Human Stories

The ‘Self fulfilling prophecy’ effect of a Mental Diagnosis

I heard Marshall Rosenberg often expressing concerns when people were being diagnosed with mental illnesses. He basically said- diagnosing people, like with any other judgment, is putting people in boxes that will soon confuse them, and even worse- people tend then to ‘become’ their diagnosis, or in other words- it leads to a ‘Self Fulfilling Prophecy’.
During a workshop I was leading last weekend in Israel, a woman was telling me her life story in a way that touched me very deeply, and that reminded me Marshall’s words:

The ‘Self fulfilling prophecy’ effect of a Mental Diagnosis:

Before sharing the story, I want to say: I don’t have an opinion whether diagnosing people is a good or a bad act. I often hear people expressing a great relief when finally, after many years of suffering, when their struggle is being acknowledged and being given a name. People who were diagnosed with Dyslexia, Bi-Polar or certain Autism expressed to me- “finally I understand what was going on in me. I was not ‘abnormal’, I just had a true (physical) challenge”- Such diagnosis can sometimes contribute to compassion (from oneself and from others) and it can at times lead toward a fitting treatment.
Saying this, I was just very touched hearing the following story:
With a shivering voice and a slow emotional pace, she shared with me bit by bit her life story: When she was a young teenager, she experienced challenges in school- she was having some learning challenges and children were harassing her.
Together with her worried Mom they went to see specialists, until one of them gave the daughter a diagnosis, he said: “She has a communication disability, and I expect that there will be social situations she will not understand“.
I am sure his intention was to help, and yet, the result were:
While the mother was relieved, the daughter got confused- “I have a communication disability…?”. Her conclusion was: “I cannot trust the way I see the world (and as I am fucked up I don’t have the right to create contacts)”. She turned insecure- When being with people, any feeling she felt, she was doubting its validity- “I feel… but I have communication disability, so maybe what I feel is not true!”. She couldn’t trust her own feelings anymore. She was lost in relationships, and started taking more and more distance from people. Diagnosed as having “communication disability” soon she was actually HAVING “communication disability”…It turn into a ‘school phobia’, and continued to go worse and worse, until she was forced into a psychiatric hospital for 3 months (and I will not add the details she shared with me about the way she was ‘forced in’). 
Being there was so horrific, she wanted to go out. To do it, soon she learned to hide the little emotions she was still clear about (how horrible she felt being there). Pretending she was ‘feeling good’ the Doctors thought she was getting better and finally she was released.

We were both shedding tears.

It was only 8 years later, while researching and learning, she got to know that this early diagnosis- ‘having communication disability’- she received, was just not true. Yet the damage was already done. Now, being 30 years old, her life project is to support people to just stay connected to themselves/to their feelings. (As my dear Colleague Oriane Boyer once said- if you see yourself, God is with you. You are safe).
I was so moved with the way she shared herself with me that I could only think to myself: “I am so impressed by her communication ability- how could anyone think she has a ‘problem'”