What's in a name?

Do you identify with your mental health symptoms?

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I had an interesting experience recently that got me musing on the importance of names and labels. A new acquaintance kept referring to me by a different version of my name, rather than calling me Fe. I was surprised by the degree to which it affected me, noticing that it triggered a number of reactions, and reminded me of other times when I had felt similar emotions.

Robert Dilt's model of neuro-logical levels gives an idea about why this may be. He points to progressively deeper aspects of our experience as follows:

1. Our environment (the where)

2. Our behaviour (what we do)

3. Our capabilities (how we are able to do this)

4. Our beliefs and values (the why)

5. Our identity (who we are)

6. Our purpose (for whom, in connection to who/what else)

A name is an expression of identity, of who we are. From the model you can see this runs pretty deep, it is core to us.

Oftentimes though, we hold things at identity level that do not belong there. What is the difference really between saying 'I am Fe' and 'I am depressed' or 'I am anxious'?

When we hold symptoms, which are feelings and thought patterns that continually flux and change, as if they were a deep part of who we are, we make it much harder for them to shift and change.

Next time you talk about something that is troubling you, ask yourself, am I identifying with this? Why? How? How else might I perceive it?

One helpful metaphor might be to identify with yourself as the sky, through which the symptoms are passing, as if they were clouds or other weather. You may have symptoms, but you are also so much more.


Go to the profile of Fe Robinson, Psychotherapist

Fe Robinson, Psychotherapist

I am here to help you thrive, whatever life brings. I offer Psychotherapy, EMDR therapy and Couples Counselling to clients based in Durham. I am UKCP Accredited and an EMDR Europe Practitioner, and offer Clinical Supervision to counsellors and psychotherapists locally. I have worked in private practice, the NHS, and in charitable organisations, with a wide range of clients and conditions.

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