Jane labels herself ‘fat’. She thinks, sees and refers to herself as fat, mentally curling her lip as she does so, just to ram home how distasteful she finds it. Although it’s perfectly true that she has more body fat than she wants, labeling herself as fat reduces everything about her to the extra weight. All the complexity of her personality, relationships, accomplishments and future potential get subsumed under this blanket description.
If Jane wanted to slim down, this label would undermine her, since she probably wouldn’t associate eating well and exercising regularly with a fat person. The label may even sub-consciously drive her to self-sabotaging choices, like filling her shopping trolley with industrial-sized chocolate bars or ditching her scheduled walk for a CSI: Bermuda Triangle marathon, because in her mind that’s what fat people do. The label doesn’t serve her.
Likewise for Tom, who repeatedly calls himself ‘stupid’. Like all of us, he sometimes finds his mouth thundering ahead while his brain remains back at the gate, but using the label creates a sense that stupidity is all he’s capable of. He comes up with many smart ideas but rejects them on the premise that they must be lame if he came up with them.
Some parts of us make us happy and others – not so much. But none of us can be abstracted into a label. If you have a moniker for yourself that motivates or empowers you – like genius, geek or glamazon – then more power to you. But if you’re letting a small, unloved part of you sum up who you are, you’re denying yourself greater possibilities and limiting your chances of positive change.
Now that is stupid.