Don’t let other people define you


People-Word-LabelsPeople love to give other people labels. Here at Whaleoil a number of us have been given labels by people who don’t even know us. Most of us have been given labels by others during the course of our lives, the class clown, the good girl, the fat boy, the black sheep, the nerd…
Even though intellectually we should know that the labels are not who we are they can still hurt and we need ways to deal with them.

One day when my daughter Lizzy was just 3, she came to me crying after a spat with her sister. “Katie called me a stupidhead!” Lizzy said through sobs. I said, “Well, is it true?” Lizzy thought for a moment. “No.” “Then don’t believe it.” She stopped crying, brightened up and ran outside to continue playing. I’ve worked for years — decades — to guide adults out of the same kind of misery that plagued my daughter for less than a minute. Many of my clients suffer enormously from the negative labels other people have attached to them: homely, weak, boring, slutty, stupid. Some are trapped by labels that describe not their qualities but their roles: class clown, screw-up, trophy wife, failure. In fact, the most painful issues in my clients’ lives tend to come not from actual circumstances, but from the way they’ve defined themselves as a result of those circumstances.

The same can probably be said of you. That’s good news, believe it or not — because the problem has a simple solution. If you can figure out the label with which you’ve defined yourself and then determine the truth or falsehood of that definition, you can free yourself from worlds of pain. Defining yourself with labels is a universal human behavior because of something called the social self, the part of you that interacts with the world. Every day we go forth with our social selves in tow, navigating dozens of complex interactions in which we pick up on others’ social selves and act accordingly. You know how to talk to your boss because beneath every conversation is the understanding that you are her subordinate; you know how to speak to your uptight mother-in-law because you’ve decided who, and how, she is, relative to who you are. …

Obviously, negative self-definitions are painful. If my Lizzy had permanently attached herself to the identity of “stupidhead,” she’d still have her head down and her heart broken. Maybe you’ve been burdened with pain for a long time, too. Do you think of yourself as ugly, neurotic, anxious, lazy? These roles are filters, and your experience of the world passes through them. (And often because someone, at some point, compared you unfavorably with your “brainiac” sister, or you felt nervous on the debate team and decided you were “bad” at public speaking, or you’ve chosen to believe, based on scant evidence, that something else about you is true.) Yet even the labels you covet are potentially harmful. Think of a role that would be your dream come true. Do you wish you were a genius? A gutsy broad? A bombshell?… Any kind of label, good or bad, is inherently limiting if you believe it encompasses your personality to the exclusion of all else. Do you really want to be just one thing? …

When you label yourself, ask whether the label is true. Then wait for an answer to arise. What comes up for you? Finish the sentence as many ways as you can.

I’m a

I’m a

I’m a

I’m a

I’m a

Now consider these labels one by one. Maybe you answered, “I’m a dental hygienist,” or “a waitress,” or “a contortionist for Cirque du Soleil.” Perhaps you referenced your family: “I’m the wife of a soldier,” or “I’m the caretaker for my parents.” Perhaps you dug deeper and answered, “I’m a neurotic,” or “I’m a chronic depressive.” What ever you answered, I think you’ll find that any one label tells only a tiny portion of the story. Ask yourself the same question I asked Lizzy all those years ago: Is it true? Does any one label encompass you? Even all five put together may not paint an accurate portrait of your essential self. …

The moment Lizzy examined the label “stupidhead,” she saw it as a lie and let it go, just as you long ago let go of erroneous thoughts like “the world is flat.” If you’re holding negative definitions of yourself, question them — I assure you, they are lies. The more you learn this, the less you’ll suffer the hell of self-loathing. People may tell you you’re crazy. That’s OK, child. It isn’t true. Now run along and play.

Martha Beck

I think everyone of us has at some point accepted a label that someone else put on us. When I completed a Landmark course years ago I realised that a label I had taken on board as an eleven year old was rubbish and it was time to throw it away. Someone close to me had said something, meaning to compliment my mother but the way it was said it was also a slap at me. They said, ” you will never be half the lady your mother is.” At the tender age of eleven I decided that meant that I was not feminine or lady like so I went out of my way to be a Tom Boy and stopped wearing dresses. This behaviour persisted through adulthood even though I secretly longed to be feminine and preferred dresses and skirts. When I told the person years later the effect their comment had had on me they were aghast as that was not their meaning at all. Even if they had meant it the reality was it was not who I was and I regret that I did not recognise that fact for such a long time. So have a think about the labels you have accepted in your life, it is time you threw a few of them away don’t you think?

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The Left come with labels to take your power away

In the light of the growing Pegida movement ? a grouping of disillusioned citizens, neo-Nazis and football hooligans who oppose Muslim immigration and have been backed by the anti-immigration party Alternative f?r Deutschland (AfD) ? the debate in Germany since the attacks in the French capital has been particularly nervous.

Such organisations, just like other populist and anti-immigrant parties gaining support in the polls across Europe, have been quick to make political capital from the attacks, citing them as proof that all their fears about Islamism were true.

?This bloodbath proves that those who laughed at or ignored the fears of so many people about a looming danger of Islamism were wrong,? said Alexander Gauland, a regional leader of AfD, which has its roots in the euro crisis and is currently riding at 25% in nationwide polls, on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. ?This gives new weight to Pegida demands.?

I consider myself a disillusioned citizen, and ?I suspect you might include yourself as well.

But you can see what’s happening by being grouped with football hooliagans and neo-Nazis. ?It makes our opinion evil, extreme, wrong and we’re part of an ugly mob. Read more »

“Drive them into the sea”

Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco, The Guadian

The “F” word

Some time ago, I wrote an article about an event that transpired in and around Greymouth (Runanga) and repeated Helen Clark’s judgement about “West Coast ferals”.

A number of people took exception to this, and as a result I had death threats, and my daughter was informed via Facebook that she was going to be pack raped.

The discussion about “West Coast ferals” being a Helen Clark phrase was well and truly lost in the melee, and the whole of the Coast’s population, including one of its newspapers, rose up to defend themselves.

No reasonably thinking person would immediately assume that a label like “West Coast ferals” would apply to everyone that was born or chooses to live there. ?We have labels for “the Chlamydia Capital of New Zealand”, and other such derogatory descriptions for various corners of our country.

Occasionally you may get a mayor or a council rise up in the press to put down a defence on what they see as an unfair characterisation of the place they live.

The problem isn’t so much being labelled.

The problem is when subsequent events amount to making those labels appear to be true.

In the case of Greymouth/Runanga, this is exactly the problem they are facing now

Viv Logie from the Greymouth Star, the very paper that whipped up the hysteria about Whaleoil‘s “feral” headline, is now facing the unpleasant task of laying bare the apparent truth behind Helen Clark’s observations

Innocent people had their names dragged through the mud on social media as police sought the culprit responsible for torturing a cat.

A 22-year-old man appeared in the Greymouth court on Tuesday charged with cutting off a cat’s paw, but not before others had been named and shamed – incorrectly – on Facebook.

So we have a cat torturer and we have a bunch of out of control vigilantes harassing the wrong people. ? Read more »