The power of a label

Sally-Ann shares her experiences of having the label Personality Disorder attached to her, how harmful it has been to her life and her thoughts on the impact of such a label.

CW: Child sexual abuse, trauma

I am an ex service user of the Leeds Personality Disorder Network. During this time I truly believed I was unstable and disordered. I believed my behaviors, emotions and actions were caused by a Personality Disorder. I was often told this too. I received housing support and was guided to live independently.

It was great at the time, until I came away, reflected and realized how damaging it all was. I no longer live independently, and I find moving forward extremely difficult. Why? Because I’ve been told I have a “Personality Disorder”. The most trapping, degrading, victim-blaming label ever. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse… My mind and body has been traumatised by prolonged abuse and torture, that wasn’t my fault. Personality implies my whole sense of being, disorder implies something is “wrong”. Because of my emotions and reactions to extreme abuse, I am told I am wrong. I am the one that’s wrong.

To be told your emotions and reactions to abuse are wrong is the ultimate victim blaming. I am being blamed for struggling to manage the aftermath of what my abusers did. I am being told I am the one who is disordered, because of my abuser’s actions. I am being told I am disordered for struggling to manage emotions a brain should never ever have to process. Saying my personality is disordered now automatically makes me seem unreliable, unstable and untrustworthy. For someone to medically state my personality, my whole being is disordered is the most cruelest, damaging thing to have ever been done to me. During my time with PD services no one told me I was struggling because of what happened to me. In fact, it was frowned upon and I was told I was not allowed to speak about my trauma. If I asked a worker why I felt a certain way id be told, “It’s because of your diagnosis.” I was actively discouraged to talk about my trauma as it was deemed inappropriate and that I needed to move on.

I am being told I am disordered for struggling to manage emotions a brain should never ever have to process.

Having had some space and time to talk through my trauma and work with a difference service who not once mentioned Personality Disorder my life has flourished. It helped me realise I am in no way disordered, I am simply a human, understandably struggling and learning to cope with the after-effects of trauma. Not being able to manage emotions that come with trauma in no way makes me disordered. I have had opportunity to talk through some of my trauma openly and that is what’s helped me move forward. I’ve progressed the most because of this. If services can work without this label why do we need services that do? A label of Personality Disorder has stopped me getting justice from what happened to me – I am mentally unstable so who would believe me? I have been told I could not be believed in a court situation because of PD. How absolutely devastating is it to give a survivor a label that ultimately stops their justice.

This label gives my abuser so much power and keeps me silent. This label paints me out to be an attention seeker, to be dramatic, to not behave appropriately, to be an inconvenience, to be violent, to be unstable, to present inappropriate behaviors. The absolute fear of this label now prevents me attending hospital appointments or GP appointments for any sort of health issues, through absolute fear I will be dismissed. I do not contact any crisis support services through the same fear. This label completely silences me and makes me feel like a complete monster – just like my abusers. This label carries on my abuse, it takes me power away and it takes me whole being away. It takes away my sense of identity and any feel of control over my life. The label literally suffocates me. What can I do about it? Absolutely nothing, because when I complain I’m seen as the awkward one, the one who’s mentally unstable – again, taking my voice and power away, just like the abuse. I have next to 0 chance of having this label removed, it sticks with you for life like a huge visible scar. It’s not about breaking down the stigma of the label, it’s about stopping telling survivors they are disordered because of whats happened to them, which only emphasises the shame, blame and “damaged goods” feelings already present.

 It’s not about breaking down the stigma of the label, it’s about stopping telling survivors they are disordered because of whats happened to them.

I read so much about surviours liking a diagnosis, as it explains their emotions and feelings. I cant help but think its only embraced because we live in a society where its not enough or acceptable to say, “I struggle because I have experienced trauma.” Instead we have to label it as some medical diagnosis, which is actually based on opinion. You can’t physically test for “Personality Disorder” so why should someone’s opinion have such a mark on my whole life? Why isn’t it enough and understood to get help and support by saying, “Hey, I’m struggling with difficult things because of my trauma.” It seems easier to blame the victim by saying they are just mentally unwell. The nights I cry, the nights I sit feeling absolutely trapped by this label… it’s not fair. It is just not fair to tell a survivor their personality is disordered because of what has happened to them. You cannot validate a survivor by giving them this diagnosis. You cannot be trauma informed by giving a survivor this diagnosis. Giving this label is giving a survivor a life sentence, it forever blames and controls.

7 thoughts on “The power of a label”

  1. This is wonderful Sally-Ann. It is so refreshing to hear someone talk in this way, to stand up to services which don’t question the damage they do with their “diagnosing”, to bring attention to the irony of the stigma perpetuated by these such services claiming to be anti-stigma. You have come on a long journey and reached a place of awareness that most of these practitioners will never reach. Go you! X

  2. Thank you so much Sally-Ann for sharing your experiences of the damaging impact of being labelled with “personality disorder”. I was particularly angry to read about you being told not to talk about your trauma but effectively to “get over it”. I’m so sorry you suffered so much as a child and I’m sorry your experiences with services have re-traumatised you. Keep writing, you express things beautifully and in such a relatable way. With love & solidarity, Caitlin X

  3. Once again Sally – Ann beautifully written and heartfelt – great you have been able to share this!

  4. Wow this blog is so powerful in so many ways. I am completely blown away by your honesty and Courage that is must taken you. I 100% stand by you when it come to pd network belittling trauma that people have experienced because unfortunately the pd network dose blame the victim and continue the abuse along. Your blog made me sad that you have been treated in a unfair way and how you struggle to even access basic health care due to the label you have been given and I am also happy that you are speaking out about how much this inconsiderate label that personality disorder has and how damaging this can be for her survivor of childhood trauma. Your blog made me think about how the system likes to re-traumatise victims over and over again and how I feel about my own trauma and how re-traumatised I have become due to the system. You are a incredibly brave strong individual and I believe in you and I will stand alongside you to help change how survivors I treat it once given a label of personality disorder. Keep strong x

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