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She’s a drama queen. He’s a bear to work with. She’s a control freak. He’s a passive-aggressive type. She’s a whiner. He’s hot tempered. She’s a flake. He’s an idiot.
We’ve all heard people summarized with quick, easy labels. We may have used them ourselves, or been called them ourselves. But we need to put the brakes on this practice.
First of all, this is no way to gain a good understanding of a child of God. With all our failings, none of us would like to be labeled with one swift, judgmental brush stroke. We have many dimensions, both strengths and weaknesses, but most of all, great potential. To be sized up and rubber-stamped for only one attribute—maybe not even an accurate one—seems grossly unfair. I don’t think any of us would argue that society needs to stop doing this.
But perhaps even more importantly, we need to stop doing it to ourselves. While we all seem able to recognize the cruel assessment of our fellow man, very few of us keep ourselves in check when it comes to slapping unfair labels on ourselves. They’re damaging, they hold us back from progressing, they set a poor example for our children, they justify our giving up, they excuse our bad behavior, and they play right into Satan’s hands.
So why do we do it? Why do we criticize and label ourselves unfairly? One reason is that we’re living up to—or down to—the labels we were given as children. Unfortunately many grow up “assigned” to a role in their family such as the smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one, and so on. These inner voices repeat the label every time we follow in that path, and soon we believe it.
But we can’t blame our upbringing entirely—we have the choice to accept a label or cast it off and prove it wrong. Even positive labels can give us false readings, and make us emphasize unimportant attributes over those with eternal significance. A child who is rescued from natural consequences because he’s so charming and cute, will soon learn to use those traits in unhealthy ways to get what he wants and never be held accountable, for example.
But we also create our own labels apart from those we heard growing up. When we make a mistake, how many of us mutter a quick disparagement—“How could I be so stupid?” or “Oh, that figures—I blew it again.” We come to believe repeated statements and watch for them to be proven time and again. We forget that you always find what you’re looking for, and if you said, instead, “I’m just one lucky guy” you’d find all kinds of fortunate coincidences all day, instead of the blunders.
We even label ourselves in limiting ways when we say, “I’m just a…” I’ve heard so many women say, “I’m just a stay-at-home-mom,” and I want to shout, “You mean you have the toughest job in the universe?” But I’ve also heard people say “just a” regarding their jobs, their callings, their place in their family.
Try an experiment. Take a sheet of paper (or do it on the computer) and write down a list of 100 things you are. For many, a list like this begins with how they identify themselves in the world. I’m a doctor. I’m a teacher. I’m a contractor. Then maybe I’m a husband. I’m a father. I’m a Ward Clerk. I’m a resident of whatever city. On it will go, including education, sports and hobbies, movies you’re a fan of, people you’re a friend of, all the ways you can identify who you are.
The first half of this list can actually be very telling, because you’re listing all the things that first come to mind. For some, their poor health or advanced age will be one of the first things they mention. Often we see ourselves from the standpoint of our limitations or what we feel we’re missing. You may also find yourself listing your shortcomings, confessing the labels you’ve been carrying around. I’m an overeater. I’m not consistent. I feel sorry for myself sometimes. I spend too much. But keep adding to the list.
At about # 50 you’ll start to get below the surface. You’ll have written down all the things that, frankly, don’t matter. And you’ll get to who you really are inside. Hopefully you’ll come to the filet of who you really are, that marvelous child of God with limitless potential. Your core beliefs will show, your vision of your future, even your love of others. Your value will emerge, undeniable and vibrant. I’m a good listener. I’m sincere. I love the people I visit teach. It’s a great reminder that you are so much more than the labels you’ve been given, and the labels you’ve invented.
Now study the positive, true assessments you’ve realized. Choose to self-identify as this genuinely good person. Make a mental note to catch yourself the next time you’re thinking a negative label, and envision tearing up that word. Refuse to be held back by these damaging titles any longer. You can self-identify as an achiever of good works, a contributor to society, a server of mankind, and most of all, as a child of God and a disciple of Christ.
Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as a Relief Society President.