I recall growing up with access to a handheld label maker. Admittedly, it was a mistake for others to have granted me this privilege, because that which can be used may also be abused.
I went on a labeling spree, branding various objects according to the limits of my imagination. Ultimately, my labeling privileges were revoked.
Prior to that, and with minimal effort, I could think of a word (usually something provocative) and bring the product of my mind into physical reality with the turn of a rotary dial and selection of appropriate numbers and letters.
Graduating from physical labels, I opted for mental and verbal labeling. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and hide yo husband, because everybody and everything was catching a label.
Once considered an ignorantly youthful knucklehead, I thought or said that kid was “retarded,” that woman was a “bitch,” or that man was “gay.” I’ve said far worse things than this, I assure you.
I’m not proud of my past actions, as I’ve since moved on from that sort of behavior, though I now understand what I didn’t know back then. And no, I’m not talking about how my words impacted people. (More on that in a bit.)
I’ve come to understand that I thankfully have very little power or control over other people, places, things, and life itself. I’m no deity or ruler of any sort and simply because I label something doesn’t necessarily mean what I say goes.
Likewise, I comprehend what occurs when using the cognitive distortion or thinking error of labeling. This is when an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking is used.
Rather than thinking or saying “I fucked up,” a person says, “I’m a fuckup.” We label ourselves or others as entirely good, bad, right, wrong, righteous, evil, nice, mean, and so on and so forth.
Labelling of this sort is largely irrational, because we aren’t equal to what we do. And yes, I realize I just labeled. (More on that in a bit, as well.)
I understand that in a society where labels are highly valued what I’m suggesting seems unrealistic (e.g., a person who commits a felony is evermore labeled a felon). Many people simply accept these labels at face value.
Still, it wouldn’t be rational to call me a tooth-brusher, because I brushed my teeth today. It wouldn’t make sense to call me an ass-wiper, because…well, I suspect you get the gist.
Irrational or unfair generalizations of oneself, other people, or content within the world or life as a whole may be easy to use, though I doubt they are as helpful as people may think. These sorts of abstractions are worth disputing.
I like to assess how my behavior is serving me or other people. Does labeling myself a “piece of shit” help me, harm me, or have no effect? Does labeling others a “fucktard” help me or them, harm me or them, or have no effect?
Do I actually believe the labels I assign? Once I understand that irrational beliefs about the world impact additional thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and my behavior, I then ask how my life may be different without unhelpful labels.
For instance, rather telling myself a series is bad I could instead think, “I don’t care for that series.” Surely, if someone asks my opinion about She-Hulk, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, or The Handmaid’s Tale, it will be helpful to keep this lesson in mind.
Allow me to be sensible for a moment. It isn’t as though all labels are unhealthy or unhelpful. To suggest otherwise is to violate one’s own axiom (e.g. saying, “All labels are bad,” requires that I label labels).
I’m simply making a case for ownership of the labels we use and to dispute their meaning if we or others aren’t served well by these labels. A slight change in perspective can take one out of black-and-white, this-or-that patterns of thinking.
Here are a few other examples of how this works:
· Instead of saying, “She’s pretty,” which is an absolute statement to which all others must agree—simply because I’ve labeled her so, I could say, “She’s pretty to me,” or, “I find her pretty.” This allows others to determine their own opinions, thoughts, or beliefs.
· Rather than suggesting, “Tacos are gross,” because let’s face it…what type of monster thinks that? (yes, I know—labeling), you could say, “I don’t like tacos,” “I don’t think tacos are delicious,” or, “I don’t care for tacos.”
· One could say, “I’m not fond of Deric’s blogs,” “Deric’s writing style isn’t for me,” or, “I prefer not to read anything Deric writes,” in place of, “Deric is a terrible, horrible, awful writer.”
One point of clarity may be worth stating. As I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I do not maintain that my words are capable of harming others.
Furthermore, I reject the notion that “words are violence.” Using the REBT ABC Model, I understand that words aren’t what lead to the consequence of being outraged.
Rather, one’s own beliefs about the words are what one may find disturbing. The same mental labeler we use with ourselves and others is one that impacts how we think, feel, and behave in the world.
Nonetheless, I try not to behave in a manner that is overtly antagonistic or harmful. Alas, I am a fallible human being, and from time to time I violate the rules I establish for myself, or I may use the irrational deception of others needing to obey my nonsensical demands.
During times such as those, I’m glad to practice unconditional acceptance. I still have a label maker, though the physical one of yesteryear has been replaced with a mental one.
Since there isn’t anyone to revoke my labeling privileges, and because I know how irrationally labeling the world doesn’t serve me well, it helps to have an internal editor. REBT has been a significant help in my life and I’m told it benefits the lives of my clients.
Perhaps you, too, find yourself labeling. How are the labels you use serving you or others? Do you disturb yourself when branding other people, places, things, life as a whole, or yourself?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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