The Label Trap: Is Attaching to Labels Holding You Back from Real Life and Your True Potential?

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Stop Holding Back

One of the biggest barriers to getting the life we want and becoming the person we need to be to get there is labelling ourselves.

This is for two simple reasons:

  1. In order to make the most of our own REAL lives, we need to step up and be the real version of ourselves.
  2. Labels cause us to identify as PART of a group instead of being the WHOLE of whoever it is that we really are.

Being part of a group is obviously an important part of being a human being – “no man is an island”, after all –  but if being part of a group effaces who we really are because the group is based around static limitations rather than GROWING REAL then it can do more harm than ‘good’.

In the way that we’re using it here, ‘labels’ are catch-all terms that we use to describe ourselves to others that just end up erasing our own individuality (and the strengths and weaknesses that come with that which is totally normal when we’re being REAL).

Examples of labels might be:

-Mental and physical health conditions that we’ve been labelled with.

For example in my own experience: I have some health problems and could easily use these as a reason to focus on what I can’t do instead of what I can (and, thus, never do anything) because I’ve labelled myself as an “X Patient”.

-Stuff to do with our cultural background that we think we need to adhere to rigidly.

For example in my own experience: I might decide to fall into the stereotype of a typical reserved ‘Englishman’ and never really express what I truly think, feel, or want to do in order to keep a “stiff upper lip” (not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with that if it’s what you want to do).

-Political or subcultural labels like identifying with a certain political party (and feeling cognitive dissonance when you go outside of the boundaries of what they say you’re ‘allowed’ to believe in) or even something as simple as overly-identifying with a certain subculture and being a ‘rocker’ or a ‘hippy’ (or whatever) and never experiencing life outside of what those kinds of people are ‘supposed’ to do.

For example, from my own experience: I really love rocking out and listening to rock and metal. If I needed a sense of identity then I could easily pluck an identify off  the shelf and start growing my hair out even more, wearing more black than I already do, and hating any sell-outs that listen to deep house (which I also love) or doing anything ‘mainstream’ (in order to strengthen my own sense of identity and the LABELS I’ve arbitrarily decided to attach to).

-Ideas about what it means to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ and how these things might limit us or mean we need to behave in certain ways.

For example from my own experience: I might decide that I’ll define myself by certain outcomes that are supposed to make life ‘meaningful’ for guys like how many women I sleep with every week, how many steaks I eat on the weekend, and how often I get in a fight when I go to the pub (not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with that if it’s what you want to do).

-Being obsessed with certain superficial qualities of our physical bodies like the colour of our skin or how much we might weigh etc.

For example from my own experience: I might think that being a ‘white’ guy instead of being a human being actually means anything or think that because I work out and can do however many push-ups means anything in the scheme of things as a whole (when it just ‘means’ I like working out and have enough energy to do the things I need to do from one-day-to-the-next).

Sometimes, these labels might help us feel a sense of belonging – which is part of their appeal – but they can also cause us to be distanced from ourselves and to take ourselves out of reality.

Taking ourselves out of reality might feel good in the short-term – especially if we have a lot of emotional ‘stuff’ or unanswered questions and confusion we want to avoid – but in the long-term it only screws our lives up and causes unnecessary problems.

This is why you need to be aware of how the labels you’re applying to yourself might be screwing your life up and why you should maybe think about flipping the script on some of them if you want to feel better about yourself and your life.

When we’re REAL, we keep growing and we’re always works in progress; giving ourselves labels can stop us growing by making us feel like we’ve reached the end of the line (even if we don’t even LIKE where that end of the line might be).

This is something that we’re not really ‘supposed’ to talk about because – even though the labels we attach our identities to can hold us back – labels are something that we become EMOTIONALLY INVESTED in and often need to be true (to protect our own insanity).

When people have an emotional need for something to be true about themselves, the world and reality – i.e. WANTING for something to be true, rather than actually figuring out if it’s true or not – then it just increases the odds of conflict and disagreement when we question these things or try to think outside of the box that such labelling has put us in.

