Most of our label problems don't come from actual circumstances, though, but by the way we define ourselves. And, believe it or not, that's good news! Why? Because it means that once we discover which label(s) we've used to define ourselves, we can then determine whether or not that "label" is actually based in truth (hint: it probably isn't). Then we can set about changing our attitude and belief about that label.
I recently read an article by one of my favorite self-help/life-style gurus, Martha Beck, who wrote that defining ourselves by labels is a universal behavior (amphibian, too). It's something called the social self; the part of each of us that interacts with the world and all those we share it with. According to Ms. Beck, "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." But those "people" aren't your essential self...the person (or frog) you are at your core and, unfortunately, that authentic you doesn't get the same amount of "air time" as all those other roles you play. Once we get labeled as something or other, it becomes the role we play more often than not...it can affect the way we talk, the way we dress, the way we act. It's a little bit like being type-cast for an actor where they get associated with playing a particular type of character and then that same kind of role is the only one they get offered. Actors hate it...and so should you!
There are a few labels that we probably actually like. I like being my parent's son and Quigley's big brother. I'm proud of being a writer and, actually, of being goofy. I bet you have a few of your own that you're rather proud of, too. But be careful! All labels, so says Martha Beck, come with a price, whether they're good labels or bad ones. Labels are inherently limiting...they can become like those prison bars. Every label can can cause of us to suffer. But the good news here, is that we can find our way out of label jail. We simply need to to spend more time with our essential self and less time with our social self. When you label yourself (or someone else does and you blindly accept it) ask yourself if the label is true. Then wait for the true answer to arise...and it will.
Ms. Beck gives a brilliant exercise for each of us to use to help define more accurately who we really are. Finish this sentence as many ays as you can:
"I'm a ______________." Then go back and consider each and every label you wrote down. Maybe yours are the common ones like your place in the family unit, what you do for a living, etc. Maybe some will be deeper...I'm a chronic complainer, a neurotic, a worrier, etc. Then ask yourself the BIG question: Is it true? Does any one label encompass who you really are? We change and evolve every day. What you where even yesterday, isn't going to be exactly the same as what you are right now. So why allow your labels to hang around? Isn't it time to shed them...at least some of them, anyway?
We'll probably never be 100% label-free. That's okay, too. As long as you don't let those labels "itch" or define you. I like to think of my personal labels just like the ones on my clothes. Some of them are bigger and scratchier than others. Some are far less irritating...you know, just like the clothing labels that often imprinted right onto the fabric. Those are much easier to "wear." As I change my clothes, those labels get changed as well. And none of them are a permanent part of my being. They aren't tattooed onto my skin.
If you're holding on to negative assumptions about yourself based on some label that you got as a kid, perhaps it's time to change the "garment" that label's attached to. I can pretty much assure you, anyway, that the "label" is a lie and the "shirt" doesn't fit you anymore..
Maybe it's time to give yourself a "get out of jail free" card and go shop for a new "grown-up" wardrobe...one that better fits who you are today. Just remember not to get too attached to it.
Oh, and by the way...Prison garb is never attractive and orange is not the new black. Personally, I think green is.