.”  So, without an ability to mentally regulate, one many experience a mental disorder.

In our world where clinical symptoms are rattled off as fast as is humanly possible during each TV commercial break, medical terminology is entering our everyday language.  How many times have you heard the phrases, “She’s bipolar!” or “What a narcissist!”?

With the root of the word “disorder” in mind, it became clear to me that a person in fact is not their mental disorder.  We are each so much more.  All joking aside, I have experienced many of the disorders about which I read.  There have certainly been times of depression, and narcissism, and neuroticism, and the list goes on.  Each time, I have been able to “restore order” for myself, in other words, they were temporary states of being for me, they were not “me.”

Another way of viewing disorders is as a state of being, and not as the being itself.  It is much different.  If I shift my thinking to see a mental disorder as a temporary state of being, where the person’s mental capacities can be restored to order, that is much different than labeling them a Narcissistic personality disorder, for example.

What would it be like if we stopped saying things like, “I’m depressed” or “She’s a depressive personality disorder” and started saying things like, “I’m experiencing a depression.”  Pulling the “I” out of the identity with the label assists in being able to understand these states as temporary, and I believe, immediately supports the person in finding the internal strength to endure the dis-order.

The clinician must know the signs and presentations of different disorders to be as effective as possible in aiding the client, of course.  The shift in paradigm I’m wondering about comes in seeing the client as someone who has the capacity to “order” their life, and is however experiencing a dis-order in it.

The first sentences Pema Chödrön wrote in her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, are these: “WE ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING WE NEED.  There is no need for self-improvement.”  What a concept.  Having been on a long quest for self-improvement, the words haulted me as I first read them and then I felt a huge wave of relief.  What if this is how we all viewed ourselves?  And what if this is how we all viewed each other?  How would your world change if you lived it like this?

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11 Responses to “A Person Is Not a Disorder”

  1. Ray Nelson says:

    What a great post. As the parent of a son with autism, I can't tell you how many times I have had to remind people that my son is more than his disorder, and that autism will not define his life or his relationships. Thanks for stating what should be obvious.

  2. LOL – I think all psych students "diagnose" ourselves and others while learning about the different disorders.

    No, no one IS their disorder, however, particularly with the major personaility disorders, those folks that have them definitely do not already have everything they need. Someone who truly has NPD, for example, needs significant help with restoring order, in fact, they probably have never even come close to having order so don't know what that feels like. Someone with BPD – YIKES, they definitely need help.

    Most people have some of the minor (or major) traits assigned to personality disorders without actually having the full-blown disorder. I myself have a fear of abandonment, but not to the extreme that someone with BPD has it. Self-awareness and improvement (enlightenment) are never bad things.

    You are right though, there is still quite a bit of negative societal stigma attached to these labels so it is helpful to remember that no matter what the issues, the patient is a person not a disorder. Convincing them of that is of utmost importance.

    Love your blog!

  3. michbarn99 says:

    I have, in the past, and starting again this fall also been and will be a psychology "student"-it is in my blood-I am constantly studying everyone around me. In the process of that one does tend to start to find faults and to compare themselves with others. I have definitely fallen victim to this, myself-constantly seeking out what is "wrong" with me, so I like how you ended your article-now if I can just remember to put it in play in my day to day life:-)

    • BrendaMurrow says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Congratulations on re-starting school! Yes, I agree, there is a way of being in the world that lends itself to the field of psychology and once you experience it, you'll likely never be far from it. I hope you enjoy exploring what this blog is about, and also your upcoming studies.

  4. BrendaMurrow says:

    Hi Ray, thanks very much for reading and commenting. There is a phrase I like which is 'common sense is not so common' and I am reminded of it with your comment. I think it is really important that we continually remind each other to treat each other with respect and gentleness, and thus restating the obvious as often as necessary.

  5. BrendaMurrow says:

    Hello and thank you for commenting! With your online name I can tell we are on the same page. Best of luck to you as you continue to be 'so much more than a mom,' and a psychology student, and whatever additional wonderful things you are!

  6. Jennifer Tatnall says:

    Seems to work for those who claim "temporary insanity" in the court room. Yet when it comes to diseases, they seem to be permanently associated. However, I definitely know I that experience temporary ADD among other thing almost daily :) Great article!

  7. Thank you! I’m glad you like the blog. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

  8. Homepage says:

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