By Beverly Ward
July 31, 2022
From Science: Labeling is the seventh Cognitive Distortion we will look at in this series of blogs. (Cognitive Distortions are unrealistic and unhelpful thought habits that lead to emotional distress and problematic behaviors.) In the same way a manufacturer puts labels on a cans of food, or a gardener puts labels on rows of vegetables, we sometimes apply labels to ourselves and others. While labeling works to inform us about a can’s contents and those of garden rows, they cannot begin to capture the dimensions and nuances of any person. People are the crowning glory of God’s creation and are spectacularly multifaceted. Sometimes, we lose sight of this and try to sum up ourselves or others with labels that miss the mark and are actually very unhelpful. Labeling can lead to depression, anxiety, and other problems.
Labels can be unrealistically negative or unrealistically positive, both with problematic results. Labels can be applied to ourselves or to others and there are two types of labeling:
1) Labeling the role – For example, ‘I am a bad mother’ or ‘I am the best of all mothers’. Or, ‘she is a bad mother’ or ‘she is the best of all mothers’.
2) Labeling the person – For example, ‘I am worthless’, or ‘I am more worthy than anyone’. Or, ‘they are worthless’, or ‘they are more worthy than anyone’.
Labeling, whether it is overly negative or overly positive, distorts and restricts the way we see ourselves and others. Dr. David Burns, a pioneer and leader in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) tells of his own experience with labeling. When in high school, Dr Burns was cut from and not allowed to participate on his school’s athletic teams. Later in life, as a young professional, he was browsing a selection of books and saw one on running. He noticed that he had the thought, ‘that one is not for me, I can’t run.’ He caught the thought and realized the root of it. His experiences in high school had shaped his beliefs about himself and he labeled himself, ‘not a runner’. Right there on the spot, he challenged himself to run just a few steps and did so. He reframed his thinking to, ‘even though I have never been a runner, I can be a runner and I just proved it.’ Dr. Burns did take up running and succeeded in completing a few half-marathons thus far in his life.
There are no labels that can capture the whole of a person. When we are labeling to distortion, we are believing that there are. If you catch yourself labeling, try using ‘even though’ statements. ‘Even though I yelled at my son, it does not make me a bad mother. It would have been better if I had not yelled, but it is just a mistake and not the full definition of who I am as a mother. I can apologize and work on the issue.’
From Scripture: Because we have God’s holy Word, there are labels we can apply to ourselves and Know that they are real and True. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” From this one verse, I can glean many labels for myself: 'I am God’s workmanship', 'I am created in Christ', 'I am created for good works’, 'I am prepared to walk in good works’.
God’s Word is full of labels that we can have confidence in. We do well to apply them liberally to ourselves and to others. The song, 'Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus', reflects this concept. It beautifully illustrates that we are created as reflections of God’s glory. When we let this world grow dim and look full in the face of our Lord and Creator, we begin to see this. How do we look in His face? By searching His Word. There we can look for and find labels that can be Truthfully applied to ourselves and others. (In the lagniappe section of this article is the story of and singing of the hymn, ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’)
Action Plan: Label yourself! Literally. Find a few scriptures that resonates with you and determine what labels for yourself or others you can derive from them. Write the labels on sticky notes and put them where you will see them often, on your bathroom mirror, computer screen, refrigerator. You might also make a lanyard to wear around your neck with a label from scripture (maybe just to be worn in your home, but, if you are so inclined, wear it anywhere.)
These very powerful Words spoken about us by our Creator are excellent tools in reshaping unrealistic labels we may have formed and believed over a lifetime.
Allen Jackson singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
The story of the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus