Labeling and Self Esteem

| Ashley Davis LMFT

Labeling is a large contributor to poor self esteem which is often overlooked.  Labeling within a behavioral health context means using a broad (often negative) term to describe oneself based upon one’s behaviors and/or thinking patterns.  Labeling creates an issue where negative  behaviors and thoughts no longer become temporary or mildly uncomfortable but instead contribute to one’s definition of oneself which can be difficult to undermine.

For example, maybe you create a work or academic report that is given back to you to rewrite due to several mistakes.  You may feel anxious, embarrassed, or stressed about the fact that this report was not up to par the first time you turned it in.  You may feel that your coworkers, boss, and/or teachers are judging your ability to perform based upon this work.  You may be concerned that you will be unable to produce adequate work in the future.  This can lead you to easily define yourself by this one negative event through potential label of yourself a poor employee/student.  This label by its definition seems finite and will color your perception on anything you do for work/school moving forward.

So how do we change the labels we put upon ourselves?  Consider instead more flexible possibilities for your mistakes in the future.  Perhaps the report had too many mistakes because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before or because you were distracted by a friend texting you.  Then you can be more aware in the future that sleeping poorly or being distracted can affect your work/school performance and you can change those habits in the future.

Another method of combating labeling is to define the term outside of yourself first and then decide if the term still fits you.  For example, if you had labelled yourself as a poor employee/student as a result of the above-mentioned report ask yourself how would I define a poor employee/student?  Maybe you might say a poor employee/student is late to work/class or they do not work well with others.  Then ask yourself if that definition defines you.  If not, let go of that as a label for yourself.

If you have poor self esteem, consider exploring labels you may have for yourself or check with trusted supports to see if they note any ways you define yourself that do not seem to fit with who you really are.  Re-labeling yourself in a more truthful way can greatly assist you on the journey towards good self esteem and positive self worth.

Today's the day to make a change.