Which sticky labels from childhood hold you captive?
Childhood labels help shape core beliefs. Those beliefs can support our understanding of who we are, or, without awareness, limit who we allow ourselves to be. Do any of these labels ring a bell?
The accomplished child who excelled at school and in extracurriculars
The caretaker who was counted on to help with the younger kids
The baby who was never expected to carry his weight
The troublemaker who broke the rules
The favorite child
The attractive one
The intellectual one
The pudgy one
The one who says everything that comes into her mind
Familial labels are constructs of identity that can be very, very sticky. As they follow us into adulthood, they can support our identity and also create barriers for living a full, whole hearted life. By standing back, noticing, and then reframing, we can welcome in a bigger picture of ourselves and others.
Here are four things to consider as you start to loosen and expand some of the familial labels that limit your experience.
What does your label tell you about the person who created it? The label you were given as a child gives you important information about the person who created it and what is important to them. If, for example, you were labeled the "accomplished child", your parent may have taken great pride (and ownership?) over their own success in raising a child that met the external expectations of others they admired - teachers, scholarship committees, beauty pageant judges. Perhaps they themselves always wanted to be accomplished and never quite felt they made the mark, so they take pride in your accomplishments instead. Pay attention and may become aware of reinforcing, repeating behavior patterns that may or may not serve you as an adult.
In what ways might your label limit you? How might you be limited by a label that leaves off a chunk of who are you are? Yes, you may have been called a drama queen when you were a child and that sticky label may be following you into adulthood. But that is limiting. There is always more to the story. Try adding "and what else is true?" when you consider your label. "I was called a drama queen as a child; and what else is true is that I was successful at getting my mom's attention so that I could get some of my emotional needs met." You used a strategy, as a child, to get your needs met. As an adult, you can expand that and learn other strategies that can also serve you, sometimes more successfully.
In what ways might you reframe your label? Reframing is a way to expand one's vision from a single lens to multiple lenses. Frame: "My mom always said I was the prettiest of her daughters and she thinks it is a crime when I wear sweatpants." Reframe: "I know that my mom appreciates physical attractiveness and I sometimes fit that for her. I also know I have other strong attributes that have nothing to do with outward appearance, so I can feel grounded and solid even when I don't meet her expectations."
What is possible if you stretch the boundaries of your label? Stretching the muscle to expand boundaries gives us more breathing room for compassion for ourselves and others. "My sister always says I was my mom's favorite child and she resents me for it." Stretch it out - "My mom loved talking to me." "I am relational." "I express empathy towards my older relatives." "I enjoy hearing people's stories." "People feel seen when they are with me." So "my sister says I was my mom's favorite child," when stretched out a bit further, can also be "my mom's need to feel seen was met when we spent time together." Wow - that changes it, doesn't it? What, through a compassionate lens, does that say about your sister? And your mom? And you?
Labels are sticky, can be limiting, and also can be stretched and reframed.
Journal prompt to consider: How will I step into the fuller picture of who I am?
Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.