What's your label?
For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by labels. Not the ones on jars or packets (although they’re an important part of this) but the ones we give ourselves. Recently, on one of my published posts, the photo that was with my article wasn’t of me. Now, the picture was a good one, of someone smiling, but it wasn’t me! My immediate reaction to this was ‘that’s not right!’. When I reflected on why this was so important, I realised it was because I felt my article was somehow misrepresented, the label was wrong. And I realised just how important labels can be.
Let’s just go back to those labels on jars for a moment. When I see something labelled as strawberry jam, I expect it to contain just that - just strawberry jam. Nothing else. And I don’t expect it to change at any point. I don’t expect to get it home and find it’s changed to blackcurrant. So, labels can be useful; they can give us signposts in life, keep the world in order and let us know ‘what we’re getting’.
However, what happens when labels start to keep us stuck? I was diagnosed with asthma some years ago. The diagnosis allowed me to find an appropriate treatment which was useful. However, I found myself saying things like ‘my asthma’ and waving it around like it somehow defined me. If someone were to refer to someone by saying ‘he’s ADHD you know’ it's as though this is the only thing that defines them. People write themselves off without even thinking about it, ‘I could never go to a party because I’m shy’. How many opportunities do we miss because of a label that we’ve (or, let’s face it someone else has) applied?
Now, I realise that this youngster may never be free of all of his symptoms of ADHD, I’ll never be cured of asthma and some people may always feel shy, but I began to wonder what happened if we use language slightly differently. So, I’ve started saying ‘I have symptoms of asthma,’ or something similar. Somehow, it frees up my expectations that, maybe tomorrow, my breathing will be easier. And, even if it’s not, I can still be a partner, trainer, friend, coach etc. Even if I’m struggling with my breathing; it’s not all of me! I can still take part in life in my own way without being defined by a diagnosis or label. I wonder if the people around someone with ADHD began to talk about their symptoms as something separate to them, whether it might free them up to take their place in the world regardless of their diagnosis.
So, now you can see why I’m fascinated by the labels that people give themselves. Next time you’re describing yourself, just notice the language you use and see how helpful or unhelpful it really is!
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