If you look at much of the insanity around you in the world today, it can be attributed to the WARS people are fighting over the labels they’ve CHOSEN to give themselves (and others) and a battle with reality and the rest of the  world to try and prove to themselves and others that certain labels are true.

Actually, in reality, if something is TRUE, then you don’t need to fight or lapse into CONTROL FREAKERY to try and defend it – it will just speak for itself because that’s what the truth does: exist in self-evident way (it doesn’t need people to argue about it because it’s beyond conflict and just THE TRUTH regardless of any arguments).

If you find that you have a lot of UNNECESSARY conflict and dramatic BS in your life, then there’s a good chance that you’ve labelled yourself in some way and it’s causing you more harm than good.

This article will help you determine if that’s the case.

Labels are a map, not the territory (reality).

Like with many things at the level of our thoughts and beliefs about our lives, the labels we use to make ‘sense’ of ourselves, the world, and reality are not the TRUTH about any of these things themselves but our interpretations and points of view based on how ready we are to face the actual truth.

Because these labels are ultimately about trying to make sense of a chaotic and indifferent universe – where human beings are incapable of knowing and understanding everything because of our limited perception and then limited interpretations about what we perceive – then a good analogy is to see these ‘labels’ as maps that we’ve DECIDED to try and use to NAVIGATE life.

Like any tool, however, these ‘maps’ (labels) are always only ever a way of working with (or against, depending how much BS we’ve picked up) reality, not reality itself.

If you treat the map itself as the reality – which is what many of us do with the labels we’ve become attracted to – then we’ll never really get anywhere and we’ll never learn anything in our EXPERIENCE that can help us grow real in the way that we want to.

Treating the labels you’ve picked up as being the end of the line – instead of going out and EXPERIENCING LIFE and seeing what you’re capable of – is the same as looking at the Disney Land brochure online, familiarising yourself with the map of the theme park, and telling yourself that you now know everything there is to know about Disney Land.

Yes, maybe CONCEPTUALLY, you can tell yourself and others where certain things are in relation to other things at Disney Land – you might even have a loose understanding of what each ride is like because of the blurbs you read in that same brochure.

Here’s the rub, though: if you only have the MAP in your head, then you just have a BELIEF SYSTEM comprised of conceptual knowledge and information.  Unless you actually go to Disney Land and USE the map to get from one place to another and enjoy the rides (etc.) then you don’t actually KNOW anything real – you just have ideas that you picked up and CONDITIONED yourself with.

When you LABEL yourself without GOING OUT and actually finding out the truth about yourself for real – by taking action – then you’re just living in the COMFORT ZONE of your mind and stopping yourself from experiencing something that’s actually REAL.

This applies even if the ‘map’ you have does point to something that exists out there in ‘reality’ (like in the Disney Land example): if you don’t go out there and EXPERIENCE life for yourself then you’re just living in your own head and telling yourself it’s all life has to offer.

Labels help you to make sense of something difficult you’ve been through.

Essentially, the main attraction of labels is that they give us something to HOLD ONTO that gives us a feeling of certainty. Unfortunately, life itself is UNCERTAIN which means that clinging to labels just creates a sense of unnecessary friction between the way that we see ourselves and interact with the world and REALITY itself.

The appeal of labels, especially if we’ve been through a difficult period in our lives – or if we have a lot of unresolved emotional ‘stuff’ like shame, guilt, or even trauma – is that the sense of ‘certainty’ they provide can give us a stepping stone towards finding a sense of direction or purpose again (in an uncertain reality they give us a taste of something certain).

In this sense, as a short-term solution to the problem of dealing with ‘life’, then it’s understandable why people find labelling themselves to be a useful COPING DEVICE for dealing with things.

In my opinion, this is why a lot of people who have a lot of emotional turbulence or who have been through difficult periods in their lives are more likely to attach to labels than people whose lives may have been a little ‘easier’ or where they have had less intense emotional ‘stuff’ to deal with.

