How to deal with Negative Labels

I really hate labels. Yet labels are what we give to ourselves and what we stick on other people.

Labels such as “She’s a doormat,” or “She’s super aggressive,” are often pinned on women – the first describes women who are passive and the latter, for those who are assertive and outspoken.

We really can’t help labelling people because it acts as a form of mental shorthand to identify, define and describe our feelings and opinions about someone – be it our child, our spouse, our boss, our friends, siblings, colleagues and acquaintances.

When I was 6 and in my first year at school, my well-meaning teacher wrote with bright red ink on my report card – Lazy and Careless – all because I had got Ds and Es in every one of my subjects!

Fast forward to my 20s in my first job as a junior copywriter in a local ad agency.  I was told bluntly by my superior that I would never be a copywriter because, “You suck at writing!” It was a judgement that struck fear in my heart and led to me labelling myself as a failure. I left the advertising business because I had no confidence that I could ever make it.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a big pile of negative labels and feedback given by other well-meaning significant people in my life. They are often along the lines of – “You’re not smart, effective, poised, mature, understanding, elegant….etc.. enough!”

This isn’t surprising. The world around us is awash with negativity, pessimism and bad news and we tend to focus on the bad things said about us, rather than the good.

If we’re not careful, we allow these negative labels to embed themselves deep into our consciousness and fix our mindsets. 

A fixed mindset takes the negative feedback or label and stops learning and asking questions. Instead, a fixed mindset determines that a label that’s stuck on you is valid and permanent. Sub-consciously, you start believing that you are that negative label and that you will never change!

But the truth is, you are in charge of your own emotions and you can judge the negative thoughts in your head.  The next time someone shoots a poisoned arrow at you, react as a judge would, by asking these questions:

  • Is this an unfair accusation or useful feedback?
  • What evidence is there to prove that this is an unfair accusation?
  • What evidence is there to prove that this is useful feedback?
  • If this is indeed useful feedback, how can I improve, change and grow?

The label that’s stuck on me as a child that I was ‘lazy and careless’ proved totally false. Thankfully my father did not panic when he read those words on my report card – he merely smiled and told me to try harder. He had a growth mindset and understood that all playful children need time and encouragement to come into their own.

As for the judgement pronounced on me that I would never be a writer – that label did not stick either! With maturity and insight, I gradually improved my writing skills and became a well paid freelancer and consultant. I have written and published my first book and am working on my second.

Labels don’t stick – because the only constant in life is change and change is within your power and in your hands!

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