Michael is a neatnick. This is not bad. He keeps everything in order, can find whatever he needs, feels free of debris, and thinks more clearly because of it. His wife, Marcie, is a bit more, shall we say, free. She is not bound by rules of where to put things, how to think, or when to do what. This may not be bad, either. She is an artist and has exhibited at major galleries across the nation. She does have a bit of challenge getting supper for the kids on time so Michael and Marcie have worked out that they would prepare it the night before and have it ready to pop into the oven the next day. Frequently, he will leave a piece of paper on the pan of food in the fridge saying something like, “put in oven at 5:30.”

Michael finds his wife’s messiness a bit challenging but he fell in love with her free spirit, something that was not present in the house in which he grew up. He is proud of her national acclaim. And he doesn’t mind the income it brings in either.

Marcie is delighted to have a husband that appreciates her creativity and who keeps some order in their lives. She grew up with one overburdened parent in the house and an absent one. She cannot remember family meals, so she was drawn to someone who represented stability and home. This is a healthy couple. They enjoy each other’s uniqueness.

What’s bad about diagnostic labeling in your marriage

Not every couple who is attracted to their opposite continues to appreciate that oppositeness years into the marriage. Not every family manages to pull together and harness the strengths that each one brings into the relationship. Our country’s wonderful celebration of the individual also can mean that the individual thinks that his (or her) individual way of doing things is the right one and the other person’s way is, by definition, wrong. That opens the door for diagnostic labels like those found in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

That’s what happened to Sam and Sallie. They were opposites like Michael and Marcie but, unfortunately, were stuck in their own viewpoints and could not see past themeselves. Furious for the thousandth time that Sallie did not have supper ready for the kids, Sam finally decided to seek professional help. “There is something wrong with her!” he exclaimed to the therapist, “and I think she needs help.”

The desire to pin a label on others accomplishes some useful things:

  • It brings a modicum of stress relief because one now feels like one is taking positive action.
  • It creates a feeling of self-satisfaction because the problem is someone else!

Unfortunately, it also can make matters worse:

  • The labeled person is frightened, thinking there is something wrong with him or her.
  • The labeled person is angry and resentful, thinking that the labeler was arrogant, unkind, and lacking understanding.
  • Because one person now is somehow “sick” and the other person is not, there is a lack of sense of equality in the marriage. A therapist working with the couple will have a much harder time re-establishing respect and trust, the two basics of any marriage.
  • The wall between the couple that the diagnosis erected will grow higher over time, possibly eroding the marriage altogether.
  • The labeler will never have the opportunity to look at himself and how he could be a better person. In this case, Sam will not recognize how much happier he would be if he appreciated the gifts that Sallie brings to the relationship; became more patient and flexible; and learned to play ball with her, or, in other words, to use his own talents to complement her efforts in the family.
  • The professional who does the labeling takes on inordinate power in passing judgment on another human being. Belief in his (or her) own correctness then can lead the professional to lose connection with and compassion for the person who is labeled. This is because, to the professional the labeled person is not “like me.”

You should know the origins of this labeling process as found in the DSM.

History of euthanasia

It began with a field called eugenics, the sorting out of the unfit from the fit in order to make the world a better place. While the killing of defective babies has a long history, we would be shocked to learn that it continued into modern times. In 1915, Dr. Harry J. Haiselden advocated killing such a baby and this was supported by politicians and the media. Eventually, this led to enforced sterilization of the unfit and laws enforcing it were on the books in 20 states of the US by 1920.

In that same year, Alfred Hoche, a professor of psychiatry in Germany, moved the field from eugenics into euthanasia: He called for destroying “lives unworthy of living.” So began the systematic killing of mental patients in Germany. This was done at six extermination centers run with classic German efficiency. Medical doctors would fill out euthanasia forms and close to a hundred thousand German mental patients were killed between 1939 and 1940. This was before the holocaust. Even after Hitler ended the program and turned to eradicating Jews, psychiatrists in local hospitals continued it on their own.

It was a short step to mass extermination and, in fact, the early extermination of Jews at camps in Germany was run by psychiatrists with equipment transported from the euthanasia centers. [Please see The Murderers Among Us by Simon Weisenthal.] It is no coincidence that a deeply repentant Germany after the Nuremberg trials did not get on the bandwagon that was going full steam ahead in the U.S. to create a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

As Paula Caplan put it in 1995 in her book, They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal:

“Ask ten people whether the object in the middle of your kitchen is a table and the chances are they will unaimously agree that it is. But ask ten people–even ten therapists–whether any particular person is normal and, if not, why they consider the person to be abnormal, and you will almost certainly get a large number of quite different replies. [This is because] normality is not real, like a table.”

Expert opinions are useful, but let’s remember that they are only opinions. If you want help, talk to someone who knows how to talk – such that no one is called “crazy” and everyone participates in making things better.

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