The Process of Pathologizing Among New Healers: Let’s Get Clear.

Many of us are healers of various types. We want to heal with our words, our hands, our songs, our science. We want to heal and help, and this is so natural to us. Or so it seems.

Sometimes we are already wondering when someone thinks they can tell us, we want to believe them.

Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to heal others because we ourselves have been wounded. If those wounds are still tender, then we may not be aware when something is triggering us to shut down, even as we try to help them.

Sometimes, I feel that someone can listen to me and pathologize my experience, especially those who are trying to help.

This is something that I must do as well, so I figured we could explore it here and perhaps find some tools for the future!


What Do You Mean, “Pathologize?”

Pathologizing according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is

To view or characterize as medically or psychologically abnormal.


If I say that I’m thinking about something a lot lately, and you ask me if I’m obsessed with it, that is sort of making me appear sick. It is taking something simple and giving it a loaded label.

The same is true if you tell me you are feeling down, and I ask you if you are depressed or worse yet, if I say something like “Wow it sounds like you’re depressed” or another statement that makes it implicitly easier for you to agree, consciously or unconsciously, than to argue with me. Really, there are better questions to ask than that and better ways of going about trying to help someone.

Why Is Pathologizing Dangerous?

Maybe it’s not dangerous. But I do think it gets in the way of a more pure and simple understanding that comes from compassion and empathy. It bypasses the process of curiosity and zips right into labels; and not just any labels. Charged labels, judgy labels, labels that you then have to talk yourself out of.
And the funny thing is, these labels can also make us feel like better healers. That’s right. If I decide that you’re depressed when you say you’re sad, and by the end of our conversation you sound happier, then I sort of cured your depression! in some messed up unconscious way. If I simply talked to you long enough for your natural mood to pass, then that’s less cool for me and my ego, but it might be the reality.

The Value of Curiosity

I realize that I am probably notorious for this process of pathologizing or else I wouldn’t notice it so sharply when other people do it. I must remember that having a curiosity for the reality of someone else is one of the best things that I can do. It teaches me to slow down and to have that same curiosity for myself, rather than to zip from “wow I’m sad in this moment” to “I must have a raging case of undiagnosed depression and I better make sure I don’t accidentally bring others down with me.”

The charged label is simply piling on layers that then become harder to get rid of, especially for those of us that are already hard on ourselves.

But Isn’t there More Anxiety And Depression?

Psychology Today has an interesting article on this topic. According to the article, depression and anxiety are becoming more commonplace because the normal human experience is being labeled as such more often, not because these states of mind are becoming more common. Furthermore, the author talks about how the labels are not meant to be taken as being solid things. They are meant to be used for the therapists to do their job more effectively, not to label people. The article is quite good, I recommend it!

With easy access to WebMd and other sources for self-diagnosis, it’s no wonder that more of us learn these terms and try to use them on ourselves, and on each other. It sounds better if we say “Sounds like you have an acute episode of a semi-psychosomatic illness brought on by environmental stressors” than if we say “I don’t know how to really relate with your experience at this moment, maybe you could call a therapist or just come over for some tea and we can hang out.” Or however it works with your relationship.

Is this from the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who just love getting their chemicals on your neurotransmitters, or from people eating more additives in their food and having finicky immune systems? Who knows, but one thing remains clear:

We Can Stand Up For Ourselves

I know that personally, when someone gives me an insult, it can stick if it’s something that I already partially believe. For this reason, if someone labels me in a way that I’ve been labeled against my will in the past, then I may get a little triggered. I may feel the need to defend, or an impulse to believe them. Maybe I AM obsessed, maybe I AM in denial, or whatever.

I haven’t spoken to my therapist in years, and if I do, then I can hear whatever words of wisdom she has and take them in. She’s licensed, she knows me, and it’s her job. The people that may mean well but that throw out these loaded terms simply to try and understand something are most definitely not in the same position as she is to be, as they say, “going there.”

If you hear loaded terms from anyone who is trying to help you and is not a therapist, perhaps there is something that you can say back to them. Or someone you can talk to about the situation to see what they think, such as a real therapist. For now, I’m going to remind myself to use this question:

This is easy, simple, doable. Whatever someone says, whether they are my therapist or a stranger on the bus or a person I just met, I can ask them “Why use that word?” if they use a word that I find to be particularly charged.

I don’t know if that’s what you should do. I don’t want to pretend to have advice that I don’t have. I do know that if I get better at using some Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, then I might end up with more creative solutions to this issue.

I also know that trying to do this will help me at least to be aware of when the feeling of resistance or being triggered arises. If I can notice it, I can ask this question, and perhaps help the people I talk to become aware of when they are doing it, and help myself to do the same.

