A child accidentally spills milk and the next thing s/he hears is “you’re so clumsy” or maybe even “you’re my clumsy little baby” with a kind, cynical voice. Then s/he hears it again and again and again, and soon s/he starts to believe that s/he really is clumsy.
Every small ineptitude that happens later in the adult age makes the person feel horrible, enforcing the clumsiness label even further.
I see it all the time, how people label themselves without any solid proof:
- I’m not that smart
- I constantly make mistakes
- I’m not a practical type of person
- I’m not good with technology
- I’m bad at sports
And they label other people too:
- He’s a jerk
- He’s irresponsible
- She’s weird
There are two options when it comes to labeling yourself or others. A label might be complete fiction. Just a falsely installed belief that has nothing to do with reality. Or there really is some behavioral drawback present, but by labeling you make that one single behavior into a characteristic and apply it to the person as a whole.
Both types of labeling (or name-calling) bring nothing but negative thoughts and energy in your life.
The measure of a man is the mistakes he makes. That’s something your negative mind would say.
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A negative self-label might be complete fiction
Many times, a label is complete fiction. For example, a parent decided to label the child as a clumsy one, based on completely perfectionistic expectations. In their mind, other babies never spilled any milk. Not even once.
So even a small error seems like solid proof for the negative label. Perfectionism has zero tolerance for any small errors, which are in reality part of everyday human life.
The adult person might then be as “clumsy” as any other human being. But when they break a glass, get a flat tire, don’t score a goal or any other thing happens to them that’s a pretty normal part of life, the feeling that they are the clumsiest creature on Earth resurfaces. An emotional flashback happens.
If the error happens in the presence of other people, they explain the label to other people – “I was always a little bit clumsy” or something like that. With every such explanation, they only reinforce their negative self-image.
People who aren’t observant might even believe them, but the observant ones are confused a little bit, because they don’t see any proof for such a negative label.
Make sure you find solid proof for every negative self-label you have:
- Do you statistically spill milk more often than the average person?
- Do you statistically make more mistakes than the average person?
- Are there really zero practical tasks you can accomplish?
- If you took a 100-hour technology class, how far would you really get?
- Is there not a single sport you’re really good at?
Don’t equate yourself with a single event or situation. Don’t believe everything your parents told you. Nobody is perfect. As we said, there is no perfection in real life.
Well, some things might really not be your forte. But maybe you are good enough. Which is just fine. Then there’s no need for a negative label.
A negative label is the most convenient way to protect your ego
We love to give negative labels to other people, especially when we need to protect our ego and minimize other people’s accomplishments. Negative labels are a great way to throw shit at other people and feel a little bit better about ourselves.
If a person is emotionally immature, then more successful and competent people irritate their ego. Every person who’s better at something is a source of humiliation; at the end of the day, they’re better at something.
Thus, ego tries to protect the immature ones. And then we hear expressions like:
- She might be beautiful, but she’s definitely stupid.
- He did make a lot of money, but he must be so greedy.
- He did win the competition, but he was probably cheating.
- She was promoted, but she’s a really bad person.
Sour grapes, sweet lemons and negative labels are ways to protect your ego when you encounter people that have more of something than you.
Sour grapes refer to self-deception where you make things that you want but don’t have less desirable, and with sweet lemons, you make things that you do have but are not that important to you more desirable. And with negative labels you make other people shine less than they do deserve.
You can’t be the best at everything. And there is enough for everyone. If you want more of something, go get it. Try to be happy for others when they win. And soon there won’t be any need for negative labels. Don’t create hostility with negative labels.
When a label is not based in fiction
Not all labels are based in fiction. Sometimes a label can be based on some solid proof. The problem occurs when we apply one single characteristic to the person as a whole.
- Because he’s late sometimes, he must be irresponsible.
- Because he doesn’t use a fax machine, he must be bad with technology.
You make assumptions about the person based on one event, fact or a single piece of information. But what if your assumption is completely wrong?
What if he’s not irresponsible because he’s late, he’s only going through a really hectic period in his life. You know that wrong assumptions are the mother of all fuckups, so never make assumptions about people too fast.
The problem with labeling others negatively is that you can’t do very much about it. If you label somebody as irresponsible, stupid, clumsy, un-techy or un-sporty, there’s no room for improvement, no room for growth.
It’s based on a fixed mindset, with no solution to the negative situation. But if you un-label someone and focus on their behavior, there is suddenly room for improvement. There’s suddenly an action plan that can be put in place.
You can teach a person to use a fax machine, you can talk with them to not be late or repeat any other similar behavior, you can find a sport you dislike the least and start practicing it, and so on.
Negative labels usually mark people with a negative characteristic that they can do nothing about. And that’s big distorted thinking in a negative way. Everyone can improve.
Negative labels are a great way to create distance in relationships
If a person has a low capacity for love, they strive to create distance even in the closest relationships. There is a subconscious fear of abandonment and even if distance seems like a good risk mitigation strategy, it’s not.
The distance drives people away. In the end, they leave, doing exactly what we’re afraid of.
There are many ways to create distance. Criticism, irresponsibility, passive-aggressiveness and a negative label, of course. Your mind can easily find one thing about your spouse, friend, relative, business partner or lover that you focus on and that irritates you every time you’re together.
A small behavior, body part or something for which you can create a negative label and that goes through your mind over and over again. Well, not only in your mind, you throw it straight in the face of the people you love. You eat so fast, your gluttony is killing me.
In reality, you’re probably only afraid of closeness, you’re afraid of accepting the other person as they are and having a close connection. A multidimensional connection. There is absolutely always a better solution than throwing labels in people’s faces.
Labeling is nothing but an extreme form of overgeneralization that belittles you and others and destroys relationships. Don’t let your negative mind run on fear, trying to protect your ego with immature mechanisms.
Humans do exist. But fools, losers and jerks do not. David Burns
Remember, it’s probably not a characteristic, but rather a behavior that can be improved or changed; if the label is not only fiction in your head. Instead of labeling, try to accurately describe the behavior that bothers you, and figure out why with the 5-whys analysis.
Then talk with the other person about it, in the most kind and honest way possible. And stop labeling yourself and others, it only brings negativity to your life and the life of others.