You are not your labels – part 1

What labels do you have and what is their impact on you? One of the ways we make sense of our world is to categorise it. This means that we naturally label things, people, and ourselves.

I will come back to the labels we give ourselves in part 2 but let’s explore the world of labels from others.

It’s their perspective

You are labelled by other people, whether you like it or not! What do the labels say about you and are they true?

A few years ago, someone told me that I was a ‘scary finance director’. I remember feeling shocked and a little hurt. This was not how I saw myself! I realised a few things about this label and myself.

  • The person who labelled me as scary believed this was true. It was their experience of me at that time.
  • I am quite direct, and this can be interpreted as scary.
  • Doing a good job as a finance director means making some tough decisions. The impact of these decisions can be scary for people.

When you hear a label that you don’t like it is tempting to dismiss it. You can learn from the label though and this can really benefit you. The labels people choose to use for you give you an indication of how they feel about you. You get a glimpse of the impact that you have on other people.

Remember though that you are not the label. It is a part of you, perhaps.  Remember that the label comes from someone else’s perspective. It is also always about the context too. What was happening at the time?

Labels – the context matters

“Strong Woman” is another label that people have used for me. I have mixed feelings about this. In some situations, it is very positive and in others it is exactly the opposite! This is a good example where the context for the label is important.

It is less clear what this label means. What is a strong woman? What do you think of when you hear ‘she’s a strong woman’? Do you picture a female weightlifter? Do you think of an independent career woman? Is it a mother who has gone through trauma?  Is it a woman who is finding her own way through what life brings?

All the options and plenty more are true. When you are thinking about a label like this then you need more information to make any sense of it.

Labels – their meaning

Labels also change their meaning at different times of your life. A good example here is the label ‘Mum’. When your child is young being a mum means very different things to when your child is an adult.  The label is still true, it just means different things.

There is only one person in the world who can call me Mum, or sometimes ‘Mother’! It is a label that I am truly proud of and it has changed over time.  After a night at a concert with my son we were having a drink afterwards. We played ‘beer pong’ with a group we met in the bar. It was a unique experience to hear the group chant ‘mother, mother, mother’ after I had a successful throw!

Labels – their relevance

Then there are the labels you have had since childhood. Maybe you were the eldest child and were asked to set a good example for your younger brothers and sisters. When you and your siblings are all adults how relevant is the label eldest child? It is of course still correct as birth order does not change. How much of the responsibility that came with the eldest child label do you still carry? Is it needed? Is it relevant?

Growing up I was the ‘academic one’, who was expected to do well at school. It has taken time and effort for me to recognise that good enough is just that.

Labels from childhood can be shorthand for beliefs and assumptions that affect your choices and behaviour as an adult.


When you explore your labels from others you can get some interesting and useful insights. Remember to reflect on perspective, context, meaning and relevance before you decide how much you take from the label.

You are much more than the labels others have given you!


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