When we have a lot of emotional ‘stuff’ to deal with, our natural tendency can be to try and hide from the uncertainty that comes with it by finding something to be certain about that can explain why we’ve found ourselves in whatever situation we’ve found ourselves in and explain away a lot of the associated negative emotions we have from being in a difficult situation.

A harsh fact about life that a lot of us try to avoid is that the current state of our lives is often a CONSEQUENCE of our relationship with ourselves and how much responsibility we’re willing to take for our own lives.

Even in situations that weren’t necessarily our ‘fault’, once things are done and dusted, it’s up to US and us alone to deal with the emotional fallout and to learn to forgive ourselves for whatever choices we might have made and  to learn to REGULATE our own emotional ‘stuff’ so we can MOTIVATE OURSELVES to move in the REAL direction we want to move towards here in the present moment.

Because facing this ‘stuff’ can be painful and may lead to us reconfiguring the way that we live our lives, it’s often easier to find a label that explains a lot of our own responsibility for our lives away and gives us a convenient excuse to keep wallowing in self-pity or to – at the very least – set us up for justifying the failure that will come from not acting to change our lives in the way that we really want.

When we have this kind of ‘stuff’ going on then labels can help us to make ‘sense’ of a past we can’t let go of, a present we don’t want to face, and a future we don’t want to take any ownership over.

The problem with making ‘sense’ is that a lot of things that aren’t REAL or even TRUE still ‘make sense’ to us if we want them to. That’s fine as a short-term way of avoiding some of our pain but – in the long-term – it’s only going to bring friction, frustration, and misery to our lives as we distance ourselves more and more from reality.

 

Labels are like armbands – eventually you need to swim without them.

All this is to say that labels are like armbands (stick with me here) – when we’re first learning to ‘swim’ in life’s great ocean of chaos and uncertainty then they can keep us afloat and stop us from drowning.

Maybe you get diagnosed with a physical or mental health condition, for example:

In those early stages of your relationship with your ‘illness’, then you probably don’t know that much about it or what to expect; your skills at dealing with the condition won’t have been refined yet, your conceptual and experiential knowledge of the condition will both be at low levels, and your confidence in your ability to ‘deal’ with it will be almost non-existent too because you’re probably scared (because you haven’t accepted things yet as you haven’t had a chance to learn) and you don’t know what you’re capable of.

A label in these early stages can actually help you learn to ‘swim’ within the context of whatever you’ve got going on because it will give you a frame of reference for how to deal with things and a direction to move in.

There’s nothing stopping you from living according to the label for the rest of your life – in this analogy we’ve got going though that would just be the same as never taking your armbands off.

If you’re afraid of drowning without them then maybe that’s a good idea; if you really want to know who you ARE and what you’re capable of then – when you’re ready – you need to learn to swim without the armbands so that your life is really yours, not just some idea that you picked up about it so that you could SURVIVE whatever you’re dealing with and not actually THRIVE in life.

People are scared they’ll drown without the label (because they only have the label to deal with shame, guilt, and/or trauma).

This fear of ‘drowning’ helps us to understand why some of us become so attached to the labels that have helped us stay afloat: we do it because we’re actually afraid of life and by fighting for our labels we’re actually fighting for the devices that have helped us to survive whatever we’ve been through.

Obviously, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with that – if something is helping us to stay afloat in life then it’s not up to anybody else to tell us whether or not what we’re doing makes sense or not.

The ironic thing, though, in my view, is that these labels may help us to survive in the short-term but the longer we cling to them and stop facing actual reality – i.e. looking at the ‘truth’ we may be blocking from view because of these labels – then the more harmful these labels become because they just cause us to be disconnected from ourselves, the world, and reality.

This is true of not just labels but our sense of identity as a whole: it’s a short-term survival mechanism that screws our lives up the more we keep trying to keep it in place without learning or growing through it.

In general, it seems as  though people are scared of drowning without their labels, comfortable points of view, ‘ego’, etc. etc., but actually what’s happening when they cling to these things is that they’re just scared of letting these things go because they’re attempting to keep their shame, guilt, and trauma at bay (which made them create a box for themselves to live in in the first place).

