the power of labels

Most patients take too much responsibility for the wrong things, and not enough responsibility for those things about which they can do something. Furthermore, on the positive side, the naming (of their condition) helps the patient feel allied with a vast movement which is "science"; and, also, he is not isolated any more since all kinds of other people have the same problem that he has. The naming assures him that he therapist has an interest in him and is willing to act as his guide through purgatory. Naming the problem is tantamount to the therapist's saying, "Your problem can be known, it has causes; you can stand outside and look at it."

But the greatest danger in the therapeutic process lies right here: that the naming for the patient will be used not as a aid for change, but as a substitute for it. He may stand off and get a temporary security by diagnosis, labels, talking about symptoms, and then be relieved of the necessity of using will in action and in loving. This plays into the hands of modern man's central defense, namely intellectualizing- using words as substitutes for feelings and experience. The word skates always on the edge of the danger of covering up the daimonic as well as disclosing it.

Rollo May, Love & Will

Projecting ourselves onto others

Large numbers of American soldier had idyllic marriages to German, Italian or Japanese “war brides” (after World War II) with whom they could not verbally communicate. But when their brides learned English, the marriages began to fall apart. The servicemen could then no longer project upon their wives their own thoughts, feelings, desires and goals and feel the same sense of closeness one feels with a pet. Instead, as their wives learned English, the men began to realize that these women had ideas, opinions and aims different from their own. As this happened, love began to grow for some; for most, perhaps, it ceased.

The liberated woman is right to beware of the man who affectionately calls her his “pet.” He many indeed be an individual whose affection is dependent upon her being a pet, who lacks the capacity to respect her strength, independence and individuality.

Probably the most saddening example of this phenomenon is the very large number of women who are capable of “loving” their children only as infants.

As soon as a child begins to assert its own will- to disobey, to whine, to refuse to play, to occasionally reject being cuddled, to attach itself to other people, to move out into the world a little bit on its own – the mother’s love cease… At the same time, she will often feel an almost overpowering need to be pregnant again, to have another infant, another pet. Usually she will succeed, and the cycle is repeated.

The point is that nurturing can be and usually should be much more than simple feeding, and that nurturing spiritual growth is an infinitely more complicated process than can be directed by any instinct.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled