Labels: breaking free so you can play

Labels: breaking free so you can play

by Naomi De Gasperis

In my line of work as a psychotherapist, I get to meet people in many professions, of differing ages and at challenging crossroads of gaping degrees.  While differing greatly, one of the inescapable commonalities of our humanness in the way we are impacted by having been labelled. The most emotionally taxed, the ones burdened with numerous and often inaccurate labels, seem to be those stigmatized by a mental health disorder. These individuals are often learning to manage unhealthy behaviours as well as difficult moods and thought patterns while also dealing with repeated negative reactions and feelings about their diagnosis.  It is a layered type of suffering.  Though labelling can sometimes have the effect of providing us with temporary relief “That’s what this is, now I understand and may be able to do something about it”, the stagnation and rigidity that quickly follow this realization can feel like a dark shadow, often hidden but omnipresent.

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Trying to separate from labels is difficult, whether they be self-imposed, societal or experienced through a diagnosed condition. Outmaneuvering and outgrowing a shadow is virtually impossible and requires a colossal amount of effort that can be better put to use elsewhere.   Words like unstable, weak, lazy, sick and other negative identifications can hang over us like a lead curtain threatening to weigh down whole identities. It then becomes difficult to keep fear at bay, causing concerns around our quality of life and the ability to see beyond these limiting beliefs.

If this is your struggle, remember that you are not your labels, or your stress, or your talents or your relationships or any other singular facet of your life for that matter. Think of it like a beach ball with many colourful wedges.  When holding a beach ball, you could turn to face the wedge of your favourite colour, these representing the parts of the self you like, perhaps a fiery red or sunny yellow.  Then one day, you may discover or be told that there’s also a new stripe on your beach ball, a murky, undesirable, ugly colour that you really don’t care for.  In fact, you’d rather not have to look at this particular wedge at all.  But there it is, on your beach ball, distracting you form all those other colors you liked better.

What now? Take heart dear ones, that murky stripe is not your whole ball nor does it impede you from continuing to play on the shore where you stand.  It’s just one wedge –one part of the complexity and depth that is you. Find a way to keep open.  Get to know and explore all the facets and colours that make up your life right now.  Are you ready to begin? Nurture some gentle awareness, get informed and set the pace that gets you moving with progressive cadence.

Here are some first steps to get you going:

1.      Acknowledge What Is

Take an honest look at things for what they are, the good and the bad; your hopes, your support systems, your weaknesses your disappointments and all that encompasses your life at this moment. Then choose to better your situation. Awareness has the power to be curative because once you know something you cannot un-know it.  Acknowledge that there may be environmental, chemical, biological and a myriad of other factors at work here.  Your responsibility lies in bringing compassionate attention to self-care. It starts with you.

2.      Identify Without Judgement

Our experiences are subjective. Get to know where your difficulties lie.  Identify your specific struggles and areas of suffering so that you can target and customize the right support for your needs.  Your mind’s inherent nature is to identify and label things in order to process the world. However, realize that just because you think something, it doesn’t mean it’s real or true.  As the saying goes, the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. All of us experience stuck ways of thinking, also known as Cognitive Distortions.  Get familiar with your own patterns of blaming, worrying, black-and-white thinking and so on, so you can begin to rein those thoughts in.

3.      Practice What works

Taking initiative and working with support systems will greatly improve the quality of your life. As you invite change, notice which friends, practices, activities, foods, medications and professionals feel good.  What provides you relief, emotional regulation and shifts toward healthier perceptions? The idea here is to invest in your well-being and a happier life. Simply do more of what works for you.

Your LABELS define you only if you choose to let them trap you into the myriad of limitations your brain will try to convince you of.  You may not have control over other people’s opinions but you can always make the choice to take a self-supportive approach to your experiences.  Allow your feelings to ebb and flow and whenever you get the chance, grab your beach ball whirl it around and let yourself be all of its colours.

About the author:

Naomi De Gasperis is a parent, dog enthusiast and creative being. Her work offers wonderful opportunities for connection and vulnerability which deepen her own knowing and interest in the very nature of being. She is rooted in the belief that at any given moment, there is more right with us than wrong. We’re all seeking meaning and fulfillment, it’s our commonality that resonates most and inspires her to be of service as I support others on their journey. Her website is

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