Beware of Labels - How They Turn into Limiting Beliefs!

LabelOften when working with clients we come across limiting beliefs that keep them from moving forwards - and one form these limiting beliefs can take is a label.

A label is simply a descriptive term we call ourselves or others. And whilst this seems harmless enough, these labels can also create a 'box' people feel uncomfortable stretching out of.

We get labelled starting at an early age by our family, friends and teachers. Well meaning or otherwise, things get repeated over and over about our appearance, personality, how we work, our style or general behaviour - until they appear to be true. We even repeat these labels to others because we don't know any better.

Later it's our boss and colleagues who add to our list of labels. We may take on these labels because we don't want to upset important people in our lives. Or we simply get stuck with them because we're too busy or feel powerless to challenge or reject them. Sadly, if given to us early enough we even BECOME our labels.

As adults labels can make it difficult for us when we want to behave in a way that is different to how we or others see us - becoming LIMITING beliefs and keeping us stuck.

Limiting Beliefs and Labels include: Peter is so BRIGHT, he's such a BOOKWORM, he loves computers he's such a GEEK . Mary is a FREE SPIRIT, she's such a NICE GIRL, she's so FRAGILE, is always LATE. Emma is a FIERY REDHEAD, a DREAMER, a CHATTERBOX. John is a DARK HORSE, a JOCK, a BULLY.

So, if Mary always considered herself to be a 'free spirit' she may find getting married or taking a local job a bit frightening or restrictive. Or if people think of her as 'fragile' or 'the good girl' she may struggle to be strong and stand up for herself when a situation demands it.

There is usually a judgement - whether positive or negative - that goes with these labels. When the label fits we feel good about ourselves and when it doesn't fit us or our environment we feel bad (guilt, anger, disappointment, resentment).

The Advantages of Labels include:

  1. Labels make life and/or people seem more straightforward and easier to deal with.
  2. Labels save us time - we know who to go to for what, and who NOT to go to!
  3. So-called 'positive' labels can help us get a sense of our personal worth, helping us feel secure in ourselves - this is who I am.
  4. They can guide us on how we should behave - we know what is expected of us.
  5. And labels can give us permission to do things or be a certain way that may be comfortable or convenient for us…

The Disadvantages of Labels include:

  1. Labels can become limiting beliefs and keep us stuck on our life journeys believing - implicitly or explicitly - that it's just the way we are. If we think we're just a "forgetful nellie" why would we bother trying to change?
  2. Helping us avoid actions or change we don't want to do. While this can be helpful sometimes, it can also be limiting or destructive.
  3. Keeping us stuck in difficult relationships and patterns of behaviour, often with other people who we have labelled.
  4. Labels do not allow us to be or behave differently according to the circumstance - labels suggest rigidity, only one way of being. Even so-called positive labels like "being reliable" can mean we don't feel comfortable saying no or putting our needs first.
  5. Labels can become a source of annoyance or frustration - as we spend our time trying to live up to them or trying to live them down!

So, what to do if your client is using a label and it's become so ingrained that it's now a limiting belief? Well, it's a great opportunity to discuss and explore. And when your clients see that it's just a name - a label - and that they have the power to change it, they're well on their way to changing that limiting belief!

“Once you label me, you negate me” Soren Kierkegaard

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

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