Thursday, 7 July 2016

Warning: Are Your 'Labels' Ruining Your Life?

"Hi, it's great to meet you" I said cheerily to a friend's new boyfriend I was meeting for the first time one Saturday afternoon. "How are you?" I quickly enquired as I stretched out my hand.

Within probably no more than a minute of him shaking my hand, he was apologising to me because he might "look a little impatient and on edge" because he was suffering from ADHD.

I ignored his comment and actually turned my head as he was finishing his sentence, which was delivered on a half-smiling face, happily waiting for some connection from me in the form of, "Oh poor you" or some other exclamation of sympathy.

I wasn't going to reinforce his label.

The Importance of Your Self-Image

The image we hold of ourselves is of vital importance. Why? Because we live up to that image. In psychology terms this living up to the image of ourselves is called the self –consistency theory. What this means is that however we see ourselves, we will act in a manner that is consistent with that image we hold.

I prefer to term it as labeling. And I believe it is a Law of Consistency rather than a theory. I believe it is so powerful it can make us or break us. Let me give you a couple of examples of how this law works in relation to labeling and how it can affect you.

You will quite often run into people and you will hear such statements as the following,  

  • “I am always struggling financially” or,
  • “I am always late for appointments” or, 
  • “I am the type of person who (Fill in blank with any negative you see fit)”

In some cases you may hear expressions such as, 
labels can become our identity and story
Are negative labels ruining your life?

  • “I’ve been in counseling for years and will be for a lot longer” 
  • “Just when things are going well in my relationship, I start to have arguments and then they end”
  • "I have severe depression" or
  • "I suffer from anxiety"
  • "I am a nervous person when I meet people. Always have been, always will be"

When we consistently say phrases like these to ourselves they become a part of our identity. The Law then ensures that we live up to them. We cannot, not live up to them because they are a part of who we are

As human beings we have to act consistently and congruently with the labels we place on ourselves; our identity. 

I know some people who label themselves, as 'Idiotic', 'Stupid', 'Fearful', 'Clumsy' and other such stuff. I know a lovely female who once labelled herself as "Always fiery and argumentative in relationships and it happens every two weeks or so". So guess what? Every so often she would act fiery and argumentative in her relationship.

It became her story. Her identity. She was forced to act upon it. It is the Law. 

Some labels are harmless, some are positive (Keep those ones) and some are monsters. 

And here is the strange part and at the same time the worst part...

Eventually we grow to liking our labels as they become more embedded. We like to be struggling financially; we enjoy being always late and we enjoy the prolonged counseling.

The great lady I mention above didn't cause arguments because of the joy of making up afterwards. She was acting congruently with her identity. 

Over time our labels can develop so strongly they soon become our 'Story'. A story we tell others and then make absolutely sure we live up to it.

These Labels Influence Us

In fairly recent studies, people who know more about astrology than those that know nothing or very little, will display more characteristics of their zodiac sign. They are living up to the label of Gemini, or Capricorn or whatever.

I used to live up to my label of one of the popular traits of being a Gemini; lateness. This was heightened whenever I was to meet my brother. He was a keen astrologer. He had labelled me as one for 'always being late'.

I wanted to live up to the label he had placed on me. I wanted to somehow fulfil his expectations he had of me. That would make him happy.

This instantly changed a few years later when I got a great sales job. You got dismissed for being late just once. I was never late in 3 years.

And it can get worse.

Labels Others Place on US

Labels can also be placed on you by other people. And the higher the authority of the person or the more emotionally attached you are, the stronger the label becomes. 

Sometimes these labels can take hold instantly

A Doctor may tell you that you are depressed. Now because of his authority in your mind (It MUST be true, she is a qualified Doctor, she knows her stuff), there needn’t be consistent thoughts; the label can be super glued to you instantaneously

You will then be quick to tell family, friends, co-workers and whoever will listen, which in turn cements the belief that you are indeed depressed.

You will be compelled to act in a way that fully supports the label associated with depression. And sooner, rather than later, you will actually like being depressed. Depression has become a part of you. It is now your identity.

Yes, even depressed people can sometimes revel in their label of depression. They enjoy telling others about it which reinforces it still further.

If you find that hard to believe, how many times do you hear people (happily) telling you about this problem, or that problem they have been suffering with for years on end? 

And of course this living up to the label can work on an unconscious level too. We act out the label without consciously thinking about it.

I know, I once suffered 'severe depression' and from acting out and living up to the label (Displaying the symptoms the Doctor told me I would have and what I read and already knew).

New Label, New Life

To get me out of severe depression and rid myself of the story I was giving my life, I re-labelled myself. I started a brand new story that would help me rather than keep me locked in a situation I didn't want to be in. 

I started telling people that "I used to have depression but I beat it without drugs". I got my connection in a more positive way. I placed my label firmly in past tense. 

My positive label of 'Beating depression without drugs' was powerful and played a major part in me climbing away from suicide.

I knew that I would soon act according to my new label or identity.

Good Questions For You?

So my questions are: What labels are you placing on yourself? Have you had any labels that others may have placed on you? Have you now grown to like them? Have they developed into your story?

Really analyse what labels you may have. Look at how you can change them to give yourself a new story.

You can change any label you have with a little effort. It depends how much you have started to like the one you have. So how can you make some positive labels for yourself knowing you will soon live up to those?

Are you placing labels on others? And if so are they healthy? (Incidentally, be extra mindful how you could be negatively labeling your children; but that’s another blog)

Change your labels to what will serve you and reinforce a positive image of you and what you do want. Change the image you have of yourself to something inspiring and empowering. Do this and you will quite literally, change your life.

It saved mine.

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