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Negative Effects Of Labelling

Labels reflect how people observe not only others but also themselves. The labels can be good or bad and irrespective of this, they can have a significant influence on identity, often creating stereotypes and misunderstandings. The long term effects can be profound, in terms of positive and negative effects, just think of a child who is labelled ‘smart’ or ‘slow’. It is important to believe that you are more than a race, gender, religion or a medical diagnosis. In this article from Becoming Aware, I look at the definition of labels and the positive and negative effects they can have on both the people you are labelling and the labels you are giving yourself.

Labels are often given without a medical diagnosis

My reasons for writing are often based on the clients I am helping and my observations. Recently, I couldn’t help thinking I would be a very rich woman if I had a pound for every time someone had told me that their partner, child, or loved one has ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, Asperger’s, is a narcissist or has other uncomplimentary issues. These labels have no basis in medical diagnosis, they are just their own opinion. It is very frustrating as labelling can have negative effects for the person labelling and the person being labelled.

What is labelling?

‘Categorical labelling is a tool that humans use to resolve the impossible complexity of the environments we grapple to perceive.’

‘Labels are what you call yourself in your head. They are tags that you attach to yourself to describe the person you think you are.’

Positive effects of labelling

It’s true that labels are not always a bad thing despite their often negative reputation. People can often find a sense of belonging and power with the groups they associate with. They can also gain support and advice with the challenges and symptoms they are facing. If you apply positive labels to yourself, you will feel good about you which will lead to self-development and growth. It will make life’s challenges easier to overcome and minimise stress. Positive labels which you can attribute to yourself and others include generous, giving, compassionate, capable, smart, friendly and intelligent.

Negative effects of labelling

Labels can create stereotypes as they shape expectations, which often are unrealistic. When applied to yourself, they can often be restricting regarding your potential and they can be self-prophetic. When a label is put on someone and believed to be true, it limits the behaviour they show you to that belief. So saying someone has ADHD for example ends up with you seeing the negative behaviour of ADHD in them and keeps them stuck in this label as they are repeatedly showing you that behaviour which doesn’t help either of you. It is an unfair position to put someone in and you are both stuck in that kind of relationship. Negative labels can also be a contributor to depression and anxiety and other physical symptoms. Examples of negative labels include mean, not compassionate, inept, stupid, selfish, and weak.

How to shake off a label

· See the best in yourself and other people even when you or they are not at their best, and in this way, they are more likely to see that side of you or them

· Increase your self-confidence with exercises, affirmations and support groups

· Use breathing exercises

· Be aware of the labels you are not only giving yourself, but others

· Build your own sense of identity

· Don’t put yourself in a box – one word cannot define you as a person or any other person

· Seek professional help from a trained therapist

My most sound advice is succinctly to ‘Be Yourself’!

Labelling can be useful

Labelling shouldn’t always be treated as a cause for concern, and often it can be very useful. It would be absolutely impossible to go through life without attributing some form of labelling to people and yourself. These could include friendly, beautiful, harmful, spiteful, and tasty. However, people that we label such as poor, rich, dim, simple, or having some kind of mental disorder will become even more of the label because we have associated that with them.

How can Becoming Aware help?

When someone is told often enough that they are something negative or limiting, not only may they take it on, it can build resentment, anger or animosity between you which will in turn affect the relationship. It’s also true that when you have a label in your mind relating to a person, perhaps a family member, friend or a work colleague, that is automatically who they are. This will contain them, putting boundaries around them. It’s important to realise that labels are often attributed without any diagnosis and are just opinions. They can be quite upsetting and hurtful although they have no foundation. It’s also true about how we perceive ourselves. I believe that you as a person have many unique and amazing qualities and characteristics and by throwing these labels away, you can truly invest in your potential. Let’s work together to bring these to the forefront. Call me on 07766 427966 or email

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