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Why You Shouldn’t Label Yourself

The way people talk about themselves in therapy sometimes, it’s clear that certain things they do are a mystery to them.

“I’m really bad at calling people back,” is the kind of generalization I regularly hear as a therapist.

“Why do you think so?” I ask.

“Um… because I don’t call people back?”

Just as there are reasons for everything you do, there are reasons for the things you don’t do.

In the example above, as soon as we looked at a recent example from the client’s life, we both saw a very good reason for her hesitation in returning the call.

Context is Everything

In this particular case, someone had called to congratulate the client on a recent accomplishment.

She felt she should return the call and thank the caller, especially because they hadn’t talked in a while.

However, the caller was also an ex-boyfriend and the client was newly married (context).

She was hesitating because, as a married woman, she wasn’t sure how much to cultivate the relationship with her ex.

Doesn’t that make sense?

Instead of acknowledging her uncertainty about this new terrain, she’d rushed to judgment.

Her impulse was to pin a familiar label on herself that said “Bad at returning calls.”

When I asked whether she ever returns calls, the client admitted that she typically does so promptly when they’re not laden with conflict or confusing subtext.

Be a Behavior Detective

I bet if you scratch a generalization about your behavior, you’ll find specific information that explains each point in the pattern.

So the next time you decide to slap a label on yourself — like “lazy,” “bad at” this or that, “shy,” etc. — ask yourself if it’s really true all the time.

Then get to work figuring out what’s going on in each case that’s informing the behavior.

If you can find some context to explain your actions like my client did in the example above, you’ll gain a clearer and more compassionate picture.

This will stand you in good stead as you move toward fulfilling your purpose in life.

If you’re some who always ____ or who never ____ (fill in the blanks), there’s little room for change or improvement.

But if you’re someone who simply responds to context the way reasonable people tend to do, you can feel better about yourself.

You can then use that good feeling as fuel for moving forward with confidence.

Try it, and let me know how it goes.

 

 

 

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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