Thursday, March 1, 2012

Labels are for food

An entry about labels is likely going to run very, very long so I'm going to focus on one aspect of labels and labelling. I want to share my thoughts on how we label ourselves. 

I think a lot of attention is given to how other people put us in boxes and the struggle we face to break free, but the boxes we make for ourselves can be just as oppressive. A label isn't just a word, it often become part of our identity. For a really long time I was hung up on the idea of collecting labels. In my teen years I liked to describe myself as a blue haired, activist, artistic, writing freak. I wore my label proudly in a two finger solute to my peers, as if having so many labels meant they a) couldn't possibly find room for more and b) couldn't really define me because I'd gone to such great lengths to define myself. 

It wasn't until I entered High School that I started seeing the huge flaw in the labels I'd given myself. I began to see how fluid the world was, how constant change is and how as good as a label might be one day, it may not fit the next. The problem that arises is once you've given yourself a label (like 'I'm one of life's losers') you've just made it that much harder for yourself when something happens to challenge that label. Because your mind is made up and the label is stuck fast you won't let yourself see the positive aspect of getting your dream job, or losing 50lbs, or finishing an art project. You're inclined to find the downside in everything, because your label dictates it so. 

And seemingly positive labels are just as bad. I know this one is a bit more difficult to comprehend but allow me to present an example. 

I have always labeled myself as a happy, positive person so the idea that I might suffer from depression doesn't really sit well with me. As a result I spent years repressing or avoiding my feelings of depression because everyone knows happy, positive people don't get depressed. But this was outright denial and ultimately my avoidance of the issue caused my emotions to push harder for recognition. Soon I'd developed Panic Disorder and then I was a real mess. 

But my solution wasn't to drop the labels, not yet. My solution was to add the anxiety and the depression to my labels. I was a happy, positive, depressed, anxious person. 

You can see the conflict. 

The better solution, and one I now embrace, was to drop all the labels entirely. It's not easy to do and it's an ongoing project, but it's totally worth it. 

Not that I can't be happy and positive - but I no longer think of myself as defined in that way. I have come to accept that you can't define an individual. Change is too constant for that. We deserve to keep an open mind and open heart to all the ever changing possibilities for our own circumstances. 

It's all part of loving yourself first and best. By dropping the labels you open all those little boxes and open yourself to limitless possibilities. 


  1. Having very reccently been on the receiving end of broad (and horrendously inaccurate) labelling, I know what you mean about the dangers of labels. If its wrong to label others, then surely it's equally unhelpful to label ourselves?

  2. This is a lesson I learned most poignantly with my daughters. In an effort to brag about them more efficiently, I realized I was reducing them to mere sound-bites of information ("one's a meticulous, perfectionist with a gorgeous singing voice and the other is a kamikaze, fearless, think-outside-the-box tomboy") and I was most likely limiting their ideas of who they could be to those adjectives. ACK! I began examining the stories we were all telling ourselves about why we had to react the way we did to certain situations and challenging us all to break out of those molds. I love that we have the ability to evolve and shift our personalities and I hope that continuing to resist pigeonholing ourselves means that we won't do the same to others. Good for you!

    1. Start with yourself, I always say. If you want to see something change change it in yourself.


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