For some reason human beings need to name things. It has something to do with our need to create order and know where we stand and what is going on. In the Biblical story of Genesis and the process of creation it comes to the point when God parades all the animals of the earth, sea and air before Adam and he names each and everyone. That always struck me as strange, but then I would see people around me needing to name things. So, someone sees a bird that is new to them and the first thing that they would ask is ‘what is that bird called?’
This week we had an email from a listener who was asking about how they could improve their situation and move forward in life. The thing that stuck out in their communication was their need to name and label their various symptoms and condition. I know that this was a way of communicating their situation but it reminded me of the many clients that I have seen over the years who first were given a label and second became am expert in their label.
If someone is given the label ‘clever’ then we know from research that they tend to achieve more because that is their expectation. The same is true if someone is told that they are an ‘idiot’, they tend to play out their expectation. This is the living reality of…
…thoughts become things
In psychiatry and psychotherapy we are obsessed with giving people labels. The DSM, the diagnostic manual, labels things that were once considered normal behaviour that are now considered disorders.
One of the biggest issues is that once someone is given a diagnosis followed by a label they tend to become the expert in their own condition. Once they accept the list of symptoms associated with their label they then expect the symptoms to take place and may even encourage them. This process often serves to fix someone into their label and diagnosis and stops them improving or overcoming their issues. Once someone believes that this is simply the way that they are then they are right and will not progress. Because thoughts become things they will never change or have the expectation that they can change.
We do this for ourselves. We develop ideas about who we are. We have a self image that may be positive or negative. Once we believe that the ideas that we have about ourself are the truth then we play them out and reinforce them. We may even do this with our name. Our name becomes a label and we associate it with all kinds of ideas and feelings. But our name may come in several forms. We shorten names and sometimes use nick names to change someone’s label. I am called Sean however some people call me Seanie. The feelings behind the label Sean are very different to the label Seanie. If someone is called Rosemary they may also be called Rose, Mary, Ro and each of these labels will have a different image and emotions related with them.
It is good to understand the labels that we use for our self and for other people. When I was young I was told off for calling someone ‘an epileptic’. It was made clear to me that they were a person who suffered from epilepsy, they were concerned that they should not be limited or defined by the label epileptic.
When we mindfully use words, language and labels they help us to communicate and to understand. When we use words, language and labels mindlessly they can confine, diminish or limit who and what we and other people are.
Perhaps this is a good time to review the labels that we are using and decide if they are mindlessly limiting who we are and what we do, or are they allowing us to move mindfully forward in life towards our own fulfilment.
Take care and be happy (that is a good label)