Yesterday a twenty year old women described her situation at our first therapy session- "I was a behavioral child", "a troubled teen" and now I have "mental health issues". She had been working hard with her previous therapist on becoming aware of distorted thought patterns, and in turn learning to develop more adaptable thoughts, which have to a large degree enhanced her mood. She continues to perceive herself as the "damaged" person needing to be fixed; I decided a complete shift of focus may be useful.
I turned the critical gaze away from her multitude of labels (with some attached self blame and sense of failure); and alternatively placed it on her outside world- on her family, her parents, her siblings, her school environment and her social networks. I asked her if she identifies with all the "sick" labels in each different social context in her life space. She became extremely quiet and then stated, " I never quite realized that I was so different in different places". We unpacked in which social settings she viewed herself in a positive light. She relayed how with certain people in her life she assumes an identity of "the strong one", even at times the "wise one"; the latter a sharp contrast from her mentally unhealthy sense of self.
In this light it was useful for her to begin viewing herself through the lens or the mirror image of those people and places that tend to "build her up". This facilitated a new sense of discernment regarding whom she allows into her life space or which environments she attaches to.
In essence we are all creating and recreating our sense of self in conjunction with our surrounding social exchanges; we are never in a vacuum from our social world. There are times that it becomes even more useful to take that critical gaze, and turn it away from our so called "pathologies"; rather turn it towards the symbiotic space between our-self and others.