You may often hear the phrase “you are what you eat” and clearly there is some truth in that; we are constantly reminded by the media, our parents and government to eat healthy.
However, what we think is more important and in particular, that inner critical voice which we hear all day long. Our inner voice either supports us and makes us feel good or undermines our self-esteem and self-worth causing us to feel down.
I’m talking about that common thinking error called ‘labelling’.
The simple truth is “You are what you think!”
These days we are more brand aware than ever before. We may not all wear designer clothes or drive expensive cars or even eat designer food, but we are all aware of brands and labels.
We make conscious and unconscious judgements about people, their identity and status based on the items they use. Consequently, we will then make judgements and evaluations about our own identity and self-worth.
We may also label others and ourselves by traits, behaviours and actions. Rather than look at the whole person and all their good and bad points, a specific evaluation is accorded to their whole being.
Just because somebody did a stupid thing, that does not make him to be stupid or “she broke a plate, therefore she is clumsy”. It is more helpful to acknowledge when we and others have done something wrong or made a specific error.
The whole idea is to learn to distinguish between the actions and the person as a whole-knowing when to describe and not to label.
The problem with labels is they are merely shells that contain assumptions. When we are taken in by a label, we are taken in by opinions and beliefs.
That is, we willingly accept statements without evidence of their validity. The assumptions become stereotypes, which soon become put-downs. Before you know it, we are engaged in name-calling or verbal abuse.
People are complex, multifaceted, and multidimensional. When we apply labels to them, we put on blinders and see only a narrow view of an expansive and complicated human being.
Labelling people makes it more difficult to get on with others and causes hostility if we see them as one-dimensional.
When directed at ourselves labelling can cause diminished self-esteem, guilt, self-loathing and depression. We will often acquire negative labels in childhood and early relationships; it is important that we challenge and dispel them rather than continue to wear them on the inside.
A useful exercise is to monitor your inner critic; that voice that you hear through the day that says things such as “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m boring and uninteresting” “I’m too old” “I’m unattractive”.
Write these comments down and then dispute, challenge and replace them with more helpful and rational statements such as “I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn”, “I am as interesting as anyone; I have my unique style”, “Age is an irrelevance”, “I’m as attractive as anyone”.
This takes a bit of effort, but “you’re worth it”. You will feel better about yourself, increase your self-esteem and discard unwanted mental baggage.
The author is a regular columnist.