Archive for March 30th, 2009

I recently wrote a blog entry entitled Words of Wisdom from “The Shack”: Dangers of the Label “Child Abuse Survivor”, in which I said the following:

A couple of years ago, a friend called me on my “dependence” upon the label of child abuse survivor. She told me that, although I had been abused as a child, a child abuse survivor did not define who I am. By choosing to identify myself with this label, I was boxing myself in and limiting the potential of who I could be.

If I identify myself a child abuse survivor, then I set limits on my own potential. The human spirit has no limits, so why do I want to limit myself? She pointed out that I was forcing myself to live in a closet while I had mansion at my disposal. Only I could choose to step out of the closet and claim what is rightfully mine – A fulfilling life that is not limited by anything.

A fellow child abuse blogger took issue with these words, saying the following on his blog:

I’m still not exactly sure what it is about this that bothers me, but I think it has something to do with the idea that being labeled as a child abuse survivor is the one and only label you can have. Of course, it doesn’t define who I am, but it does define part of who I am. Just like being a husband isn’t ALL that I am, or being a blogger, or working at a law firm. None of those things captures all of what I am, but they are all absolutely part of who I am. The idea that I can’t live up to my potential while also acknowledging that I am a survivor seems wrong to me. Of course I am a survivor, and I’m so much more than that. This is why I have the potential to enjoy a fulfilling life, not because I’ve turned my back on being a survivor, and calling myself one, but because surviving the abuse is only part of who I am. ~ From On Labels

I think this blogger and I actually agree more than we disagree on this issue.

The point that my friend was making was that I was using my self-applied label of “child abuse survivor” to limit myself, which is actually more of a victim-mentality than survivor-mentality. In the context of our discussion, her words helped free me to become more than just a “child abuse survivor.”

That being said, there are times when I find the “child abuse survivor” label helpful in understanding myself. For example, when I become triggered by something that does not bother other people, I feel like a “freak.” However, when I remind myself that becoming triggered is normal for a child abuse survivor, I feel compassion for myself rather than self-loathing.

I think labels can be both helpful and harmful. They are helpful when describing your own experience to others. They also help you understand what is going on inside of yourself.

However, if we choose to define ourselves by our labels, then we can wind up limiting ourselves. For example, if I say that I can never do X because I was abused as a child, then I will believe that I cannot do X and will not even try. I might be perfectly capable of doing X, but because I think that I can’t, I can’t.

I know a woman with a poster in her office of a person climbing a steep mountain. The caption says, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you will be right.”

Back to this blogger’s comments …  I, too, have many labels that apply to me: mother, sister, friend, child abuse survivor, volunteer, church member, college instructor, blogger, etc. Not one of these labels fully defines who I am. I am a multi-faceted person. While each label fits in a particular area of my life, none of them defines me. I think this is the key to whether a label is “good” or “bad.”

What are your thoughts on labels?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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