THE DANGER OF LABELS


la·bel

(lā′bəl)

noun

1. An item used to identify something or someone, as a small piece of paper or cloth attached to an article to designate its origin, owner, contents, use, or destination.

2. A descriptive term; an epithet.

3. A distinctive name or trademark identifying a product or manufacturer, especially a recording company.

4. Architecture A molding over a door or window; a dripstone.

5. Heraldry A figure in a field consisting of a narrow horizontal bar with several pendants.

6. Chemistry See tracer.

Definition taken from: <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/label>

In an effort to categorize people's emotional struggles, medical professionals that deal with how a person thinks and the vast range of mental illnesses created hundreds of labels. These labels were initially intended to identify a group of symptoms which would then determine a person's particular course of medical treatment and/or psychotherapy. When these labels left the medical community and became part of everyday language, they were used as a means of personal identification by people who were trying to understand how and why they were different from others, and by people who intentionally wanted to point out someone else's differences.

Labels grew into something entirely different than their original purpose. Rather than one word to describe a series of symptoms and outline a course of action to alleviate the symptoms, people willingly label themselves and others hoping it explains or justifies certain personality traits and particular behaviors to others. Some people are eager to display their label for others to see hoping that they will be treated in a particular way and given special privileges rather than segregated and become frustrated when they receive the opposite response. Some believe their label relieves them from having to complete a course of action to deal with those symptoms and hold on to that label for dear life.

Labels divide people into categories and categories are more about differences than similarities. Whether we put people into categories or assign our own self to a particular category makes no difference. Having categories gives us all an excuse to make a judgement about that particular category and determine if that category is pleasing or offensive. It also allows people to attack the categories they don't understand.

MY DISABLED LABEL

I was born with a skeletal deformity that caused me to walk with a severe limp. As a very young child, my parents knew that there was something different about me and that I couldn't do some of the things that other kids did, but instead of assigning a label, they just bandaged my many skinned knees and avoided the topic. When kids started making fun of me and I cried - I was told: sticks and stones.....

As I grew, I was falling down a lot and the limp became extremely exaggerated, so my parents sought out to find out why. I didn't know I was 'disabled' until the adults around me started using this word when they were talking about me. I ran the way I ran, played the way I played and participated in everything the other kids in my neighborhood were doing not having any clue whatsoever that I was 'different'. By the time in was in school and new physical activities were introduced, my condition did prevent me from participating in certain activities that required a particular style of running or especially good balance. When I was in about grade 2, our class was scheduled to learn how to skate. A permission slip was sent home for our parents to sign, and of course, everyone needed a pair of ice skates. I remember my dad being leery of the idea, but with a great deal of convincing from my mom, he purchased skates, signed the permission slip and allowed me to participate. I remember how ecstatic my mom was when she watched me glide around on the ice on my skates. I still have the Snoopy skating badge that was presented to all of us at the end of the skating session.

My schoolmates could see that I walked differently and many of them asked me why I walked that way, but other kids weren't as curious and decided my difference was a reason to call me names, make fun of the way I walked and outright bully me. Weebles wobble, gimpy limpy and other assorted descriptives were hurled at me, but the one word that was not part of their vocabulary - disabled - wasn't used yet.

By the time I was 10 years old, a doctor had confirmed my deformity via an x-ray, which also confirmed and validated the idea that I was in fact disabled to all the adults around me - primarily my parents and school teachers. I was given a note from the doctor saying that I was no longer allowed to participate in physical activities in school because I had a disability, so the teacher would instruct me to sit on the sidelines and watch the other kids playing volleyball, basketball or some other activity. This was back in the day when physical activity was still part of a normal school day! This disabled label separated me from the rest of the class and gave some a reason to continually point out that difference.

As soon as I was old enough to understand what that word meant - I accepted the idea that I was that thing and my own idea of who I was morphed into an attitude of 'I can't' rather than 'I can'. I wasn't mature enough to understand that the disabled label was meant to put my physical abilities in a category and that being disabled was separate from my person.

CONSEQUENCES OF LABELS

Everyone wants to believe they matter in this world - who they are, where their particular place is in society, and the thing or things that make them unique. Self worth and self love have become one and the same in the minds of most people, but they have completely different meanings. Think of self worth as your personal idea of your purpose in this world, and self love as the things you do to take care of yourself like eating properly, getting plenty of exercise and paying attention to your Spiritual needs.

Self worth is usually a non-issue for people who believe they are living their true purpose or living authentically. In order to do loving things for yourself, you must believe you are worth the effort. We take care of and nurture the things we love. Love is an action and actions by definition require effort. Not too many people are willing to put a lot of effort into things they don't love.

People who have either taken a label for themselves, or been issued one by someone else might struggle a bit more with self love and self worth. Certain labels - or categories - carry with them an image or popular perception of that label. For example, some people might picture an alcoholic as a homeless person carrying a bottle in a paper bag, or a princess as a spoiled brat. These types of labels hold a negative connotation, and despite the efforts of some to change the perception of these kinds of labels, the perception of each label remains in the eye of the beholder.

Other labels, like Canadian or American that are used without malice and don't normally cause someone to behave in an unacceptable manner because they are that thing are used as they were intended. Blonde or red head, blue eyed or brown eyed are harmless descriptions and although these words can be considered labels, these are not the kind of labels that I'm talking about here. Labels that are intended to divide, or are used as an excuse to behave in an unacceptable manner are what I'm referring to here. If the label you choose for yourself puts you in a category that creates discomfort for you or another, you might want to rethink owning that label. If a label is used intentionally to ostracize, you might want to consider changing your perspective about that person and look deeply within your own self to understand why you would want to exclude that person from your understanding.

You can't give away what you don't have and that includes acceptance. People who struggle with self worth and self love are generally the first to justify the use of labels. When labels are used in conjunction with personal identification, separation is often the result. Inclusion and acceptance does not come from separation, and labels are meant to categorize and separate.

If you have taken on or been assigned a label that no longer serves you, and you are ready to peel that label off of yourself - contact me today to learn how you can free yourself from your label and start living with true self worth and true self love!

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