Do you have any experience with this, has someone ever used powerful words to describe your experience when you feel they are out of line?

Do you have friends that offer unsolicited therapy advice? Is it hard to turn it down or tell them to stop, or do you love when they do it?

Are you aware of the words that are most charged for you? (I’m not asking you to share them, though) Do you think that being aware of them can help you when people start using them unskillfully?

I hope you all have a great week!


How Far is Too Far to Go For Your Readers?

Lately I have been tossing around ideas for my book, short stories, blog posts, and various other uses of the written word. I imagine that those of you who are writers, which is most of you, have been in this situation as well. I invite you to share your experiences and opinions.

To start with, I am not an NVC (Nonviolent Communication) expert. In all actuality, I have only used it minimally in my life. So if anyone knows more about it than me and wants to shine light on this situation with their knowledge, please, feel free. The language of “needs” is one that I am going to use here.

The Deal:

The way I see it, there are multiple purposes for each thing I write.

1. It is some kind of release for me (my emotional needs).

2. It may also have a financial component (my financial needs).

3. It is serving some purpose for others (the needs of others)

4. It is serving the purpose I want it to serve for others (my desire to meet their needs)

All of these things matter as I think about what to write, how to write it, and how to pitch it to the world in a way that meets my needs and theirs.

What if there is a giant gap between your emotional needs (what you want to release) and other people’s needs or desires? This is where I get confused.

Keeping It Simple & Meeting The Needs

Do you make your brilliant idea into a “Seven Great Reasons To Use Lists” blog post or article? Does that feel like turning a garden of your slowly grown wheat into a packet of Easy Mac for some spoiled fifteen-year-old that watches it bubble in the microwave?

Or do you let it become a wordy book hardly anyone will read? Turning your precious wheat into some type of fancy fermented tabouli salad that nobody wants to eat because it is only sold in elitist stores and takes too long to digest?

To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation — Chinese Proverb

One of my supportive proof-reading friends had a response when I first told her that I might publish my book, The Blessings of a Meandering Misfit, as a series of short stories instead of one continuous story. Her immediate reaction was that such a choice was taking the easy way out. (She also happens to be a fabulous singer, you can even listen to her here).

I had to ask myself if that was true. Was it the easy way out, or was it transforming the story into a form that was easier to digest for my readers while still meeting my needs of sharing my experience?

Ultimately, if sharing my experience is what I want to be doing in order to help people find inspiration, see the crazy coincidences, and learn about other ways of life than their own, then my ideal situation is one in which people are reading my book, regardless of how it is presented. As long as the main point comes across and I feel good while writing it.

The Conversation You Have With The World

Whether you are writing, singing, dancing, or working at a retail store or telemarketing office, you are having a conversation with the world. You are inviting a response, even if you never get to hear it. People seek you out, avoid you, or pay excessive amounts of cash for you because of the response you elicit from them with your ability to listen and share.

You have to realize this. I have to realize this. There are several components at work- My feelings, my needs, your feelings, your needs. They all come together and sometimes create a win-win situation for everyone. Other times, there are rejection letters and scowled eyes, confused at the words on the screen.

When is it Too Much for Blogging?

If I have a fabulous idea for a post about what triggers our inner defenses to ignore certain blog posts while soaking in every word of others, and I want to combine that with statistics about book sales, ad sales and nonviolent communication and the psychology of defense mechanisms, how many people are going to stomach it? How many people will even give it a chance, based on my perhaps-poorer-than-ideal skills at presenting such a complex topic skillfully?

If I can write it as “The Top 3 Ways To Snag A Reader With A Simple Title,” well, you can imagine how much easier it will be to attract people.

When Is Too Much Lost?

My question is: How far is too far? At what point is your writing being made too reader-friendly and losing some of the spice that made it what it was to begin with? And how can you measure your needs compared with your hopes for how your writing is received?

Is the writing still making you feel good and satiated if you write it with the reader in mind more than your own emotional process? Do you perhaps feel even better if you write it in an easily-digestible way because you can get more feedback, even if you can’t get the instantly-relieving feeling of just spouting out your feelings, unedited?

These are the things I wonder about, and I would love to know how others work with them.

Nothing Is Ever Lost: Multiple Manifestations Of The Subconscious

Ray Bradbury- Quote from Zen in the Art of Writing

I have been reading Zen in the Art of Writing ever since reading Vicki Winslow’s awesome post about it.  The book is a collection of essays, all by Ray on writing, and I have been working my way slowly through these precious pages. There is one essay called “Run Fast, Stand Still” which has been sitting like dew in my brain cells; and that essay is the inspirational backbone of this post.

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