Why do we label ourselves?

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labels

I don’t know about you, but up until I was 31 years old, I obsessively labelled. I wanted to understand myself, so with the best will in the world, I lumped myself with label upon label, as it gave me a sense of who I was. It gave me an identity. Here’s a flavour of what my labels tended to look like. It reads like a very unfortunate dating profile:

“32 year old anxious female. Hates leaving the house without the safety of her car to use for a quick getaway. Likes nothing more than sitting in front of the TV watching mindless TV shows. Despises having a busy schedule. Very controlling. Gets stressed when things don’t go her way. Doesn’t particularly like holidays abroad. Easily overwhelmed.”

I sound like quite a catch, right?! If reading that doesn’t make you want to go out with me, don’t worry, it’s OK. I didn’t like the sound of myself much either.

Each one of those labels first came from a thought that popped into my head one day. Before I knew better, I took my thoughts as gospel, not realising that they are there to be listened to or not. Your choice. I believed that every thought that came to me was important, true and meaningful. So if a thought popped into my head telling me I was an anxious person, then by goodness, that’s exactly what I was!

Here’s the thing, though. When you think you are something, you become it. Once you give yourself a label, you start behaving in ways which make that label fit. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once upon a time, a thought popped into my head telling me I didn’t like holidays abroad. This was probably because I was on holiday and not enjoying myself at that moment, but it doesn’t matter. I believed it. I grabbed hold of it and made it my identity. I started avoiding holidays abroad. I dreaded them. When I did go, I spent the whole time telling myself I wasn’t a ‘holiday person’. Can you see where this is going? I became the label. I shut the door to any enjoyment or fun, so a miserable time was all I was able to experience.

So positive labels are OK though, right? Surely it’s a good thing if we turn into the positive things we think we are? Well, they actually have their problems too. On a different day if I was feeling particularly buoyant, my dating profile might read like this:

’32 year old female. Kind and loving. Very family centred. Great sense of humour. Enjoys quality time spent with friends. Loves to visit new places and try new things. Creative and artistic.”

That definitely sounds better. But which one is true? Which is the real me?

The answer is that they both are. Or neither are. Labels are just thoughts that we give importance to. It doesn’t make sense to get too attached to our thoughts as they ebb and flow depending on our mood. Don’t grasp hold of them and make them your identity because you have the potential to be anything in this life! That’s the beauty of it.

A positive label can feel nice, until one day when you act in a way that goes against it. Believe me, there are days when I’m not very ‘kind and loving’. In the past, I would beat myself up, upset to have disappointed myself and fallen away from my true identity. But now I no longer think that way. Don’t let any label be a standard to which you hold yourself up against. After all, it was just a thought you had one day and got attached to.

We are only what we are when we are thinking it. Thoughts come and go, so who we are changes depending on our mood (which is also out of our control!). Instead of grabbing hold of labels, positive or negative, see them for what they are. Thoughts that we once became attached to. We are so much more than that.

Once we stop listening to those old labels, things get exciting. We are no longer in a room with the door closed, surrounded by all the same junk. The door is ajar and there is a chink of light coming in. Ask yourself the question ‘If I am not (insert old label here), what else could I be?”. Experiences that before seemed impossible, will suddenly seem possible. Once you understand this, the door is wide open and it’s open for good.

Robyn

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