Research the term ‘self-labeling’ and you may wish you hadn’t as it is quite a complex field in human psychology and ‘self-labeling theory’ is often referred to in relation to psychiatric conditions and deviant behaviour. When referring to self-labeling here, the term is used in connection with mentally well people who use labeling, not in order to acknowledge some condition they may have and are dealing with (which is an admirable quality), but rather as a handy excuse for not taking actions required to bring about the changes they desire at a deeper level.
The labels they apply to themselves may have emanated from some previous diagnosis that no longer affects their ability to change, may have been assimilated from labels that they have heard their parents or other people apply to them, or may be entirely made up.
Here are a few examples:
“I am a procrastinator”
“I am a hoarder”
“I am ADD/ADHD”
“I am manic depressive”
“I am an introvert”
“I am an extrovert”
“I am a comfort eater”
“I am bi-polar”
“I am a couch potato”
“I am a loner”
“I am depressed”
“I am a social outcast”
“I am a womaniser”
“I am a controlling type”
In life coaching, we frequently come across clients who use labels as a means to excuse their own self-defeating behaviour.
By ‘wearing a label’ the client gains access to a convenient and easy way out of having to take what can seem like difficult action to bring about change in his or her life.
I’m sure you’ve heard the likes of this before:
“You don’t understand, I am a chronic worrier. If I leave my children and go on holiday I might suffer a breakdown.”
“I am an attention span deficit sufferer, there’s no way I could study for a new qualification.”
“My hypertension would never allow me to exercise like that.”
“I am sleep deprived. I have to get to bed very early in the evening, so working in the evenings is out of the question”.
Self-labeling, without any real medical or psychological justification, is often done in order to attract attention and/or pity and to create a focal point for social conversation that makes the individual feel more needed.
Self-labeling can also become a self-fulfilling prophesy. When someone becomes so used to hiding behind a label, they can actually become that label! What was a convenient excuse can become a genuine excuse … and a serious problem at the same time.
In life coaching, the key to helping someone overcome the inertia that they create through self-labeling and the excuses that go with it, is to bring what is, in effect self-deceit, into their conscious awareness.
By this I mean get them to identify and verbalize the short-term payoff that they are getting from self-labeling and then contrast this with the long-term damage that they are doing to their ability to live the life they (deep down) really want.
Sometimes helping people to move forward requires opening their eyes to their own lies!