From the moment we are born we are defined, known by the labels that we are given by: friends, family, work colleagues and society at large. Why do we feel it necessary to do this? And more importantly why do we live up to these labels, why do we allow them to stick?
We are: good, bad, confident, strong, worthy, stupid, intelligent, pretty, cute, ugly, gifted, unfortunate, dyslexic, stressed, blue collar, white collar, father, daughter, mother, son, sister, aunt, uncle, winner, loser and even when it comes to beauty we can often be assigned a level or grade, we are judged by society – you are a 7, 8 or a 9. What this does to the person is harmful and detrimental – it states you do not make the grade in that person’s eyes, you are not good enough and the list goes on, it is in fact almost endless.
Being given a label attaches automatic assumptions to who we are, whether true or not. It is like going to the optometrist. You know that you read the screen from large to small, you also know that as you get older there will come a time when you cannot read the bottom line. Part of this is due to priming by society and the optometrist telling you that there will come a time when you cannot read the bottom line.
What actually happens with these labels is that we subconsciously endeavour to live up the attributes. Whether we want to or not. Whether they serve us or not. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You hear something often enough, and tell yourself something often enough – guess what, it happens. And there are some things that you cannot change.
I think it is telling in this society that women in particular are artificially enhancing themselves in order to meet a certain criteria of beauty, that some feel is important. Sadly sometimes when seeking a partner a given level of beauty is more important than the actual essence of who the person is.
I often see people in my clinic who self-diagnose as depressed or having an addictive personality. It is bad enough when society does it; but why do we do it to ourselves? Does it help us fit in? Or, do we use it to excuse our behaviour? Oh I am Greek therefore it is hard for me to lose weight. I am Irish, the Irish always drink a lot. I am overweight therefore I am unhealthy. I am skinny therefore I am healthy. That child is active, they must have ADHD.
So how do you stop this? How do you stop living by those labels that no longer serve? How do you stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of others? The truth is, it is a choice. Now I am not saying it is easy I am saying it is a choice.
The first step is to identify those labels that no longer serve, that may be holding you back.
Secondly, make a choice that you are not going to live up to those labels, that you or others have assigned.
Thirdly, whenever you catch yourself or someone else applying a label that you don’t want to live up to, that you cannot live up to, reframe it. And be honest. Eg the Greek excuse for overeating, may become you know what I grew up in a family that ate a lot and I developed a habit, and habits can be changed. Or, the food was always put in the middle of the table and it was survival of the fittest, so I learnt to eat a lot of food and to do it fast, and I developed a habit, and this habit no longer serves and I can change it if I choose.
Last but not least, practice, and then practice some more. You have spent years in some instances believing in these labels. They won’t change overnight, but with persistence you can choose to not live up to those labels that no longer serve.