Three ways we all Global Label and why it causes so much pain.
My supermarket stocks rotten food at rip-off prices. A person who refused to give me a lift home is a total jerk. A quiet guy on a date is labelled a dull clam. Our boss is a gutless imbecile.
Each of these labels may contain a grain of truth. Yet it generalizes one or two qualities into a global judgement. The label ignores all contrary evidence, making our view of the world stereotyped and one-dimensional.
Labelling occurs when we may already have a pre-conceived idea about something and then take flimsy evidence to prove it’s correctness. It leads to an “I told ya so” attitude, sullenness, withdrawal and anger.
Sitting on feelings like this that leads us to massive anxiety as the feelings can’t be tolerated. We fret that we will mess up, that others will let us down and or that our stereotypical fear will be experienced.
We can do this in three ways. We can global label ourselves, other people and groups.
Just like previously discussed with filtering, when we globally label ourselves we take one thing we have done or said and draw sweeping conclusions about it.
If we forget someone’s birthday we are the most inconsiderate person in the world. A missed penalty in a football game and we are just the worst player on the team.
In this distortion we take the convenient wedge of what happened and use it as a stick to beat ourselves. Inner critics love to label us as all or nothing caricatures. We didn’t go to the gym: we must be fat, ugly, lazy slobs.
Sometimes this can even have a secondary gain as it then allows us to behave in ways associated with the label. For instance, we get down about not going to the gym and turn to the ice cream instead.
But it is all just emotions and black and white labelling of ourselves. We mightn’t see the 20 not lazy things we did that day.
In the personal realm global labelling is bread and butter for the inner critic and causes untold damage.
Labelling also occurs in our relationships with other people and cause harm. We might label our partner as unloving or not caring because in one moment they don’t listen or know what is going on with us.
We can take this “evidence” as proof that they don’t care. But we filter out the 100 other things that would say that they do.
Global labelling of others often is the acting out of our fears and prejudices. Again, if we are fear that someone is going to leave us we attach a label onto them following short interactions.
If we think they are going to leave, cheat, betray us, we label them cheaters, leavers and betrayers when we get the slightest sniff of that behaviour.
We can turn on friends, siblings, family members and colleagues in the same way when we choose to swiftly apply absolute labels to them.
The classic one here is to global label a group of people or an organisation. Humans have been doing this as long as there have been other humans. We blame immigrants, other sexual orientations, other sections of society and other genders as being all or nothing of some kind of label.
We can claim that: “oh everyone from there is nasty”. “Anyone who goes to that pub is tacky”. “The people who work in that place are crazy”. The list is endless yet we all do it to a certain extent.
The thing that can cause anxiety is when we demonise groups of others to the point where we lose seeing their humanity. We become intolerant and feel that we don’t have to treat them with the same respect.
Any incidents that play into our pre-conceived notion become further proof of the whole groups rottenness.
But am I not sometimes right? I am lazy, they are going to leave and that group is dangerous?
Sometimes we can get a gut feeling and be right, but also sometimes we attract what energy we put out into the world. If we berate ourselves for being lazy we won’t feel much like being proactive. If we push others away with accusations and demanding behaviour they will leave. If we treat others differently and without respect they will react to us. These are just facts.
Labeling is a cognitive distortion because one moment, one action or one comment doesn’t define the totality of anything! To think so is awfully reductionist and fuels and maintains awful emotional pain and mistrust. It keeps us stuck in a dark reality and a corner that we have painted ourselves into.
We set tests for ourselves and others that often can’t be passed. We trigger ourselves into feelings of worthlessness, sadness, hopelessness and my favourite: Anxiety! Global labelling is unhelpful, illogical and outright damaging. Time to drop it!
Drop it: Be specific
Global labels are usually false because they focus on only a single characteristic or behaviour but imply that it’s the whole picture. Rather than applying global labels, it is better to limit our observations to a specific case. Asking ourselves if a case is always true, or only true now, or only true some of the time.
With others consider the behaviour we have the problem with, not the person. It becomes much easier to discuss with someone and solve an issue when we look at the issue in the behaviour. If we scream at someone they “don’t care”, they find it very hard to say anything nice back to us. If we say “I didn’t feel very cared for just now with that behaviour” it allows them to not feel labelled and attacked and to respond with empathy.
Again, like Parent-Adult-Child discussed before don’t attack. Don’t say she/he is an @X%*, or is behaving like an @X%*. State how we are feeling right now (I am feeling unsupported, unloved, hurt, etc.) and what we would like to feel instead.
Remember also that in any interaction we need to look at what role have we played in this too? Although it might only be a small one, through discussion you might find a better way to handle it going forward. One I was thinking about is getting offended a partner is not listening as we tell them about our day.
A global labeller might conclude they don’t care about me and go through intense emotional pain. Yet a discussion about how the behaviour impacted us might lead to a mutual understanding and practically moving forward. For instance, an agreement that in future each other’s day is discussed at dinner rather than in bed when the other partner who is up early is falling asleep.
Describe the behaviour:
In any situation we should objectively describe the behaviour to ourselves that we are noticing. “they spoke to me harshly”, “I failed the test”, “the bank employee was of no use”. By using this more objective language less feelings should be stirred.
If we label and describe it otherwise we opening ourselves to huge hurt and pain. A pain that is most likely familiar to us.
The core of any global label is often a painful emotion that we hold already. It may be sadness, fear, anger, shame, etc. If we global label in my experience it is a projection of our own feeling which we can’t tolerate.
The fear becomes racism. The pain/sadness/rejection becomes labelling others. The anger becomes turned inward and labelled on ourselves. This can happen 100s of ways and is completely personal.
The answer is to know our own emotions better. Get in touch with what is going on in our body. When we let ourselves down or someone else does, go into how does this feel and is it familiar? My guess would be yes if the labelling is recurrent.
If the same type of people keeps upsetting us or we keep attacking ourselves then something unresolved there is playing out. Until we sit with that, befriend it and learn to shift it we are going to repeat patterns of labelling and remain stuck.
Other Distorted Thinking styles are also extremely important for how we deal with and suffer from anxiety. Distorted thinking styles include: Filtering, Polarized Thinking, Over-generalization, Mind Reading, Catastraphizing, Personalization, Control Fallacies, The Fallacy of Fairness, Emotional Reasoning, The Fallacy of Change, Global Labeling, Blaming, Shoulds, Being Right and Heaven’s Rewards Fallacy.
Therapy is a great way to get to the bottom of these questions and at Anxiety Ireland, we have a team of accredited psychotherapists who work helping thousands of people with anxiety every year.
If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website, take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help. On this page we will continue to write about Anxiety and related topics. We are always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
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Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.