The Cognitive Distortion Du Jour, dear readers, for this blog post is …..
Here’s the definition of Labeling (from the list of distortions I’ve posted, here).
13. Labeling or Name-calling.
We generate negative global judgments based on little evidence. Instead of accepting errors as inevitable, we attach an unhealthy label to ourselves or others. For example, you make a mistake and call yourself a “loser,” a “failure”, or an “idiot.” Labels are not only self-defeating, they are irrational, simplistic, and untrue. Human beings are complex and fallible, and in truth cannot be reduced to a label. Consider this: we all breathe, but would it make sense to refer to ourselves as “Breathers”?
This is a misery-causing distortion that I see all the time– in the people I treat (as a therapist), in the people I love, and (of course) in myself.
Here’s a way to challenge labeling (from this list of “antidotes”):
Examine the Evidence. Instead of assuming your negative thought is true, look at the evidence. For example, if you think “I never do anything right,” list some things you do well.
Let’s see if I can use this, to challenge a label I’ve applied to myself.
Here are labels I use — names I call myself — when I make a mistake.
Let me examine the evidence.
I do have some evidence to challenge that, for sure. Actually, when I said to my bf a couple of weeks ago, “You know … maybe I am a smart person,” he replied, “Ann, if you, of all people, aren’t sure about that, I don’t know what else to say to you.”
He was referring to some pretty convincing data: That is, I did well in school. And I went to a really prestigious college.
And I’ve been trying to gather more evidence to challenge those judgmental, critical labels. For example, people sometimes use the word “smart” and “wise” when they describe me. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that a person I think is really smart calls me “brilliant” when talking about me. (This amazed me, but I took it in.)
I’m examining the evidence and it looks good.
You know what, though? All that evidence, no matter how good, doesn’t matter when I’m feeling depressed or, sometimes, just when I make a mistake. Then, the evidence … Poof! … disappears.
I’m “brilliant” enough, during those times, to make the case that I’m stupid, an idiot, or simply not smart enough, with “reasoning” like this:
I used to be smart when I was a younger, but I’m not smart any more.
I’m a “book” kind of smart. That doesn’t help me survive in this world.
I got into that prestigious college mostly because the admissions people knew about my heart condition and hospitalizations, and because my cardiologist’s family had some “pull.”
If I was smart, I would feel smart!
How can I call myself smart when I see people all around me who are smarter?
People seem to talk to me like I’m stupid, a lot of the time.
Look at all the friggin’ mistakes I make, every day!
Well, I’m working on letting go of those kinds of thoughts, people.
Here are more “antidotes” that help with that, from my handy-dandy list:
List the positives. To deal with the tendency to focus on the negative, make lists of good things that are happening, good things about yourself, and things that you are accomplishing (even little things). Focus on what you ARE doing, rather than on what you’re NOT doing.
Challenge Labels. If you label yourself negatively, such as “a fool” or “a loser,” remind yourself that such absolute terms are subjective and meaningless, and that human beings are too complex to be reduced that simplistically. Also, consider the possibility that somebody else may have given you that idea about yourself, and that they were wrong.
Reality testing. Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and concerns are realistic or true. This is a particularly effective response to the distortion of mind-reading.
Okay, people, thanks for staying with me, so far. At this point, I’m going to take a break for a walk (it’s a beautiful day — Memorial Day, here in the Northeast U.S.).
Intermission (for a walk on a beautiful day).
I’m baaaaack! And I want to finish this post up pretty quickly, so I can visit for a little while with my downstairs neighbor, Karen. (I’m very lucky she lives here.)
I thought about this post, on my walk. And I noticed that I was …. challenging labels.
For example, in the past, if I had to label what kind of photographer I am, I would probably have said, “an okay one.” I probably wouldn’t have used the word “good.” Why not? Usually, I’m very aware of all the reasons why I’m not good photographer (e.g., I often get my thumb in the picture, I’ve never been trained, I was “terrible” at art classes in school, and, in general, my natural talents seem to land more in the area of sound than sight).
However, last week, my friend Krystal posted this comment on Facebook, in response to one of my Provincetown photos.
“Ann! You are a great photographer!”
What? “GREAT ….. photographer?”
Even though that label was new and unexpected, I let that new evidence in. That is, somebody I respect thinks I’m a great photographer! Yippeee!
And that helped me feel even happier today as I took these photos, during my walk.
Challenging Labels, on a Memorial Day Walk
A short photo essay, by Ann
That’s a baby rabbit, people … in the morning! I almost walked by it. It was very small and very still.
I was especially delighted and surprised, since we usually see rabbits at dusk. That’s because rabbits (and cats) are crepuscular — a “label” I first heard recently, thanks to my bf, which means “active at dusk and dawn.”
And I guess I must be smart, because I remembered the frggin’ word today, and how to spell it.
I saw this tree when the song “Lush Life” was playing on my iPhone. I couldn’t capture how beautiful it was, but I tried, a couple of times.
By the way, Krystal posted something else on Facebook, after she read my Provincetown blog post:
“Ann! You’re a great photojournalist!”
That was echoing in my head today, too, which helped me take these photos.
I liked the balance of beauty, there. And here ….
Okay. One last thing I noticed, on my walk, which helped me challenge another, old thought:
“Purple and red do NOT look good together.”
That’s obviously not true.
And look what I’m wearing, right now:
Purple and red look good together, even on me! (See here for more about that t-shirt.)
Thanks to my neighbor, Karen, for taking that last picture. I needed a little help from my friends, today, to do this blog post. Special thanks to Krystal.
Thanks to you, too, of course, for reading today.