Changing your labels

Photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash

We are, all of us, addicted to labels.

How many times a day do you make statements about yourself, whether they are spoken aloud or are part of your inner dialogue?

We label everything and everyone around us, and we label ourselves. We are also labeled by others which often makes us label ourselves in return, or makes us rebel against the label.

We use labels to form our identity. We make statements about us that define us. Once we establish a label or a definition, we try to be consistent with it, try to live up to it, whether it is positive or negative.

I am stubborn.

I am a pessimist by nature.

I never find the right words to say when in conflict.

I never stand up for myself.

I always make this or that mistake.

I am a good listener.

Truth is, not much about labels is true, if you really think about it. You might be stubborn in some or even most of your relationships or situations, but lenient in others or even just one. Which one are YOU, then; the stubborn one, or the lenient one? You might usually suck at standing up for yourself, but you sure did stand up to that guy last week. In his eyes you are very assertive, right?

Which definition is true, then? What is your consistent, never changing, true nature, what are the traits which define you and your personality?

How many times has it happened that someone labeled you, and then you, on a subconscious level lived up to witness that label as your own, even if you didn’t agree with it when first labeled? Your every move reassures you you are it? (Uh, what I did right now was selfish, right? She said I was selfish, and this proves it!)

I have come to the conclusion that none of that is real. I play many parts in my life, and seeing myself from other peoples’ perspectives really opened my eyes. My interactions vary with different people, even in different situations with the same people; as do everyone elses. I might be lenient towards some, and stubborn with others, I might be submissive with some, assertive with others, I might be optimistic in eyes of some, and pessimistic in eyes of others; it’s all me. I am all of those traits, and none of them.

I have read somewhere, that we see a river as always the same, when in fact, as the water always flows, it is never the same river.

We see it as the same, even though it’s ever changing, we see it as the same even if not one atom is the same as merely a minute ago. I will not dig deeper into the philosophy at this point, and questions such as what are we, if not our traits, emotions or even thoughts; as these discussion would go far out of the scope of this story.

My point here is; if you become aware that you are and can be all of those opposite things at once; generous and cheap, fast and slow, smart and stupid, easygoing and difficult; you might try to play this knowledge to your favor.

How? You might think that the obvious answer might be — stop labeling yourself or others. But no. This is probably not possible unless you are one meditation away from the zen state of unity with all of the universe, which is probably the only way to a label-free life (although, even then you might label yourself as the ‘inlightened one’).

Joke aside, the sad truth is, we need labels to define stuff, and we’re going to use them, whether we like it or not. Upon realising this, here’s what I did.

I changed my story. I switched my label.

I started with one that bothered me the most.

When someone would put me down in a polite manner, I could never find the right words to say to stand up for myself. I would later on, replay that situation in my head over and over again, torturing myself with what I should have said or done. I felt victimised many times over, once by the person who put me down, later by myself for being incompetent.

My inner dialoge was brimming with statements such as:

I never find the right words to say.

I never stand up for myself.

I would even discuss this with people close to me, and I would repeat the same sappy story to them; I don’t know how, I can’t do it, I’m to polite to retaliate, and so forth.

Once I realised what I was doing, and once I realised that I wasn’t going to become good at standing up to people by chewing on some situation long after it is over, I decided to play with the label.

I labeled myself as one who always finds right words to say.

I always say the exact right thing at the right time.

I am a very assertive person.

Since we are not likely to believe something we know to be false, I chose less threatening scenes to practise my new trait of assertiveness, thus slowly coming out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t let some harmless comments slide, which I normally would; but since it was in situations which I considered ‘low risk’, I would force myself to utter something assertive here or there, until I was able to perceive myself as at least a partially assertive person.

Soon enough, I was talking to one of the people who was in a habit of putting me down, and when they did, I felt a surge of emotions. ‘Now’s the time’ said my reason, ‘say whatever comes in mind, you always find the right words in the right time’. Bingo! I had chaged my label.

If you have traits about yourself you dislike, prove yourself and/or others otherwise, even if you have to fake it till you make it. Neither one of our stories is set in stone, we are as changeable as the flowing river, physically and psychologically, while always remaining us at the same time.