I want to talk about labels. No – not the ones on boxes and jars, the ones we use to identify ourselves and others.

People love labels and they show up in all sorts of ways:

There are medical labels, which seem to be increasing in number all the time. Current favourites are ADHD, ADD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyscalcula and the old favourites Dyslexia, Bi-polar, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, I could go on.

We then have the labels we choose and apply for ourselves, for example:

“I’m no good with money / numbers.”

“I’m not technical.”

“I’m not very masculine.”

 

Then there are the labels we assign to others:

“She’s a tomboy”, or, “He’s a narcissist”, or, “they’re always late.”

Additionally, when we listen to other people speaking, phrases and labels like, “OMG she’s such a ball-breaker,” often influence our opinion of that person and shape how we experience them from the outset.

In this blog I’ll be exploring why we label, the increase in labelling and the implications of that.

 

Why Do We Label?

Our deep passion for labels comes, in a large part, from our need to feel safe and be in control of our environment. A label is a shortcut for thinking that makes us feel safer as we understand or know what we’re dealing with. We can use labels as an excuse, for ourselves or others, even when it’s only an illusionary perception. For example, if we’re faced with something we don’t understand and we don’t want to learn more, or don’t believe we can, we’ll say, ‘I’m no good at Maths or I’m not creative’ and it’s done – we don’t have to challenge ourselves or try.

Labels are part of our social construct; a part of our cultural identity kits. Society’s institutions love labels. Being able to put students or patients into a box with a clear protocol, makes things simple, easy and neat. Those medical or behavioural labels are defined by small groups of ‘experts’ and become mental short cuts loaded with meaning. Many labels become stereotypes, for example ‘single mothers’ or ‘spiritual’ and have us make assumptions from there.

The way we label ourselves can be passed down through our family. I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about a health condition that runs in their family? They take on that label and guess what, symptoms inevitably appear. We can create anything with our mind!

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Labels Are Limiting

Yes I said it – they’re both limiting and stressful. Labelling leads to closed mindset thinking and stops us achieving our potential.

Another issue is they put us in boxes, and frame our identity and life. They very often affect what we believe we can or can’t do. We create beliefs and stories about what’s possible for ‘people like us’.

And before you claim you don’t do this – labelling can be very subtle. Perhaps people like us can only make a certain amount of money, or don’t go travelling, or can’t be in a happy relationship or certain field of work.

Labels limit our thinking unconsciously. You see, each one is like a tunnel that closes our perspective down to the vast, wide and complex reality in which we live. We then begin to respond to that skewed image of reality we’ve built in our mind.

Our brain has neuroplasticity though, which means our cells turn over every second of every day and receive messages on how to replicate. Simply put, if we send different messages, we get a different outcome.

A quick google will bring up plenty of stories of people who after an accident or illness are told they will never walk or speak again, yet they learn.

 

The Danger of Medical Labels

I’ve worked with people from 5-65 for over 30 years, from all backgrounds and over time I’ve seen labelling is getting worse. Our drive to have our children or ourselves labelled is partly fuelled by the normalisation of labelling via social media.

On the one hand we think it’s useful to have labels for defining our ‘conditions’ because then we believe we know it helps us understand ourselves or the people or children we work with. I’m sure you all know someone who’s said “when I got diagnosed I understood why I’m the way I am”.

It doesn’t help that in educational settings, behaviour is treated differently, and help is given if a child has been officially diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Oppositional Defiance Disorder or Bi Polar to name a just a few.

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Human beings are infinite in their ability to create and produce behaviour in response to their lived experience and environment.

Schizophrenia and OCD are patterns that people develop to cope with their lived experience, in order to survive – the primary drive of the human mind. This can be highly challenging for some to accept. Yet when you understand how the mind works through repeating the same processes that get the same results. Not one can be measured with certainty by a brain scan.

Far from ‘disorders’, many of these medical labels are simply a trauma response, so, we should be working with that, not medicating the hell out of somebody for the rest of their life.  We can look at these conditions differently:

Dyslexia – these people are very creative and tend to be hands on. The strategy that they at one time learned for reading, doesn’t work.  Reading is about visual recall – remembered pictures of word patterns. A person with Dyslexia will have a different strategy. This can be changed with the spelling strategy from NLP.

Dyspraxia – these are people who’s reflexes weren’t developed properly or effectively as a child. You will find that children who didn’t move a lot, as in spin, roll, balance and move their body in all directions, didn’t learn to coordinate their limbs effectively or develop good proprioception.

NLP and Labels

“The definitions belong to the definers, not the defined”. Toni Morrison – American writer.

I’m not a fan of labels, quite the contrary, they’re usually developed by small groups of so called experts. Labels shape our identity and self concept. NLP encourages people to peel their labels off and be more whole. Whatever you say you are, you’re always more than that.

Given that our thinking and behaviour comes from how our brain wires in response to our environment and our life, it can change, if we want it too.

I’ve had an increasing number of women who label themselves with ADHD come to work with me recently.  My approach is to get them to let go of this label. We can eliminate all the walls of the boxes we put ourselves into, and instead think – what box? NLP works with individuals and their unique model of the world, not a set of symptoms, or labels.

 

So what instead?

In the Equality Diversity Inclusion world, diversity means difference. All of us are different. Every one of our brains is different. There is no ‘neurotypical’, it’s something that’s been made up. A line has been drawn somewhere as to what are the believed accepted norms.

Is it that some of us are more different than others? Yes! And that’s a good thing – nature loves diversity, it’s what makes it strong.  In human terms, this means we have different thinkers, which are vital to solve problems and create new ideas.

If we don’t accept this and instead adapt the environments we operate in, we’ll continue to narrow our view of what is ‘normal’ in human behaviour. We’ll have more labelling and more medicating.

NLP sees value in all our differences. Learning NLP can help you to think more flexibly. It can remove the root cause of old trauma and so called behavioural disorders. It can eliminate depression, anxiety and the limiting beliefs that often lead us to label ourselves.

 If you’re curious to explore the power of NLP, then training to be an NLP Practitioner is probably the most valuable and powerful personal development you’ll ever do. Book a call to discover what it will make possible for you. 

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