Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Don’t Let the Label Say Who You Are


A colleague of mine was speaking to a women’s conference. He told them that none of them were just mothers or wives. Of course, they were shocked. Many of them were mothers and wives. His point was they should not define themselves by their functions or roles. If they do, they have to meet some stereotype which can be overwhelming and dehumanizing in many cases. If they labeled themselves as a mother, then they have to meet the stereotype such as always being available. In some cases, to meet the stereotype, they have to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. It is healthier for them to see themselves as people first and their various functions second. If they let what they do, not the label, say who they are, then they can meet their needs as well as the needs of others.

Not only do labels tell others how to treat us
but they tell us how to treat ourselves.

We are a society that puts labels on everything. Sometimes the labels read “reduced,” and “defective.” Not only do we put labels on products but we put them on ourselves and others.

Some of the labels we put on others and ourselves are “alcoholic,” or some psychological disorder. The danger is letting that label define who we are instead of what we are dealing with. Research by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson show that even checking a box to indicate your race or sex can trigger the stereotype in your mind and lower your test score.

Negative stereotypes say: “You and your group are permanently inferior.”

Some of the labels are placed on us and some we give ourselves. Many of these labels tell others how to treat us. The negative labels read, “don’t get close,” “don’t include me,” “defective,” “victim,” “failure,” “arrogant,” and more. Not only do labels tell others how to treat us but they tell us how to treat ourselves.

I liked how Karen, my wife, has always approached labels and categories. As a child she never liked coloring between the lines. This attitude has spilled over into applications and forms like we find at a doctor’s office or hospital. I saw her filling out an application and noticed she was making new categories with new boxes to be checked. Then I noticed that if the form gave her two choices, she came up with a third one! She did not like the labels because they were restrictive and did not apply.

When we purchase something that has a label that reads, “As is,” we know that the product has flaws and is not perfect. We buy it knowing that the product has a lot more positive qualities than whatever the defect is. I think the best label we can attach to ourselves is “as is.” We are telling others to accept us with imperfections because we do.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700