Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stop Calling Me (Inaccurate) Names!

Irrational labelling, or assigning an inaccurate name to someone or something, tends to get us in trouble.  Many times we can get overly emotional about a subject or we limit our understanding of that subject just because of the name we choose to apply to it.

For example, lets look at the word catastrophe.  Many people call many events catastrophes, but are they really catastrophic or are they simply unfortunate? A catastrophe is a disaster that occurs suddenly and is widespread. So, if your date didn't go the way you had planned, is that necessarily a catastrophe, or is it merely an unfortunate circumstance?  If your significant other suddenly breaks up with you, is that a catastrophe, or is it something that is unpleasant or undesirable?

What about name-calling? We often call people names to put them in categories or to put them down. Lets use the word nerd as an example. We often label smart people as nerds. Just because someone is smart, does that mean that they possess all the qualities of a nerd?  Can a nerd, or a smart person, also be athletic or talented in another area?
Labelling becomes a problem when we allow the label to limit our view of ourselves or others.  If you say, "I am a failure," you are limiting your view of yourself to only those times that you have failed. You are not considering those times when you have had success. This, in turn, could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you start acting the part of a failure, then unintentionally set yourself up to fail more often, which makes your label more and more true to you.

When you assign a label to someone or accept a label that someone has put on you, consider whether this is an accurate label.  One of the most accurate labels that I have ever seen is that of "Fallible Human Being" (or FHB).  FHB describes every person I have ever known, including myself.  When you start to see yourself and other people as FHB's, notice how your demeanor becomes more calm and your world less stressful.

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life… no matter what! Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.