One of the first posts I wrote when I started blogging was about labels, the ones which others give us and the ones which we give ourselves. It was inspired by the use of tags, and having to write an ‘About’ and other aspects of labelling which come with the territory of blogs.
I haven’t posted that piece on my WordPress and probably won’t because it was a tentative dip into post writing, a warm-up exercise in expressing myself, but here is an extract.
“We label ourselves as much as others label us and we label them. Labels help us to filter our surroundings, and the people in them. If we know what our labels are, then we can search for others who wear the same label, we know where we belong, and we know where we don’t belong. Very neat and tidy. Unless you are allergic to labels. Which I am, not to the point of getting anaphylactic shock, but I definitely get very itchy, irritable, and feel compelled to rip the thing off and disprove it. This is an extremely annoying trait to have because you can’t escape labels.”
I copied and pasted that extract, and when I inserted it into this post I ‘pasted and matched style’. Which struck me as being an action which goes with labels. Sometimes the labels we choose for ourselves are designed to make us fit in to a lifestyle, and we paste them onto ourselves so that we can match that style.
We want to be seen as sexy, intelligent, cool, unusual, weird, successful, so we paste that label on ourselves then paste the traits, attitudes and uniform which goes with that label onto ourselves.
Every time we make an ‘I am…’ statement we are labelling ourselves. That works with ‘I am not…’ statements too. Every statement which we make about who we are and who we are not fleshes out our character. It is a part of the process of self-creation.
Whether we are or are not the people whom we say we are is another matter entirely. And does it really matter? After all we are all gifted with highly imaginative minds which can convince ourselves of almost anything, we can become who we think ourselves to be. It helps if we believe ourselves. And one of the ways we secure that belief is by having others confirm to us that we are who we say we are. When they don’t, they upset our plans for ourselves. That is one of the reasons negative labels which others paste onto to us bother us so much.
When I was a child I had many negative labels stuck onto me, and at some point, when I was nearly crushed by the weight of them, it dawned on me that what was really crushing me was not the labels but what I thought those labels meant. I don’t recall exactly how this awareness developed. I was into reading encyclopaedias, thesauruses and dictionaries at the time, and I noticed that certain words had several different interpretations, some of which came close to contradicting each other. It occurred to me to look up the negative labels which others gave me and explore them from a vocabulary angle.
Spoiled brat was a label I received a lot. Mostly from adults who were annoyed with me. Their annoyance made their words feel bad when they said them to me, so I realised that the label was negative. That it was a bad thing to be and that I was this bad thing. One of the dictionary’s interpretations for ‘spoil’ is – to fill in wrongly so as to render invalid. And that is exactly what people were doing to me when they called me a spoiled brat. They were rendering me invalid. Whatever I said or did after the label was applied was of no consequence as I was a bad child.
Now had this been a consistent label with other ones to back it up I might have just accepted it and lived up to their expectations of me. But the people who accused me of being a spoiled brat were often the same ones who complemented my parents on what a well-behaved child they had. Sometimes they did it as a kiss ass lie, but more often than not it was a truth expressed with impressed surprise because I was a child and they expected me to be a brat before they even knew anything about me.
I was dragged around to many adult affairs by my parents. I would find a corner and sit there quietly. If an adult spoke to me, I listened with a polite smile on my face to whatever nonsense spewed out of their condescending adult to inferior child mouth, then reply with the appropriate answer, and my reply was decorated with P’s and Q’s. That is how a spoiled brat behaves. It was only when I was pulled away from my quiet corner and made to perform for the adults, because they were bored and needed some entertainment, that my extremely shy distress was perceived as spoiled brattishness. I would refuse, and my refusal was seen a tiny hand slapping their big faces. Only a spoiled brat would say ‘no’ to an adult.
I saw and felt that I was a thing which was good except when it was bad, and the good and bad labels had very little to do with me and everything to do with those sticking them onto me.
I was very confused for a very long time, but as I grew older and began to think more and more for myself, I also began to see how many of the labels which were applied to me contradicted each other. How could I be on both sides of a seesaw at the same time? I was being ripped apart by the opposite identities. So I decided to figure out who I was for myself. Test out each label. Explore its meaning. Remove all the labels and only allow those which I chose after long deliberation, debate and experimentation, to stick to me.
This led me to become very contrary. When someone says something to me about myself I tend to think – I could be that, I could also be the opposite of that, or perhaps I am not that at all. I do it with good and bad labels. Compliments and criticisms are two sides of the same whole. Nothing sticks unless I allow it to stick. Your view will be taken into consideration. Approval of your view is pending until further notice. Feel free to get annoyed with me for not accepting your authority and expertise on the subject of who I am and am not, add some more labels to the sort pile.
With the spoiled brat label I decided that I was not a spoiled brat in the popular version of its meaning, however I quite liked the concept of it as someone who has been ruined, who has become unfit for use or consumption by others. I don’t want to be used or consumed, so if I taste bad you won’t want to eat me.
To spoil also means to plunder, and spoils are something gained through special effort or skill.
People often plunder your spirit when they label you. Being labelled as ‘nice’ can be as draining of energy as being labelled ‘mean’. Especially if you accept the label and then try to live up to it. Being saddled with a bad label can be more empowering than getting plastered with a good label. Because it forces you to discover for yourself who you are. And doing that initiates you into the world of personal power.
One of the things I learned to do with negative labels was to accept them, but not on the terms with which they were given, on my terms. I would take the words and make them mine by giving them a new meaning and thus making them positive for me. So when someone attacked me with the intention of robbing me of my self esteem and confidence by calling me a spoiled brat, instead of being crippled by it, I would smile at them and say with pride – Yes, I am a spoiled brat and I love being one. I drew great pleasure from watching the confusion which they sought to inflict on me, inflict itself on them. The fun I had with that encouraged me to do it with many other negative labels.
One of the labels I wear with pride of personal power is – contrary to popular belief. How I interpret it varies from the popular interpretation – something that you say before you make a statement that is the opposite of what most people believe – yet is still consistent with it. I don’t necessarily believe the opposite of what others believe, on the contrary, I often agree with what they believe, but I also agree with the opposite, and with all the variations which lies between the two extremes. I’m not sitting on a fence either. I am exactly where I am, on both sides of the seesaw and standing in the middle playing with shifting the balance both ways.
*This post was inspired by – International Label Day 2013 by rarasaur