When you go to a doctor or psychologist with your symptoms and they respond with giving you a diagnosis, it’s easy to take on that diagnosis as though you’re ready to wear it like a sign. It’s easy to cling to that diagnosis as though it’s a new part of who you are. This can also be true when you hear that you’ve been diagnosed with an alcohol or other substance addiction.
Yet, a diagnosis is merely a tool. For instance, when your drug counselor communicates with your psychiatrist, and refers to you as an addict, that psychiatrist will automatically be able to interpret your general psychological condition.
Although each person is unique in how he or she experiences mental illness, a diagnosis provides a convenient way to refer to your condition and how to treat it. It allows clinicians to quickly recognize the illness you’re struggling with.
In this way, knowing that you are an addict can be a great support. The point of having an illness is, among other reasons, to provide you with a community of individuals who experience the same challenges and to grow together.
Now that you know that you have been diagnosed with an addiction or an eating disorder or with depression, you know where to go to find support. You can find others who have had similar challenges and who have overcome them. You can find hope and perhaps even happiness.
On the other hand, sometimes having a label such as “addict” or “alcoholic” can have a negative effect, making your condition worse. It’s as though suddenly it gives you permission to behave in certain ways, like sabotaging yourself or exploding your anger out onto others.
“Well,” you say to yourself as a result, “I’m an alcoholic!” It’s like you give yourself a reason to behave poorly and make unhealthy choices. Yet, having a diagnosis doesn’t mean you have permission to behave in unhealthy ways.
Don’t Get Stuck Behind a Label
Most people don’t like to be labeled, and that’s often the feeling that comes with a psychological diagnosis. And in fact, people perpetuate that labeling by referring to others in ways that are belittling, such as “Joe is an alcoholic”.
The opposite is actually true. Joe is not the disorder itself. Instead, Joe is a human being with feelings, thoughts, aspirations, dreams, and hopes, just like everyone else. He happens to have a mental illness, and with the right treatment, it can be managed and not become an obstacle to reaching those hopes and dreams.
Along these lines, knowing that you have a particular illness, such as addiction, can provide understanding and, in that way, support your healing from it. Knowing that you have a certain diagnosis allows you the opportunity to understand the common ways in which the illness gets in the way of your life. Sometimes, you might struggle without really knowing why.
With a diagnosis, you can read and learn about how the illness stops you. You might find yourself saying, “Oh, I do that! That’s why I can’t seem to get ahead!” However, even here, there can be a tendency to cling to what makes you. But you don’t have to cling to any choices or behaviors that are limiting because if you do, you’ll only find yourself making the same mistakes!
When you know what your behavioral patterns are you can you can make a different choice. For instance, perhaps you have a pattern of ending your relationships because you’re so afraid that they are going to abandon you. So as a way to protect yourself, you leave the relationship before they can leave you.
However, once you recognize that abandonment is a perceived fear, common among those with Bipolar Disorder, you can make a different choice. You can decide to stay with the fear without letting it lead your decision-making. You can recognize the fear but not act on it.
Learning about your diagnosis can give you these sorts of insights so that you can make better choices, take action with more awareness, and not let the illness get the better of you. In this way, a diagnosis then becomes a tool for growth and not an excuse to stay where you are.
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