Day 443: Fun with labels

Personally, I think the label for this post is strange.

“Fun with labels”?!?   Labeling is an unhelpful and pain-producing cognitive distortion:

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.” *

… and I’m suggesting that we have fun with it?  That seems

  • Foolish
  • Insensitive
  • Wrong-headed
  • Doomed to failure.

Of course, I’m labeling this post, aren’t I?  Plus, I’m indulging in another cognitive distortion — fortune-telling — predicting how this post is going to turn out. PLUS I’m mind-reading how YOU, the reader, might react to it.

Geesh.  The cognitive distortions are coming in, fast and furious today, aren’t they?

I can put words on why that might be happening.  Yesterday, at work, I caught myself in THREE obvious mistakes.

I sometimes liken my mistakes to mice. Or cockroaches.  That is, if I see three of them, I assume there are many, many more mistakes I’ve made, that I haven’t seen, observed, or caught.

So, I could label my mistakes

  • Bad
  • Dangerous
  • Unforgivable
  • Out of control

….or, I could label my mistakes, in a different way:


Are we having fun, yet? Probably not, because, as usual, dear readers, I have digressed from my intent, in writing this post.

Here was my intent: to show and tell you about a group exercise I did yesterday.

In a group, I gave everyone a bunch of sticky name tag labels, like these:


(I found that image here)

Then, I told people to write down, on those labels, positive adjectives for themselves, which they could stick to themselves, if they chose. Based on my experience as a therapist, I knew that was a very difficult assignment, so I added another one: to write down familiar negative labels, also. And, not surprisingly, the latter assignment was much easier for people. But with some mutual support and help (e.g., “What are some positive things other people have said about you, even if you have trouble believing it?) … people were also able to come up with several positive labels for themselves.

Here’s a photo, from yesterday:


Note that you don’t see any negative labels like “Stupid,” “Messy,” or “Selfish” in that photo.

Why?  Because we ripped up all the negative ones, into little pieces.

And that sure was fun, people.

Okay!  What else did I want to identify here, before I end this post?

How about this? Sometimes, we label our cats. For example, Michael, lately, has been calling Oscar “skinny”


and our other cat, Harley, the opposite of that.  I really hope that’s not bothering Harley, because here’s where I caught him, last night:


Although, I’ll name this: more exercise would be good, for all of us.

Thanks to people who label, those who aren’t perfectly anything, and to you — of course! — for reading this whatever-you-want-to-call-it post, today.

* See here for the complete definition of labeling and the other dozen not-fun cognitive distortions.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Day 443: Fun with labels

  1. This is similar to an exercise I do with people in story-telling. What’s the one word you’d like to be known/seen/called in the world. For me, my word is ‘passionate’. It always surprises me how challenging people find it to call themselves positive words. When I ask, what words do you use to describe yourself when you’ve made a mistake — the words come out fast and furious. Not so with the positive..

    We humans are such fascinating people aren’t we!

    The words I see in you are — deep, encouraging, insightful, smart, funny, quirky, kind, caring, loving, considerate, inclusive, balanced…. and so much more!

  2. It’s so true! Why is that?
    Diana xo

  3. Reblogged this on harrygrotman and commented:

  4. It’s a good day, Ann, when the labels somebody else pin on your shirt match the ones you’ve given yourself in your mind. Thanks for the fun post.

  5. At this point in my life, I am so happy to have any signs of cognition at all, I don’t even check them for distortion. Like Harley, I just lie around letting someone else do the heavy-lifting on personal improvement. Harley and I are in it for the head scratching.

    Your group sounds like a good antidote for a Murky March day. I’m going to see if I have any name stickers in my drawer, and write some creative stuff on them. Maybe I will write things that I wish were true (like “math genius” or “world’s best driver on scary roads”) and see what the response is. Is there a chance that we can grow into our labels?

    • As usual, you have taken my post and made it even better. I love the idea of growing into labels. I thank you and Harley thanks you, too, for joining with him so well.

  6. You sent my mind reeling today. LOL! I’m new to your blog so you may’ve talked about this before, but I think the relationship between cognitive distortions and faith is fascinating. Faith looks at potential, the hidden treasure, instead of what is seen. So, faith is often seen as a distortion, even though it could be the opposite–the actual truth. For instance, people may see the “reality” of a person as low-intelligence, unwanted, ugly, no good, etc. Their own experience in life may seem to confirm this. But what if the truth is, God sees them as highly valuable, unique, brilliant, gifted, loved and greatly desired? So, as a pastor, I would say these negatives “put” on this person based on the “seen” are overcome by faith in the unseen (which may seem like a positive distortion or wishful thinking at the time). But yet it’s not denial of their reality if they can believe that God is good and He doesn’t make junk. So, they can start to see the unseen–that they are simply His hidden treasure right now, a diamond in the rough, if you will. That they are desired, dearly loved and affirmed as who they are. And this “faith” begins to change their experience and becomes transformational. The Bible calls that renewing the mind. Seeing ourselves how God sees us. Hope that made sense (it sort of did in my head). 🙂

    • I love your perspective, Mel. I would label this comment quite articulate and beautiful. Thank you.

    • Mel Wild, I hope that you don’t mind if I respond to your comment, given that this isn’t my blog and you were writing to Ann. But I found your words, “For instance, people may see the “reality” of a person as low-intelligence, unwanted, ugly, no good, etc.” thought-provoking.

      From time to time, people have told me that they feel that they feel that they are a bad parent, not a good person, not smart, and so on. I’m not a therapist, so these things just come up in conversation and usually the person saying those things seems to be in despair. So far, I have never met a person who told me terrible things about themselves in a state of despair and self-loathing, who I didn’t think was quite wonderful, an amazing parent, a generous human being, and so on. I have run into a few people who I couldn’t see all that much to admire – maybe because I didn’t look closely enough — but never in a person who was feeling crushed by their own sense of failure. I never noticed this before. Maybe we all need to feel a little more faith in ourselves when we feel bleakest. Thank you for your post.

      • To “Sitting on My Own Sofa”: You sound like a very sensitive and caring person. If I were in despair, you would definitely be the type of person I would want to go to. 🙂 These things usually don’t happen when the person is finally in a state of despair but in the normal course of their life–at home, school, work, etc. The teasing, bullying, and general lack of respect. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see the hidden treasure in people. They look at the outside only. God wants us to look on the inside like He does. Again, sounds like you’re doing a good job at that already. Blessings.

  7. I think labels can be positive as in your exercise. Sometimes, as when your cats are called by their size, they can be identifying characteristics. I still have to smile when I think of Bill Cosby and his friend, “Fat” Albert! Didn’t it fit? Sorry but sometimes labels can make you laugh! Take it easy, Ann!

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  9. I can’t stand it when people label others…. its so annoying.

    Yesterday I was standing in line at the grocery store and the cashier was one of those typical cashiers who don’t give a damn about the people standing in line and she was going slow as molasses …. and then the person standing behind me was one of those stereotypical “standing in line busy-body talkers” and she wouldn’t stop talking my head off when all I wanted to do was get through the line, and then the person in front of me was one of those stereotypical “let me pay with exact change” and it took forever for him to count out the right number of pennies…. and don’t even get me started on the Jews & the minorities…..

    😉 (lol, obviously I made all that up…. but after all; you said today was ‘fun with labels’. )

    • Thanks for the comment, Kenneth, and please check out today’s post (the one after this one). There are some pictures you might appreciate.

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