The Gnarly Effects of Labeling Ourselves (Part 1)

Throughout my life, I’ve ascribed countless labels to myself.

When I was younger, I was a…

Student. Anarchist. Atheist. Daughter. Dog walker. Chicagoan. Web designer. Hot mess.

…and dozens of other roles.

Later, I became a…

Jungian Witch. Structural integrator. Yogi. Wife. Nature lover. Writer. 

…and the list goes on. 

While names and categories can certainly be useful, and perhaps even necessary in some cases, they can also distance ourselves from our power and our deeper self.

Let’s look at each effect in turn.

When labels separate us from our power

How often have you heard someone (perhaps even yourself) say:

“That’s just the way I am!”

“That’s just not me.”

“I’m not the kind of person who…”

When we take an aspect of our experience—what we do for work, our relationship status, mental health, physical appearance, opinions and preferences, etc—and we make that synonymous with who we are…

…we risk seeing ourselves through a very narrow lens, and the less of ourselves we can see, the fewer options we have in day-to-day life.

This winnowing down of our options occurs in two ways:

One, if an option isn’t compatible with our current identity, we either can’t see it or we won’t allow ourselves to take advantage of it.

For example, the “light worker” who repeatedly turns down or bungles money-making opportunities, because being financially successful doesn’t compute with their identity. 

(And yes, this same person might bemoan their lack of funds and consciously want precisely the opposite, but identity is a tricky beast…)

The Devil in the Waite-Smith Tarot

Two, if there are parts of ourselves we cannot see because they don’t match with our identity, these parts get pushed into the unconscious. 

And now, these parts, like any unconscious contents, have the ability to heavily influence our choices and actions, but because they’re unconscious, we have no idea what they’re up to. 

The results of these unconscious meddlings simply seem like life events that are happening to us, and we don’t realize that our unseen inner self is playing a central role.

Here again, our options are restricted, this time because our puppet strings are being yanked outside of our awareness. 

As Jung famously said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Labeling can separate us from a sense of responsibility for our own lives (“That’s just the way I am!”), and power and responsibility are intimately connected.

We cannot have true power without taking responsibility. 

Or as Peter Griffin sagely remarked, “With great mustache comes great responsibility.”

If we want to feel—and be—empowered, we must take responsibility for our own lives. 

The choices we make, how we spend our time, what we choose to focus on, how we communicate with ourselves and others, and so forth…

…all of these factors are our personal responsibility.

When we try to skirt around this fact, we start compromising who we really are, what we care about, our soul’s yearnings, and all the other things that make us feel truly alive. 

It’s a high price to pay for an identity.

When labels separate us from our deeper self

Humans—and indeed, all beings—are wildly vast and awe inspiring. 

No label can ever capture the totality of a human being. 

So, if we’re summing up our selfhood in a word or two, we can be sure that this is but a sliver of our deeper self. 

Sure, it might be a sliver that’s quite important (or quite important to the ego—only you can know for sure which), but it’s still just a sliver.

You are more fascinating, more wonderful, more infinite than you can ever know. 

Labels help us parse out the immensity of our true nature into more manageable, bite-sized chunks, which can be useful at times…

…but when we confuse these bites with the whole shebang, we’re shortchanging ourselves, and we’re shortchanging the world that we’re here to impact. 

In our attempts to stake out solid territory in the ever-shifting sands of life, we can set our life in stone. 

Everything, your life very much included, is a process, not a static entity. 

When we try to capture a dynamic animation in a single frame, we’re only getting the merest glimpse at what’s really going on. 

And then, when we make decisions based on that still shot—whether that’s a still of ourselves, another person, or the world around us—we’re left speaking to a part of existence that isn’t changing. 

In other words, a fiction. A mental construct.

Let me say this again: 

Nothing in life is still and unchanging…

…so when we are relating to “fixed identities” (e.g. “that’s just the way I am,” “they’re just a selfish a-hole,” “Life doesn’t work that way”), we are relating to fictions.

This leads to frustrating encounters, both inner and outer, because we’re essentially operating in a fun house hall of mirrors, left wondering why our efforts aren’t having the effect we’d like.

To strip away the veils of illusion, we must be willing to challenge what we think we know…

…including ourselves. 

So, who are you, anyway?

I bet you’re far more incredible than you realize.