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Labeling and its impact on personal growth

Smiling mother and her kids labeling boxes

Once you label me you negate me.
Søren Kierkegaard.

Words are very powerful. They can completely change our perspective of our surroundings and ourselves. Using words for labeling things is pretty useful but it can be harmful when we use them to define someone.

Why is that? Mainly because we don’t understand how our psyche works even though we already know certain things. Another reason is that we are always changing based on our experiences and expectations. Also, it encapsulates people in the label’s meaning.

In other words, labeling someone this or that comes with a high risk of being wrong at it. When people accept those labels, chances are they ignore their gifts as a result. For example, a curious child is labeled as nosy, or one that’s a leader but people expect her to be a follower.

In the end, giving an ultimate answer to the question of who we are is a lifetime task. Can someone else then label us? It’s hard to believe so. They can only do that when we agree to be labeled this or that.

As time passes, we move from one label to another, but they must come from a self-concept built by introspection.

How labeling can sabotage personal growth?

Understanding how labeling can affect us is critical to devise a plan to fight back against those labels we got from childhood. When we identify ourselves with a label, we may assume roles that are either not aligned with our true self or oppose it.

It doesn’t matter whether the label is positive or negative; it will mold us. Imagine someone who is labeled as a strong man and agrees with it. It is fine, right? Men are seen as strong individuals after all, right?

The problem is that strong people can’t allow themselves a moment of weakness. Also, someone like that might judge someone else for doing something that’s seen as a weakness, like crying. 

Expectations, of one’s own and those of others, can also put people under stress as they feel they have to fulfill them. So, everything that means weakness is cast away from the conscious and buried in the unconscious mind. This creates an internal war.

So, should we give up labeling people? Perhaps, we don’t have to. How can that be? The answer is in the doing vs being. 

Mind modes: doing and being

Our mind has 4 main functions: thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Thinking is the most developed, at least in our culture (Western culture). Because of that, we tend to be more goal-oriented.

Thus, our mind sizes up what’s needed to be done in order to reach the goal or diminish the gap between the actual situation and the desired outcome. This is a great way to solve problems and the main reason why our current technology is as it is.

However, this mind mode, the doing mode, can’t bring results when dealing with emotions. They are no problems to be solved, but states of mind to be felt and expressed. While in doing mode, our mind can find itself in a loop trying to “solve” an emotion.

For example, someone who was labeled as a failure, once he accepts that, will feel like a failure. Mind in doing mode will try to find tasks to stop feeling that way, to achieve a goal. 

At this point, a negative mood may appear. Our critical thinking might start to ask questions like “why am I like this? What can I do to stop feeling like a failure? Why can’t I achieve my goals?”.

While our mind is trying to solve this “problem”, we can find ourselves overthinking and imprisoning ourselves in a state of mind from which we want to escape. When something similar happens in the external world, we can just walk away, but there is no such thing when the self is involved. We can’t escape from ourselves.

Fighting back against labeling

To break this suffering loop, one can start a journey to the inner self and build a strong self-perception that’s based on our inner gifts, skills, talents, and strengths. This way, our labels will be aligned with our true essence, and won’t be hard to live up to the expectations that may arise from it.

In addition, we can switch from the doing mode to the being mode of the mind. What’s the difference? While the doing mode is focused on achieving goals, the being mode is more about living now, and being conscious of what you are doing at this very moment.

Instead of thinking about what you will do for dinner tonight, your attention is focused on the lines you are reading now. The being mode is not about being passive though. While in that mode, you can still do your dailies. 

The only difference is that you “accept” the outcome or “allow” yourself to simply exist. In the being mode, the goal and its outcome are not as relevant as this very moment. Another difference is time. Doing mode is focused on the future while being mode is focused on the now which is pure self-awareness. While in being mode, you experience your feelings, intuition, and sensations. As they come, they go. No need to clinch on them or reject them. Just live them.

In such a state of mind, feeling like a failure is just an emotion you are experiencing. You get to notice it and honor it but you won’t include it as part of your identity, of who you are.

Final thoughts

Labeling can be useful, but doing it the wrong way may hurt someone, especially when directed at a child or an adolescent. 

Whenever we need to label someone or ourselves, we can aim those labels at the doing instead of the being. We can do that easily by describing others or ourselves and focusing on the actions we perform. While at it, avoiding using the verb “to be” is enough.

Instead of asking “why am I a failure?”, you can ask “why did I fail at this task?”. Another example is when we want to say something like “that woman is intelligent”, we can rather say “she did an intelligent move”.

Knowing ourselves, learning to switch from the doing mode to the being mode of mind, and labeling people’s actions instead of their being are good ways to fight back against labeling.

There are some special tips for you to use those tools to improve your personal life and business. Just send a message with your particular inquiry to start uncovering those labels that might be hampering your way to personal growth.