It feels good to know that other people are just like me. Especially when I have been going through tough times. When I discover a group of people, going through the same thing as me, I am reassured and comforted. Often these groups will have labels. A way of identifying themselves and what they are experiencing in life. I can go online and discover a labelled group for practically every emotion that I feel. Anxious and depressed, there are groups for that. Hypochondria kicking in, plenty of blogs for that. Feeling extra sensitive and introverted, there are communities for those labels too. Yoga phase has me feeling spiritual? Hop on Twitter and follow the hashtags. Upset from chronic digestive issues-just look on Facebook. Literally, there are labelled groups for everything. But when I connect with people that label themselves the same things I label myself, I feel less alone. Normal, even. My experiences are validated and explained. These labels allow me to accept myself and what I am going through. But this can be a problem.
Accepting Ourselves Without Labels
Although I use labels at times, I do so half heartedly. There is always an uncomfortable feeling that lurks when I use a label on myself or another. Something doesn’t sit right with me when I call myself “this label,” or call him/her “that type of person.” Here are some of the questions that pop into my head when I use labels.
1. What would happen if I were to take this label away?
2. How would I feel if I no longer identified with that group?
3. Would I still be able to accept myself just as I am?
4. Would I be 100% okay with myself if I was the only one with these experiences?
This is where identifying with labels ultimately reveals an inherent problem. I want to be able to accept myself exactly as I am, even if it means I am alone in my experience. Even if it means there is nobody else that can relate to me. Even if it means I am without a label. I want to love and accept myself because I am worthy of it, not because there is an explanation for why I am the way I am. But how easy is this to do?
Society’s Use of Labels
Our society is really hung up on labels. A glaring example of this is when people introduce themselves at an event, and the inevitable question that comes first is “what do you do?” At this point, an appropriate title or label is answered. “I’m a ____.” This is a classic example of how labels give us our sense of identity. I am often left wondering, “Really? Are you a ____? Or is it just something you do?” Our jobs are a part of us, but there is so much more to consider. I have discovered people (including myself) want to compartmentalize, label, and put others in a box. What would happen if we were to say, “Nice to meet you, tell me a bit about yourself” instead? This type of exchange would allow information to be shared without the use of labels.
When Labels Limit Us
Are all labels bad though? For example; when I consider people who are experiencing physical or mental problems, they need a label (diagnosis) in order to receive the right treatment. I believe this label is necessary and productive. At the same time, these labels can be very limiting. Sure there are instances where labels and corresponding limitations are very real, and it takes acceptance to be at peace with these circumstances. But what about the times when limitations from these labels are self inflicted? We often allow our labels to dictate who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act. We tend not to venture outside of our labelled box. For example; I did this when I labelled myself too sensitive to see a concert. Or too inexperienced to apply for a job. Or too anxious to go on a trip. Though some labels are mandatory in our society, we need to remain mindful of when we impose unnecessary restrictions on ourselves.
Labels Do Not Provide Self Worth
I have struggled my whole life with self acceptance. I would place so much emphasis on outside circumstances to give me feelings of validation. I would need to have the right appearance, the right job, the right set of skills/interests to feel like I was good enough. I was giving my power away to circumstances and labels that had nothing to do with the real me. Recently, I have learned to turn this around. I am becoming accepting of who I am, stripped of everything. I love myself because there are a lot of great things to love about me. But my job, clothes, skills, and assets are not why I accept myself. And no label will ultimately give me that sense of self worth either. I am going to try my hardest to not allow any label to dictate or inform me of who I am. And if we happen to meet each other at a party, I look forward to learning a bit about who you are, not what you do.
What labels do you find yourself using in your life?