Throughout our lives we will all receive messages from other people about who we are and what we are like. Such information will have a major impact on the way we feel about ourselves. Positive messages will build our confidence whereas other, less favourable ones, might help us to regulate our behaviour and fit in with other people. Sometimes, however, unhelpful or outdated messages can hold us back from living a fulfilling life. How might counselling or psychotherapy help?
Examples of labels that frequently cause problems include being told we are:
- awkward or difficult
- dreamy, and
How we view ourselves and, perhaps just as importantly, how we believe others view us can have a major impact on our general quality of life. Labels and their implications (however accurate or inaccurate they may be) affect our self-esteem, our relationships and our careers.
Labels from Childhood
Unhelpful labels from childhood can prove to be particularly sticky. As children we view the world from limited experience and are hugely dependent on the adults taking care of us. It might not be easy to challenge the labels that are given to us, particularly in families where questioning authority is actively discouraged. As such we might end up swallowing labels whole and conclude that certain aspects of our personalities are unacceptable or should be kept hidden.
An Example: Am I Over-sensitive?
Being a sensitive soul can have advantages. We might be empathic, warm and caring towards others and prove to be good at reading other people’s moods and needs. The flip side of being sensitive might be a tendency to wear our hearts on our sleeves, take things personally and feel under attack when no threat is intended. If we are able to separate out when being sensitive is useful to us and when it is not, we can start to value the benefits as well as tone down the kind of emotional responses that cause us pain and get in the way of being heard and understood by others. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that if one person in particular finds us over-sensitive, this might simply be a judgement based on how sensitive a person they might be.
How Might Counselling Or Psychotherapy Help?
When labels pop up in therapeutic conversations I am always interested in the stories attached to them. For example, I might invite you to think about who used the label first and what was going on at the time? Were there some people who never used it and some that used it a lot? Are there times when you agree with the label? Often, there will be both advantages and disadvantages of the behaviour that has been labelled, however only the disadvantages were picked up on or retained. By exploring what it might mean to be e.g. over-sensitive, difficult or messy, we can arrive at a more balanced perspective of the assumptions you are making about who you are and, in the light of this, think about how you might want to change your approach to being in the world.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counseling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove
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