A Glimmer A Day

Unhelpful Labels

Are you the Naughty, Greedy, Shy, or Clever one?

Have you ever found yourself given an unhelpful label to describe you? Has that label stuck with you even after becoming an adult? Perhaps you were labelled by family members as a child or teenager, or maybe at school, by colleagues at work, or even by friends and acquaintances?

Words like ‘bossy’, ‘bitchy’, ‘shy’, ‘quiet’, ‘mean’, ‘troublemaker’, ‘clever’, ‘stupid’, ‘sneaky’, ‘argumentative’, ‘arrogant’, ‘joker’, ‘naughty’, ‘good’, ‘stuck up’, ‘opinionated’, ‘loud’, ‘challenging’, ‘greedy’, ‘manipulative’… etc. may have been used to your face or how you were represented to others within your hearing range.

Why are we labelled?

I suspect most of us have been labelled at some point in our lives, usually unfairly by people who wanted to take us down a peg or two. Perhaps they were jealous of us, angry at us, or maybe just being unkind. Sometimes we are labelled due to laziness or shortsightedness as there is a failure to look beyond the current behaviour and remember that we humans are complicated creatures with many different facets of character. We are not one- dimensional robots that can be programmed to behave in a certain way.

You’re such a Good Child, always do what you’re told!

No labels are helpful even the so-called ‘nice ones’. Subconsciously we internalise the labels given to us including all of the negative associations.

Being labeled the ‘good girl’ sets you up for a lifetime of people pleasing and being unable to put your own needs first or to put boundaries in place. This leads to being taken advantage of, resentment, and the feeling that you don’t know who you authentically are.

Being labeled the ‘smart’ kid puts too much pressure on you to always perform, perhaps you become an anxious perfectionist where your best is never good enough or you stop trying and never reach your full potential due to an overwhelming fear of failure or of letting everyone down.

Everyone remembers who the Naughty Kid was

Negative labelling of kids such as ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ will eventually take its toll on self-esteem and affect mental health. For a child displaying challenging behaviours it can feel pointless to try and display more socially acceptable behaviours as to them it feels that the worst is expected of them anyway. Being labelled as ‘stupid’ or ‘not as bright as his sister’ can lead to resentment between siblings and the labelled child gives up trying so hard as to what’s the point, he’s no good at school, and his sister is the smart one.

These labels create feelings of shame and all the other negative emotions that make us feel less than others. It is very difficult for kids to understand that what someone says about you isn’t always factual especially if it’s said by a trusted authority figure such as a parent or teacher.

When something is said often enough it sticks. So-called ‘naughty’ kids are put in a box without the resources or ability to make changes to their behaviours because no one, including themselves, thinks they can.

If your child could do well he would do well

Dr Ross Greene argues that “if your child could do well he would do well”. He says:

“Challenging kids are lacking in skills of flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving skills most of us take for granted.” — Ross W. Greene, The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

Instead of putting our children in certain labelled boxes that will cause long-term emotional pain and issues and assuming they are behaving that way intentionally, we need to attempt to work out where there are unmet needs, stressors or skills that are lacking which are causing the child to act out.

Do you have negative passengers in your brain?

These negative labels also often carry over into our adult life as passengers in our brains whispering horrible things like “You’re just a bad person, everyone hates you, you don’t deserve this nice life” or “No one cares what you think so just shut up and say nothing!”

Our inner critic is usually parroting things we heard when we were young and once you are aware of how destructive it is to your mental health it is helpful to chat to a mental health professional to get strategies in place to make it quieter. When we are mentally feeling strong the voice is much quieter and we can rationalise that the horrible character assassinations are just not true. It is in the low moments when we are feeling sad or disappointed or rejected that the inner critic becomes loud and we start to allow it to affect our behaviours. “I won’t apply for that promotion even though I’m experienced and qualified, I’m not smart enough to do that job.” or “I’ll not go to the new art class even though I love art, I’m too shy and people will think I’m really stuck up because I don’t talk much”.

Finding your Glimmer when feeling down about yourself

When we let negative thoughts get the better of us and we are feeling that we are not good enough I would like you to remember two things:

First of all, remind yourself that thoughts are not facts, they are just thoughts that come and go and are dependent on our mood and we should not believe everything we think. We should not accept them as written in stone as thoughts are fleeting, you can acknowledge them but then let them go.

Secondly, I would like you to look for your glimmer if you are in a negative thought spiral. If you are feeling negatively about yourself for example you got a low mark in a test, focus on a time where you have done well in something and felt proud of what you achieved, remember that feeling. Or perhaps you are feeling rejected that you haven’t been invited to an event with other school mums. Call up, message or arrange to meet a trusted friend so you can remember that you are loved and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, it’s that school mum’s cliques’ loss, not yours!

There are so many examples, but finding your glimmer will interrupt those negative thought patterns. Remember you are not a label, you are a myriad of awesome humanness that just cannot be put in a box!