Thursday, July 8, 2010

Labels Can Get Sticky

We just love labels. We look for particular labels on the clothes that we wear, the cars that we drive, the products that we use and even on the foods that we eat. We believe that it helps us to differentiate between quality and junk. Heck, we love labels so much that we even put them on people; rich, poor, pretty, ugly, nice, mean, good, bad. We develop lists of characteristics and behaviors that we look for so that we can easily place the people in our lives into neat little categories. Makes life simple, right? Some would say, “yes”, but the problem with labels and categories is that they cause us to limit our choices. And when we limit our choices, we limit our experiences.

When it comes to developing relationships, we tend to analyze everything according to our little lists and we judge (oh, how we judge) a person’s suitability and/or worthiness based upon the limited perspective of our experiences. We treat people according to the labels that we place on them and we feel justified in doing so. In our minds, if a person exhibits a characteristic that places them in a category based upon our past experiences, the person becomes that, i.e., player, selfish, untrustworthy, etc. We have a hard time reconciling the possibility that they can be a person who does something that reminds us of some unpleasant past experience as well as a person who is loving and kind.

As we gain more experience, and we’ve pieced our broken little hearts together time and time again, we become acutely aware of relationship warning signs. When we sense the presence of bullshit or questionable behaviors, the little hairs stand up on our arms and we brace ourselves by building walls and making it clear that we can “see through all of that!” The problem is, one seemingly false move does not a bullshit make. We, all of us, have borderline qualities that would call us to question, and yet we don’t expect for someone to make an assumption about our entire character based upon one or two shortcomings.

It is understandable that we would want to protect ourselves when getting to know a potential partner. If we didn’t, we would be irresponsible. But we must always remember that we have not met EVERY TYPE of man or woman that exists. Just because a certain characteristic reminds us of a person with whom we have had an unpleasant experience, that does not mean that ALL people with similar characteristics will behave exactly as that person did. Even more importantly, it does not mean that we should respond the same as we did in similar past experiences. Sticking a label on someone based upon “what I know” can keep us ignorant. Maintaining false power over people by holding them in a box of our own construct is the perfect way to ensure ourselves a nice, cozy, enclosure. :)

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