The actual fact is that when you let go of these COPING MECHANISMS then you realise that a lot of the emotional ‘stuff’ you’re trying to hide from is actually unreal and that when you hit the ocean of reality you can’t drown – you can only RIDE the reality waves to wherever it is that you want to be (as long as you choose a real vision for yourself and dedicate yourself to action with consistency, discipline, and focus).

Labels just erase our individuality which is actually what will ‘save’ us.

No real human being ever saved themselves or created a REAL life by trying to be just like everybody else.  Sure, we can learn from other people and see what’s worked for them in certain contexts, but – at the end of the day – no other human being has ever lived the life that we’re living and gone through the same things in the same way.

Sometimes, we might think that other people have the answers or can ‘save’ us but actually – even in the very best cases – all anybody else can really do is help us to better understand ourselves so that we can start listening to our OWN VOICE and then doing something with it as our ‘own’ man or woman.

This is because – no matter who you are – the only thing that will really help you to get where you want to be in life is your own INDIVIUALITY.

This doesn’t mean that you fall into the trap of trying to “THINK DIFFERENT” just for the sake of it (that’s EGO).

It just means that you walk your own path based on what you’ve learned for yourself by using your own CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE to weigh up all of the options and make a decision about what you need to do to be the real version of yourself.

Whenever you become overly-invested in a group (something you can only become overly-invested in as an attempt to hide from  yourself and reality) then you just end up erasing your true identity and all of the amazing things about you that will allow you to actually thrive in the way that will make you feel truly alive.

In my opinion (again), this is why so many people in the world get carried away with groups, causes, and movements without really caring what they stand for or are trying to change in the world – it’s not because they necessarily believe in the ‘cause’ but because it gives them a sense of identity that they don’t have to worry about choosing or creating for themselves (through the hard work of action and experience).

In other words, they might not know who they really are because they’re not willing to face their own emotional ‘stuff’ and so by getting carried away with a ‘movement’ it does two things for them: 1) it gives them a distraction from having to face anything real, 2) it gives them something to believe in that fills the void of not knowing themselves.

You’ll know if this makes sense to you or not when you think about the world and the various movements people are getting carried away over.

To get back to the main point, though, when people give themselves to ‘groups’ either directly or by applying labels to themselves, they just end up limiting their own options for growth and erasing their own individuality to become one of the faceless members of the group or label in question.

This might offer psychological comfort if you have a screwed up relationship with yourself but in the long-term it just prevents you from facing your ‘Shadow’ stuff and growing real.

By choosing a ‘label’ to give yourself you’re just lumping yourself with all of the other people that have that same label.  You’ll know how this applies in your own life or in the lives of people that you know but ask yourself this: “How am I different from everybody else with the label of [X]?”  – somewhere in the answer to that question is your way to true salvation (or whatever word you wanna use).

Labels give you a convenient excuse by telling you what you CAN’T do which stops you focusing on what you CAN do.

By labelling yourself in a certain way, you only end up holding yourself back because you just give yourself a bunch of reasons to focus on what you CAN’T do rather than what you CAN.

This gives you a sense of certainty (as we saw above) but the PRICE you pay for this feeling of certainty is that you can no longer express yourself because you’re locked behind a bunch of limitations and unhealthy beliefs at the same time.

Normally, when we focus on the “CAN’T DO” because of the label we either forget about or minimise the “CAN DO”. This is just the EGO’s way of stopping us from taking action and growing real.

For example:

You CAN’T climb a mountain because you’re a X PATIENT(but maybe you CAN still walk around the park and – actually – maybe you CAN climb that mountain but you don’t know unless you go find out).

You CAN’T listen to rock music you like because you’re a DEEP HOUSE HEAD (when actually you CAN listen to whatever you want).

You CAN’T wear a pink shirt because you’re a MANLY MAN (when actually you CAN).

You CAN’T express your true opinion because you don’t want to rock the boat as a RESERVED ENGLISH MAN (when actually you CAN say whatever you want if you’re willing to live with the consequences).

Etc.

The point is that most labels only focus your attention on the actions you “shouldn’t” take rather than the ones that you actually CAN and want to take to be authentic.

