It feels good to know that other people are just like me, especially when I have been going through tough times. When I discover a group of people going through the same thing as I am, I am reassured and comforted.
Often these groups will have a way of identifying themselves and their experiences. I can go online and discover a labeled group for practically every emotion that I feel.
Anxious and depressed? There are groups for that. Hypochondria kicking in? Plenty of blogs for that. Feeling extra sensitive and introverted? There are communities for those labels too. Yoga phase has you feeling spiritual? Hop on Twitter and follow the hashtags. Upset from chronic digestive issues? Just look on Facebook.
When I connect with people who label themselves the same things I label myself, I feel less alone. Normal, even. My experiences are validated and explained. These labels allow me to accept myself and what I am going through. But this can be a problem.
Although I use labels myself, I do so halfheartedly. There is always an uncomfortable feeling that lurks when I label myself or another. Here are some of the questions that pop into my head when I use labels:
- What would happen if I were to take this label away?
- How would I feel if I no longer identified with that group?
- Would I still be able to accept myself just as I am?
- Would I be 100 percent okay with myself if I were the only one with these experiences?
This is where identifying with labels ultimately reveals an inherent problem. I want to be able to accept myself exactly as I am, even if it means I am alone in my experience. I want to love and accept myself because I am worthy of it, not because there is an explanation for why I am the way I am. But how easy is this to do?
Our society is really hung up on labels. A glaring example of this is when people have introduced themselves at an event. The inevitable next question is “what do you do?” At this point, an appropriate title or label is answered. “I’m a ____.”
This is a classic example of how labels gives us our sense of identity. I want to say, “Really? Are you a ____? Or is it just something you do?” Our jobs are a part of us, but there is so much more to consider. I have discovered people (including myself) want to compartmentalize, label, and put others in a box. What would happen if we were to say, “Nice to meet you, tell me a bit about yourself” instead? This type of exchange would allow information to be shared without the use of labels.
Are all labels bad, though? For example, when I consider people who are experiencing physical or mental problems, they need a label (diagnosis) in order to receive the right treatment. This label is necessary and productive. At the same time, it can be very limiting.
There are instances where labels and corresponding limitations are very real, and it takes acceptance to be at peace with these circumstances. But what about the times when limitations from these labels are self-inflicted? We often allow our labels to dictate who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act. We get caught in circumstances where we don’t venture outside of our labeled box. I did this when I labeled myself too sensitive to see a concert, too inexperienced to apply for a job, or too anxious to go on a trip. Some labels are mandatory, but many are not.
I have struggled my whole life with self-acceptance. I would emphasize outside circumstances to give me feelings of validation. I would need to have the right appearance, the right job, the right set of skills and interests to feel like I was good enough. I was giving my power away to circumstances and labels that had nothing to do with the real me.
Recently, I have learned to turn this around. I am becoming accepting of who I am, stripped of everything. I love myself because there are a lot of great things to love about me. But my job, clothes, skills, and assets are not why I accept myself. And no label will ultimately give me that sense of self-worth. I am going to try my hardest to not allow any label to dictate or inform me of who I am. And if we happen to meet each other at a party, I look forward to learning a bit about who you are, not what you do.
Removing Labels image via Shutterstock.