Labels are defining


Sandra L. Brown, M.A.  is a psychotherapist in North Carolina. She runs the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and the Public Psychopathy Education Magazine. The website is here.

I wonder how different my life would be if I’d gone there instead of a treatment facility for sexual addiction. At the very least I would have had a lot more proof of what happened, which would have come in handy when it came to paying for everything.

My initial interview with the doctor when I showed up at treatment was absolutely awful. In hindsight, I can understand that he was seeing me as a perpetrator who had brought down a good therapist, after all that’s how I presented myself. I was a bad, evil woman who precipitated the downfall of a decent therapist. That must have hit a few buttons for him. It would have been nice if someone had bothered to check my story, since my I’d precipitated exactly nothing. My former therapist was still going merrily along seeing patients and pocketing the money he was supposedly turning over to his order. Oh well. Nobody checked and I was treated like the sexual predator I’d confessed I was.

The interview left me absolutely prostrate. Well, duh. I was a battered woman, not a sexual predator. And I needed safety and reassurance, not help in seeing how destructive I was. You see, with addicts, sometimes they need help understanding that what they’ve done has caused harm to others because they’re in denial. They minimize. That doctor was treating me like an addict, not like someone who’d barely survived an abusive relationship with a therapist. He didn’t know, but it still hurt. A lot.

It’s confusing. The entire time I was there, I was treated as an addict. Well, duh! That’s what you get treated like when you go to rehab. I got diagnosed with all sorts of stuff – practically the whole DSM IV tossed salad of personality disorders. Labels are defining. So when I failed to engage in the therapeutic process, it was due to my personality disorders and my addiction. Not because I’d just come from an abusive therapeutic relationship of 3 years.

I’m guessing that this other place would have picked up on that. Not necessarily because they’re so much better, but because by going there, I’d have claimed a different label.

Would I still have problems with sex? Probably. Would I still be a sex addict? I don’t know. I don’t think so. After all, it was the abusive therapist who diagnosed me as a sex addict. So I think I’d still be me, but maybe I’d probably label myself differently.

If you have the time to browse through Sandra’s website, I think you’ll find it’s time well spent. It’s always interesting to see how things look under a different label.

But here’s an important point, and the one I want to really focus on: I got better. No matter what my label is, I am better.

Think about that! It’s pretty fantastic! Even though there were a lot of things wrong with my diagnosis and my treatment, even though I probably got the wrong label and the wrong treatment, I got better. We have an amazing capacity for healing. I was in a safe place with people who truly wished me well and tried hard to help me get better.

Whatever your label is, you can get better too.



  1. I think that your therapist is responsible for his actions even if you initiated all of the sexual contact. He’s a grown man and can say “No!”

    If he wasn’t a therapist, I wonder whether other therapists would have still said you led him ‘astray.’

    I have had some severe experiences with psychiatric malpractice myself. I personally believe that there are some good therapists out there, but as a whole, psychiatry is a total mess and dangerous. I also think they do a terrible job of policing their own.

  2. Interesting discussion. I know this sounds cold, but I find that I am at a point where the “whys”, or the origins, of my husband’s behavior don’t interest me all that much anymore. I spent years researching and learning about SA, and then the same thing all over again for NPD. It helped immensely, but in the end, that focus was too much on him, and I knew very little about myself.

    He treats me badly is the information I work with now. And the question has become, what are the “whys” or origins of my codependent behavior? I’m just not up to fixing broken-winged birds anymore. Wounded animals bite.

    I wanted to get to the label I lived with for years, which became my husband’s Victim Scenario, his best defense. It is a terrible thing to be misdiagnosed. Kudos to you for getting better anyway. And EH, it’s a good thing to be wary of the therapist’s power, as GP’s story attests, and as one who got the wrong label, thus beginning years of the drugging of TOB.

  3. Yes, the “flip sides of the same coin” thing is hard to understand in sex addiction, and it always helps for me to think of it as an addiction very similar to food addiction (overeating vs. starvation, or even binging and purging).

    I think that sex addiction IS indeed it’s own animal–as evidenced by the fact that some sex addicts weren’t sexually abused (though sexual abuse is known to often be blocked out and many people don’t remember it even if it did happen)–but for those sex addicts who were abused, I guess Gentle Path has got me wondering from her post if it wouldn’t be easier for addicts to recover if it they went into the experience saying “I’m going to deal with the sexual abuse” rather than “I’m going to deal with my sex addiction.” To me, it seems like it would be so much more difficult to admit that one is a sex addict rather than a sexual abuse survivor. The former has the connotation in our society of being one’s own fault (though it’s not) and the latter has a more empowering (“survivor” rather than “victim”) and not-my-fault connotation.

  4. I have a sister who suffered worse abuse at a younger age than I did. She is quite the opposite of me – she’s sexually anorexic. She’s also very thin whereas I tend to overeat. And although I don’t know for sure that her husband is a sex addict, my guess is that he is. From what little I know, his porn use is secretive and excessive. My husband believes he is sexually anorexic. Even now with both of us more aware, he shuts down sexually when he’s overwhelmed and I get revved up.

    All of that is just to say that compulsive avoidance of sex and compulsively having sex are flip sides of the same coin.

  5. This post is disturbing and hopeful at the same time. I try not to think about how much power my therapists(s) have over my self-perception, because it scares me a little! I really have to make sure I’ve done my homework and trust the feedback I’m getting. Right now, I think I’m in good hands.

    Margaux, interesting comment. I’ve gone back and forth on this, and usually end up seeing a significant difference between the “sex addict” and the “sexual abuse survivor.” This basically comes out of my experiences; Linsey is the “survivor” and displays very little addictive behavior, and I’m the “addict” and I don’t have any abuse in my past. On the other hand, in your story, the similarities offer a bridge back to your husband, and an opportunity to better understand him. This is obviously a good thing.

  6. You know, it’s really interesting to read this post right now because I recently decided to read “Allies in Healing,” which is written for the partners of people who were sexually abused as children (as my husband was). What was especially fascinating for me was the description of typical abuse-survivor behavior: It’s the same behavior attributed to sex addicts–denial, selfishness, an obsession with graphic sexual images, promiscuity, pushing loved ones away. And, as all the sex-addiction literature points out, the vast majority of sex addicts are childhood sexual abuse survivors. It really made me see my husband’s issues in a new, much more gentle light. And it’s making me wonder if “sex addict” and “sexual abuse survivor” aren’t interchangeable terms, though the label for one is much harsher and less compassionate than the other.

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