Labeling (or global labeling) is distorted thinking. It’s when we reduce ourselves or others to a single characteristic. So we take one situation, event or characteristic and define others or ourselves by it. Labels are typically negative:
“Men only want one thing.”
“Women are crazy.”
“People don’t care anymore.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I didn’t win, I’m a loser.”
“Blondes are dumb.”
As you can see, labels come in different forms. Anywhere from thinking that people who share the same trait are the same. Or labeling a person or ourselves by one mistake or event.
So if someone is late once, we may think they are irresponsible. And if we failed an important test, we may think we’re dumb.
Labeling isn’t always bad. And we need to label to identify. The problem comes when we use labels to reduce ourselves or others.
How Labeling Negatively Impacts Mental Health
1. Closes us off
Someone who labels may feel like they keep meeting the same people over and over again. Since they think everyone is the same, then likely they are. Because they label everyone as being the same. Labeling this way may lead to feelings of hopeless.
Example: A man who genuinely wants a relationship thinks all women are cruel because his ex cheated on him. He goes on dates and tries to make a relationship work, but he can’t shake the feeling he keeps meeting shady women.
2. Keeps us Stuck
Labeling a person by the color of their skin, or by their gender, or another characteristic keeps us from connecting with each other. It makes us stuck. And it sends the person we negatively label a message suggesting they are “less than”.
We’re continually having these issues in society, and people are depressed and anxious. No one should feel that way. We should all live and let live in peace.
3. Feeds a harsh inner critique
Our inner voice is very important. Studies show it directly effects our mental and emotional well-being. If we negatively label ourselves, then we feed a harsh inner-critique. And if we repeatedly tell ourselves we’re a loser, we may act in ways that ensure we’ll lose.
Example: Mary is a great art and philosophy student, math isn’t her strong suit. After failing her second math test (even though she studied all night) she labels herself as stupid. Her grades in art and philosophy suffer.
4. Creates Division
Labeling creates an “us” v. “them” mentality resulting in division. And as we’re all aware, we need unity in order to succeed. The divisiveness is energy draining and makes us feel stressed.
Example: Labeling an entire person on one belief reduces that person to a bipartisan issue. We no longer see others as human beings deserving respect. We see them as enemies and “others”.
5. Encourages Loneliness
Labeling may limit social connections. If we judge all people with a similar characteristic, then we’re cutting ourselves off from a lot of people. We’re also likely not having long-term relationships if we’re judging someone by one mistake.
6. Brings Inner-turmoil
If you label something you like as bad then you will feel bad or you won’t do something you like. For instance, if a guy thinks baking is too womanly we could all be missing out on some great cakes!
Example: My father would label arts and psychology as pointless and pathetic. As someone who loves art & psychology, this was hurtful. And it took a lot for me to be comfortable with who I am and to appreciate my love of psychology and painting.
7. Encourages manipulation
Labels are typically negative. However, we may label someone by one characteristic and assume they are “good” or “intelligent” even if they aren’t. Doctors aren’t always smart. I know, I’ve dated a few.
Example: Trusting a charming narcissist or a friendly scam artist wearing an expensive suit.
8. Protects abusers
When you think of abuse you may picture a dude drinking a can of bud with a wife beater on. But abusers come in all economic classes. And the only one who benefits from labeling abusers as low on the economic scale are high income abusers.
9. Missed Connections
With credit cards, it’s futile to label anyone based on what they wear or what they have. So a fancy car may attract you because you think it means someone with the car is responsible, successful and can provide for a family, when really it means none of those things.
10. Limits Us and Others
You’re complex. But when you label yourself, you limit yourself. So if you aren’t the best at math and you fail a math test and label yourself a failure, then you discredit the areas you are good at. You discredit your natural talents and limit your potential.
Example: When babies learn how to walk they fall a few times. They don’t label themselves as failures. They just get back up and try again until they learn.
11. Destroys self-love and compassion
Negative labels destroy self-love. It can cause someone to think they’re not worthy or that other people deserve more than them. A lack of self-love also brings with it a lack of self-confidence and worthiness. Which will likely bring about depression and anxiety.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán