I'm reading David Burns' book Feeling Good, and while I'm actually becoming less of a fan of cognitive-behavioral therapy while reading it, I did like this passage:
"Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating, it is irrational. Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do. Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you are more like a river than a statue. Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels - they are overly simplistic and wrong. Would you think of yourself exclusively as an "eater" just because you eat, or a "breather" just because you breathe? This is nonsense, but such nonsense becomes painful when you label yourself out of a sense of your own inadequacies."
He goes on to talk about labeling others: "When you label other people, you will invariably generate hostility."
These aspects of self- and other-labeling brought to mind both how narcissistic parents tend to label their children (cold-hearted, the artistic one, dependable, moody, forgetful, bitchy, good, bad, etc) and also how we internalize those labels and apply them and others to ourselves. It also reminded me of the special ed mantra "put the child before the disability," because saying "an autistic child" focuses on what you think is wrong with the child, while saying "a child with autism" allows you to think of the child as a whole person, and their diagnosis as just one aspect of who he or she is. It helps you to think of the child in terms of what he or she can do, rather than what they can't. This is true of any child, not just those with a medical or psychological diagnosis. The difference between a "difficult child" and a "child who is sometimes difficult to parent" can be vast. The same goes for labeling ourselves. Am I lazy, or am I a person who sometimes feels sluggish? Am I forgetful, or do I sometimes forget to do something?
I'm going to think about what labels I put on myself today. Where did they come from? When do I use them? Can I change the way I apply them?