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What Labels Do You Give Yourself? (And Are They Empowering Or Limiting You?)

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Earlier this year, a friend and I delivered a workshop to my wonderful alumni group. The topic was on boundaries and labels in coaching, with a particular focus on the grey area that lies between coaching and counselling.

It was really well received and a lot of people found the questions and case studies posed really made them think about their own coaching practise.

One of the main areas of discussion was around the labels people give themselves and the impact of social media on self-diagnosis. You have probably noticed that as discussions around mental health become more common, so too has the self-diagnosis of mental illnesses.

It made me wonder if we are becoming too quick to assign labels to normal human emotions and life events, and if so, what impact that might have on people.

For example, say you have a lot going on and you are worried about a number of things; finances, arguing with your partner, things not going right at work. You might have trouble sleeping or eating, or staying focused on your tasks.

If you tell yourself 'I am really worried right now,' how does that compare to, 'I have anxiety'?

As coaches, most people felt like the difference was huge and believed that by naming the difficulties as worries, they implied they were more temporary and less impactful than labelling it as anxiety.

Because language is important and the things we say to ourselves can be the difference between feeling better and feeling worse.

It seems the more we, as a society, put ourselves under pressure to be 'happy' all the time, the less tolerant we are becoming of 'normal' emotions such as anger, sadness, feeling low, feeling anxious, or feeling fear.

In fact, one study I read recently suggested that just feeling uncomfortable about something being discussed was enough to make some students state they were feeling 'triggered', quickly shutting the conversation down for everyone.

The researchers termed this 'safetyism' and defined it as, “A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger”.

The outcome being that young people are being overly protected from the very experiences they need in order to become strong, resilient and healthy adults.

So whilst I am the first person to agree it is very important that mental health continues to be openly talked about, we must take steps to ensure that we are not mis-labelling normal human emotions as mental ill-health.

As well as putting themselves at risk through inaccurate self-diagnosis, it can also close off avenues of support, as people forget that diagnosis is not the only path forward for mental health care.

In fact, focusing solely on a diagnosis can end up causing more harm than good. After all, if you don't meet the criteria for a diagnosis it doesn't change the fact that you don't feel well; you don't need the label to validate your feelings.

Socially, each label comes with a preconceived idea of what that means which can be self-limiting. For example, one of my blog articles shares information about the main characteristics of 'people pleasers'; a label some people use lightly to confer that they are happy to go above and beyond to help others, whereas others feel manipulated and frustrated that they can't stand up for themselves.

When I was at my lowest point of my own rheumatoid arthritis journey, I used to label myself as 'weak', 'a burden' and 'useless'. But all it did was make me more miserable as I convinced myself these labels were true and began to push people away to protect them.

For me, these labels were incredibly self-limiting, and, if your thoughts create your reality, there was a real danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy as I started to change my behaviour to match my negative thoughts and beliefs. Something I now coach fellow arthritis survivors to do.

A good question to ask yourself is, 'am I using the label to excuse some form of behaviour, or am I using it to empower me to understand what I could do to help myself and help others understand what I need from them?'

I think the main points I want to drive in this article is to be mindful of the labels you give yourself as they have more power than you think, and to be open to all human emotions and experiences without feeling the need to label them.*


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Author: Tamara Judge

Bio: Tamara is a positive psychology consultant, coach and the founder of Keystone Coaching. She is an accredited coach at Senior Practitioner Level with the EMCC, holds an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from the University of East London and is a qualified Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher.

She uses her expert knowledge in multidimensional positive psychology and education, to help educational and business organisations; improve wellbeing and reduce burnout; create a more positive culture; develop inspirational leaders & stronger teams; and improve engagement & performance. Tamara is passionate about raising the profile of wellbeing and empowering individuals & leaders to actively engage in & value opportunities for self-care.


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