Labeling is a common thinking distortion. A thinking distortion is when our perception is skewed. So we don’t see reality, we see a spin on reality. And that spin is usually negative.
Labeling is negative and wreaks havoc on your mental and emotional well-being. Especially your confidence, self-worth, self-esteem and self-love. Labels keep you stuck and you can end up unintentionally limiting yourself.
We’ve been labeled our entire lives. And some labels from the past could be negatively effecting you now. So you need to know how to respond if someone negatively labels you, and you also need to know how to uncover negative labels from the past that are affecting you.
Below are 7 easy steps to reject and overcome labels to increase your confidence and self-love.
First, what is the difference between a label and an insult?
A label is something you define yourself by. Something you consider as part of your identity.
So when someone says something about your character in a demeaning or negative way, it can be an insult (if you reject it) or it can turn into a label (if you define yourself by it).
Say someone calls you stupid or tries to define you by your gender. If you think they’re rude and forget the comment quickly, then their comment was an insult.
If you walk away and feel dumb for a moment but forget about it, that would be an insult too.
However, if you walk away and question your intelligence and then think you’re stupid, that’s a label.
If you’re already feeling a lack of confidence or have low-self esteem or self-worth, then an insult can compact a personal weakness and is more likely to become a label.
As kids we are trying to find our place in the world. And we are more susceptible to taking on labels because we don’t know any better or we don’t think to question them.
Label vs Insult Example in Breaking Bad
Spoiler alert Breaking Bad. (You don’t need to watch the show to understand the reference.)
Walter insinuates Jesse is dumb, bad, and gets what he deserves. Episodes later, Jesse’s girlfriend overdoses and Jesse goes on a bender (a drug bender, if that’s a thing). Walt saves Jesse from a crack house.
Jesse cries and tells Walt that Walt was right, that he (Jesse) deserves what he gets. A couple episodes later Jesse self identifies and literally says he’s “bad.”
In this instance Jesse took on the label of “bad”. No one is inherently “bad”. Sure, Jesse does dumb shit. But he’s not a bad person. Walter insulted him and Jesse turned the insult into a label.
How to Respond to An Insult and Stop it From Becoming a Label
1.Keep focus on the other person. If someone says something negative about your personality or person, keep focus on them. Don’t go on defense.
2.Remember, what people say is what they think. So if someone says, “You’re dumb.” DO NOT take on an “I” statement and repeat back to them, “I’m dumb?” Clarify and make the differentiation, “You think I’m dumb?”
3. Acknowledge their poor interpersonal communication skills. It takes a certain panache to get a point across without using insults. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just unable to effectively communicate.
4. Ask clarifying questions. If you value their opinion, ask the person insulting you why they think that way. But take their opinion at face value.
5. Have self-compassion. Sure, maybe you did something really stupid and someone calls you stupid. We all make stupid mistakes. It’s being human.
6. Remind yourself: “I have the power to reject the thoughts and statements of others.” Remind yourself of this all day everyday until it sticks. That’s what I did and that’s where I saw the most results.
7. Remember not everyone is going to like you. And that’s OK.
Don’t go to the extreme opposite
If someone calls you ugly, don’t say you’re the most beautiful person in the world. If someone said you’re stupid, don’t put yourself on the same level as Einstein.
It doesn’t work. Why? Because you won’t believe it, it’s too extreme.
One extreme does not counter another. Instead, think of the middle ground. Think, “I’m no Lyndsey Getty, but I’m not stupid.” (See what I did there 🤪)
Or think, “I’m not the most beautiful in the world, but a) people who pay attention to external looks are vain af, and b) I’m beautiful in my own, unique way.
If you feel discomfort in the middle ground, ask yourself why? If you don’t feel beautiful ask why? Uncover why and work on it. Is it societal standards? Have people been mean in the past? Jerks.
If the Label Really Stings
Ask yourself why? Are you just annoyed you keep hearing it, or have heard it all your life… I’m sure there are a lot of blondes out there who are tired of the dumb blonde jokes.
Or is there something deeper?
Do you think there is any value to their statement? It’s not about them, but they pinged upon something and it’s worth exploring.
Example: A guy in a writing group said he thinks no one will read my writing. (Note how I added the “he thinks”.) This comment really bothered me. So I explored.
I realized he hit a deep set insecurity I had about my writing. He didn’t need to say anything, I already didn’t think anyone would read my writing anyway. WOAH! I was shocked and hadn’t realized consciously that I had such a negative, deep-set, strong, insecure belief.
I did some soul searching, aka watched Netflix for an entire day (Breaking Bad). And then I realized that my writing isn’t perfect, but it’s good and getting better. And who want’s perfection anyway? I found the middle ground. And I’m only going to work to make it better.
I acknowledged my insecurity and worked through it instead of reducing myself to a comment. Writing makes me happy, so if I didn’t continue I’d be depressed.
Reject Past Labels
This also works for labels given in the past. Take some time and consider how you think of yourself. If there’s a negative label someone else gave you? Reject it. Flat out reject it.
Remember, you can reject the thoughts and statements of others. Even if you previously didn’t, reject it now. Time is a man made concept, your brain is all swishy up there, time like we think in hours and days does not work the same in the mind.
So reject a previous statement and you’ll see your past from a different lens.
Give em’ The Benefit of the Doubt
Some people are just mean. They want to hurt others because they’re hurting inside and misery LOVES company. This could be a momentary bad mood, or a life-long one.
There are also people who don’t know any better or mess up. I’ve insulted people before without meaning to. And then when I try to correct myself I seem to make it worse.
I end up sitting there wishing there was some kind of life glitch where if I literally put my foot in my mouth it would reverse what I said.
No such luck.
When Jesse was telling Walk that he (Walt) was right. And that he (Jesse) did feel like a he deserves the bad that he gets, Walt looked shocked. You could tell Walk didn’t mean for Jesse to take that on as a label. Walt made that insult in a moment of anger and looked sad Jesse defined himself by it.
So don’t define yourself by someone else’s momentary anger. Or someone else’s poor communication skills. Or whatever they got going on.
I started rejecting the thoughts and statements of others about 5 years ago. My life is a lot different. I have less anxiety, I love myself a lot and it feels incredible (so much so I write about self-love so others can have it too!).
Someone once told me they thought I was an asshole. I would usually take that on and feel bad. But instead I responded, “why do you talk to me then? Seems dumb to talk to someone you think is an asshole.”Note, I gave them the opportunity to explain. Maybe they think I did an asshole thing. They can discuss what particular thing while not defining my entire being as “asshole.” I also said their ideology was dumb while not calling them dumb.
Not only does it feel incredible, it’s helped me to take more risks (starting my own business) and I feel more connected to who I am. My true self. I cry tears of joy.
Sometimes I’ll be doing something simple like cutting veggies for dinner, and while I’m lost in the present moment (when before I’d be ruminating over what people think, or feeling like garbage because of my labels) I’ll get so caught up in feelings of tranquility and joy that tears form. Tears are forming now as I reflect on it. THAT is how good this feels.
I’m no longer a label or reduced to one thing. I’m a complex human being and I keep raising my skills, because I can continually better myself and I’m going to do just that.
I want you to do that too. You are hereby given permission.
“I can reject the thoughts and statements of others.”
Photo by Debby Hudson