Labels keep you in the past when actually you can only find solutions in the present by moving towards the future.

Because labels are really just MENTAL CONCEPTS that you’ve picked up on your life journey, they’re just a summation of whatever STORY you’re telling yourself about where you think you’ve been.

This is fine as we all need to make ‘sense’ of our lives (understanding the limitations of ‘sense’ pointed out above) but the point needs to be made that every time you try and ACT OUT according to a label you’ve identified with then you’re just repeating the past.

In this sense, then, labels just reinforce the story you’re telling yourself about how you got where you currently happen to be.

If you’re HAPPY with where you are and you don’t have any desire to change or improve anything then that’s fine: keep telling yourself the same old story because it’s obviously working.

If you do have a desire to change or improve your life then that means you need to REWRITE the story and that means assessing your relationship with whatever ‘labels’ you’re giving yourself and identifying with.

Here’s something that can help you as you try to change and improve your life:

You can only find solutions in the PRESENT and they’re only really ‘solutions’ if they move you towards a FUTURE that you want to be living in.

In this context, the past isn’t really as impactful as you might have been led to believe. That doesn’t mean that you forget about the past or that you brush it aside – it just means that you need to work on ACCEPTING it so that you can focus on wherever you are now in a realistic way and then make a CHOICE about what you want to do with it.

If you’re too attached to labels that aren’t serving you and that are just reinforcing a story that’s holding you back, then you’re just DISTORTING your vision of what’s available to you here and now in the present; you’re also limiting your capacity to achieve something real and to ACT on the story of WHO YOU WANT TO BECOME IN THE FUTURE, not who your labels tell you that you’ve ‘been’ and still happen to ‘be’.

That might sound like an oversimplification but all it means is this: as long as you have a REAL VISION for the life you want to be living and the person you need to become to make that happen then the labels and stories you’ve told yourself about the past aren’t really that important.

Instead of labels you’re better off focusing on the skills and qualities you’re trying to develop to live the life you want to live.

A lot of people won’t like to read what I just said about the past not mattering that much in the scheme of things. It really doesn’t, though: what’s done is done and you either accept it and decide what you’re gonna do about it based on where you’ve currently found yourself or you just keep dwelling on it and don’t get anywhere.

When we ‘dwell’ on things it doesn’t mean that we’re actually growing, learning, or moving forward – it just means that we’re repeating the same old thoughts in our heads again and again like a hamster running around on a wheel.  Nothing ever changes and we never make ourselves any happier by doing this.

The main thing that keeps us on this ‘hamster wheel’ is the story we keep telling ourselves about who we are based on where we think we’ve been and the labels that we’ve attached to ourselves because of this. Every time we identify with those labels we’re just feeding into that BS story and greasing that hamster wheel so it can keep going.

To break free of the labels you need to ACCEPT where you’ve been and learn what you can from it and then follow this three-step process:

  1. Create a vision for where you want to be in the FUTURE.
  2. Be REAL with yourself about where you are in relation to that vision in the PRESENT.
  3. Start to become the person who can make that vision a reality by cultivating the SKILLS and QUALITIES you need to make it happen.

This process allows you to become the person you want to become whilst also embracing who you currently happen to be (based on the CHOICES you’ve made and what you’ve been through).

More importantly, it helps you to LEARN from the past without putting yourself in a box and limiting yourself because of the labels you’ve given yourself.

In this context, ‘Skills’ are just practical things you’ll need to be able to do to make your vision a reality (so let’s say you want to start a production company – you might need to learn videography, editing, marketing, etc.).

‘Qualities’ are just the personal traits you’ll need to tap into like ‘assertiveness’, ‘creativity’, ‘acceptance’, or whatever else.

In relation to your own life and vision these things will be unique to you alone and the experience you already have – what’s for sure though is that if you label yourself as just being whatever it is that you are right now then you won’t take the actions needed to grow REAL and you’ll just keep getting the same old story you already have.

Stop letting ‘labels’ hold you back and go and live the life you really want.

 


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