The harm of labels

I had a tender moment today during my yoga class.

It was in the middle of a pose that I was doing rather terribly at, I felt my heart lodge in my throat.

“Why can’t you just figure it out?” a voice of accusation floated in my mind.

Then the word accusation stuck. Almost like the school yard taunt, “I’m rubber you’re glue…” I imagined the word sticking to me, like flypaper.


When I thought of my little heart dealing with that word, I was filled with protective tenderness. I saw my little girl self, standing, in the corner with her blanket… heart open and asking to be loved.

My young heart didn’t understand what accusation was. It was just truth to her.

“You are lazy.”
“You don’t try hard enough.”
“You lie.”
“You failed.”

Each of those things deeply cut into the soul of a young girl, who was hungry and desperately wanted to be desired and loved. She took those words as truth, wrote them onto her heart and resolved to work against herself. That resolve took the form of “strength”. She pushed herself beyond what she thought she was capable, she learned to look beyond her need of being beheld as delightful, wanted, precious and a foundation was built that the rest of her personality would be forged on top of.

Each accusation that was fed to that little girl began to corrode her insides. Like the gradual erosion of health that comes from drinking a diet soda a day, or smoking of cigarettes… the detrimental effects were slow, but steadily worked to gain more territory. Eventually that little girl began to believe the way she felt was “normal” and any other way of being was seen as fictitious.

“You aren’t worthy of love.”
“There is something wrong with you.”
“You have a personality disorder.”
“You are depressed.”

The accusations began to morph and become “labels”. She hungrily accepted these labels, even seeking some out on her own. She began to research different archetypes. She found herself wishing to be “seductive”, “nerdy”, “a Pisces”, ” a Chinese Ox”… she sought refuge in these definitions. Eventually these simple definitions began to morph into, “Depressed”, “Anxious”, “Co-dependent” and darker meanings began getting attached.

Labels were a way that she felt alive. To be labeled was like being named. To be named is being noticed. To be noticed is a lot like being seen. To be seen, means that there is a chance that she would be delighted in.

To a girl who never was able to experience the sweetness that comes from being full from being loved well… her hunger made her unable to distinguish between nourishment and treats. She lived a life on a diet of junk food and didn’t understand it’s impact. In effect, the structure of her personality was built on a weak and rocky foundation.

For years she lived in this structure, building room upon room. As things broke, she would patch the damage, and build over.  Each label building upon another label, a crooked house, with crooked rooms… on a crooked foundation.

Until the days she began inviting people to visit her in her house. Inviting the intimacy of sharing… and reading the reactions of those people and realizing the comfort of the labels that were given to her, were lacking. They didn’t actually capture who she was… and in some places, could actually be lies.

So the work…  how to know the difference between being labeled… and known. To untangle the hurts, see the beauty of the crookedness of the house… and keep an eye on the little girl with her blanket.