What’s in a name: labels that we give ourselves matter

18722689_690636344456457_2771010348445073408_n“Can you help me?” is a question often asked. This question is sometimes preceded by comments such as:

  • I just need to lose this extra fat.
  • I don’t like my cellulite.
  • I can’t control what I eat.
  • How do I stop obsessing over food?
  • I wish I could love my body.
  • And other similar statements.

Some of these women and men feel like they’re fighting a lost battle. They seem to think that no matter what they do their fate has already been determined. They’ll never “look like that” or “have that body” or “be that strong”.

Labeling ourselves and others helps us to feel safe, to feel protected, and feel like we know what to expect when we “open that drawer.” And while I’m sure a blog post about judging others would be helpful, I’d rather put the focus on you. How do you label yourself? Maybe you think you’re “the nerd”, “the quitter”, or as I often called myself, “the black sheep.” Whatever you think you are, you’re probably wrong. And that’s a good thing.

The negative labels we apply to ourselves and others in our automatic thoughts are almost always vague and ambiguous because they are automatic. If you try to write an essay from your automatic thoughts–you may think of them as your “opinions”–you will find that it consists of nothing more than a string of labels. If you are going to write well about your opinions, you will have to bring them beyond the stage of automatic thoughts and give reasons for those opinions that make sense to other people. In order to do that, you’ll have to define the labels you’re using. If you can define your terms clearly and give evidence for your beliefs, then you have gone beyond automatic labeling and begun to engage in reasoned argument.

Ask yourself the following questions in order to start identifying and evaluating your labels. Write your answers down so that you can review them later.

1. How do you label yourself? Are you a career woman, a mom, an accountant, a politician? Are you a failure or a winner? Are you a “fat girl” or a “pretty girl?” Write down all the labels you attach to yourself, going back as far as you can remember.

2. Where did these labels come from? Did they come from you? Your parents? A teacher? A friend? Look at each label you wrote down in the above question, and identify where each one came from.

3. Are you living to your labels? How are your labels working for you? What are your payoffs?

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