, , , , , , ,

What do I mean by labels? They are simply descriptive terms used to describe us and usually have judgments associated with them. For example they can be ‘negative’ (I’m the Office Witch) or more ‘positive’ (I’m the Office Mom). A frequent one today is “I’m fat” whether it is true or not.

We may or may not agree with our labels and they can also be things we feel we’ve grown out of (I’m a typical teenager). And perhaps we think they’re true (I’m Very Reliable or I’m Forgetful). They can also be appearance related –“I’m a Blonde” which conjures up all the dumb blonde jokes. I have a brilliant psychologist friend who was raised in a very judgmental, critical home. He says that even today with all his successes if he opens the refrigerator and the catsup bottle falls out making a mess, he hears that voice from his childhood telling him he is dumb and clumsy.

In therapy our behaviors are “labeled” or diagnosed. Groups of behaviors have been given labels and are outlined in a Diagnostic Statistical Manual used by the behavioral health field. These labels are helpful in knowing how to treat a patient effectively. They are also necessary for insurance payment. It is important to remember that they may not be a lifelong label. If you and your therapist work together to reframe and change your thinking and subsequently change your behaviors on a long term basis, the diagnosis may no longer apply.

It is a complex, remarkable journey to the inner self: to the body, to the soul, to the spirit. In our pursuit of meaning, we often take on roles and define ourselves with labels that no longer work for us and we get exhausted, resentful, and disconnect as a means of survival. There is a way back and there is no substitute for professional therapy in that process.

In recovery and life coaching, challenging our limiting beliefs is a tool used to assist clients who are struggling in attaining or even setting their life goals. So, here is a simple limiting beliefs exercise using labels:

  1. List the labels you have been given in your life – aim for 10 and hopefully you will get at least 4 or 5 solid labels to work with.
  2. For each label, ask yourself if you see the label as positive or negative. Next ask yourself where you think the label came from – for example society (media, TV, books and magazines) and people (our parents, peers, and teachers). Be as specific as possible and name a specific person if you can.
  3. Then ask, “Do you agree with the label?” Explore what advantages and disadvantages each label has. How does the label HELP you and how does it HINDER or LIMIT you?
  4. You can give this exercise extra meaning by also asking yourself where you think your labels are getting in the way of achieving your goals.
  5. Ask yourself which labels you would like to keep and which you would like to ‘lose’? To do this, explore specific situations where the label comes up and make sure to ask yourself when and who you’re with when you behave like the label.
  6. Develop an action plan to overcome the negative label. Ask what could you do/how could you behave differently to make the label irrelevant or inappropriate?

This limiting beliefs exercise is a great way to raise awareness as well as stimulate and reframe your beliefs about yourself. It also has a broader societal impact because once you connect with how you feel about your labels you will have more empathy for others. Thoughtless words can impact us and the words we use can impact others negatively.

Bonnie Harken NCLC, Founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women has spent the last 30 years assisting individuals begin their journey of healing. Look for upcoming programs at Crossroads Programs for Women. Begin your journey of finding renewal, hope, joy, direction and passion. Each program is a blend of lectures, group discussion, and therapeutic exercises offering a healing curriculum. We explore the spiritual components of healing from a non-denominational Christian perspective. Why continue to struggle? Tomorrow does not have to be like today. We can help you. Visit www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com or call 1-800-348-0937.