Labels and Identity

English: A name label. (Hello, my name is...)

English: A name label. (Hello, my name is…) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes it is tempting to label myself, to claim the title “bipolar”, “anxious”, “depressive” and “self harmer” as being me. I went without declared diagnosis for some time, and I remember being keen to know what was wrong with me, to understand – to have some anchor point that I could read about. I was keen at the time but now I think, was it a good thing to cling to my identity as a mentally ill person?

I have an illness, but that does not mean I am ill. I have bipolar disorder – but I am not bipolar. My illness is not a part of me, it is something wrong in me that is not part of who I am. My propensity for self harm when depressed does not make me a “cutter,” it does not define me, I will not let it become part of my identity.

It is so easy to label others and to see them through the lens of one single thing about them. So-and-so is psychotic, so-and-so has cancer, so-and-so is diabetic. Not just illness, we define others so that so-and-so is straight, so-and-so is gay, so-and-so is divorced, so-and-so is single. These may be true, but this shorthand in the way we see others gives undue importance to certain things about them. We do it with faith – so-and-so is Christian while such-and-such is not – but are those labels really useful?

In the Bible the group of disciples are not called “Christians” until Antioch (Acts 11:26), where Paul and Barnabas preached and ministers to disciples there. It was apparently a term of reproach, and not one the believers called themselves (1 Peter 4:16). It seems that the early believers were identified not by a label, but by what they believed and how they lived. We all know of people who bear the label “Christian” but who are not very Christ-like, and I think perhaps the label is not as useful as we think it is.

There are some labels which I am proud to bear – labels not given me by psychiatrists, or other people, but labels found in the Bible and given by the Lord. Labels like “daughter,” “friend”, “child of God,” and “beloved.” Labels which give me an identity in Christ rather than in my mental condition or in how I present myself to the world around me.

It is easy to hide, to conceal ourselves to other people, to gain a reputation of being “good” – but the Lord knows the truth, and his acceptance of me despite my many faults means a great deal more to me than the easy acceptance of those around me who see a carefully constructed and deliberately acceptable Emma.

I’ll take back what I said and say that I am proud to bear the label “Christian” even if it can also be misleading. I’ll say that I don’t believe that just because others label me that way that it somehow makes me better, means I can stop striving to be the best person I can be with God’s help, that I don’t need to repent and to pray and to acknowledge my faults. Being labelled “Christian” does, though, identify me with the One who I would most like to be like, the One who I love the most, and for that reason I welcome that label.

I am not the negative labels I have for myself, I am not bipolar, I simply have it, I am not a cutter, but I do self harm – more than that, I am not stupid, bad, ugly, hateful. I have said stupid things upon a time, I have done wrong things, but those things are not me and I need to stop identifying with them. I may hate my illness, and the temptations for sin that it brings me – but I should not hate myself.

It is easy for me to say not to hate myself, for you not to hate yourself, but the feeling of self-hate is not a reasonable force – but I try to remember that God does not hate me, that Jesus loves me more than anyone else will ever do, and that he saw me in my worst state, and still reached out his hand to me. He does so still, and so I endeavour, when the depression makes me roil with self-hate, to remember that he is with me, that I am loved, and that my label is “beloved child” and “friend” – and that is indescribably wonderful, to be a friend of the King! I want to replace the world’s labels with the only ones that count, the ones from he who knows me fully, who sees what I hide from the world, both good and bad. His are the only labels that should have meaning for me.

I am not my illness – I am a child of the Lord.

Just a short one today, finding it a bit hard to concentrate!


  1. You’ve hit on a VERY important issue. Rather than leave a rambling comment may i take the liberty of linking to a post in which I also explore this issue:

    Lisa’s Identity Clause

    • Yes, that is what I was fumbling for! My post was somewhat less organised than I try to be normally, because I was rather tired, but I was struggling around that theme. Thank you for the link, I’ll check out the further link to Lisa’s thoughts as well.


  2. Lovely. Emma, beloved child of child. The beloved. Anita, the beloved. what a lovely identity to rest in!

  3. I thought this was great, Emma. Thanks – particularly like the labels ‘friend’, ‘daughter’ etc. What good labels!

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