Labelling & mislabelling: overgeneralising an event

Labelling & Mislabelling : overgeneralising a single error or event,  and attaching generalized pejorative labels to a person or to yourself : “you’re useless”, “I am an idiot”.

The nominalization implies that “you are an idiot” or  that “they are useless” 100% of the time. In fact, you have just labeled a single event in time, which only lasted minutes or hours, as being representative of  most of your time.  You have in all effect globally rated something that is far too complex for a definite label.

Labeling is one of the most heavily emotionally loaded of 12 common thinking errors.

The dangers of labeling:

A single action hastily labeled will create a precedent in your mind to look for a repetition of similar events. The label will then become an anchored thought pattern. This naturally happens because much of human behavior is mechanical: this means that once habits are in place, they run automatically. Each time you experience a similar situation, you will automatically trigger a particular set of emotions in you.

You will come to expect that “they are useless”  and that “you are an idiot” and will hunt unconsciously for a validation of this belief, whenever an opportunity presents itself. The person’s actions however positive, will be seen in a defocused light, since they are useless. Your own actions will never be good enough, since “you’re an idiot”.

Labelling allows no room for recovery, and denigrates possible improvement.

If  you consistently  mislabel yourself, you  set yourself up to becoming what the label implies: you risk lower self esteem, insecurity, hopelessness, procrastination and possible depression. You will deny yourself the experience of new situations, since you are implying that you can’t handle them.

If you mislabel others, they will eventually become resentful and self protective. At worst, they feel  a punishment, and this leads to unpredictable results in your interaction with them.

To avoid mislabeling yourself or others,  separate the person from the situation, identify and target the action, not the person:

Instead of saying “I’m stupid”, say “what I just did was stupid” or  instead of “she’s mean”, say “what she did was not nice”.

Practice a technique called chunking up: as you catch the thought,  step back and  look at the forest through the trees. Try allowing for shades of grey and multifaceted situations; identify the complexities:  a person is outstanding in similar situations one day, and doing poorly the next. So are you.  Acknowledge that you are human, imperfect , that there are set backs, and temper this with acknowledging flip or positive aspects of yourself or the other person.

And if you must label, watch out for repeated patterns before you decide form a lasting impression.

Author: Pascale Aline

Psychotherapist & Performance Coach, I specialize working with tools for self enhancement, growth, productivity and healing (Biofeedback, EMDR, Mindfulness training)

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