Saved From the Tyranny of the Family Label

Growing up in a family we often find ourselves socialized into particular roles. Family members get “pigeon-holed” as the scapegoat, the smart one, the trouble-maker, the helper, the athlete, etc. Those labels shape how we think. When we are treated like a helper, we grow to think of ourselves as a helper. When constantly treated like a Dancing Marionettetroublemaker and called a “liar” or “stupid” in the midst of trouble, we being to think of ourselves as a lying, stupid troublemaker. These thoughts (good or bad) follow us into adulthood. We often do not even realize the need to address these roles until they interfere with our lives in some way. Then, we battle the limitations of the label, the walls of emotional confinement and mental restrictions created by the label we take with us into life. We struggle to replace the label of troublemaker, for instance, with a more truthful label like curious explorer.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone in my family confined by a negative role and label. I don’t want anyone to have to struggle to escape the imprisonment of some negative label. I don’t want my family members pigeon-holed. I want them to develop as a well-rounded people. But how can I avoid the labels? How can I avoid pigeon-holing them?

  • First, avoid labeling and name calling. Do not stoop to name calling, even in the midst of arguments…especially in the midst of arguments. Name calling and labeling sets up patterns of self-perception in our mind like concrete over time. The longer we hear the label or name, the more solid it becomes embedded in our minds. So, avoid labeling and name calling.
  • Second, instead of labeling and name calling, acknowledge effort. Also, acknowledge a wide variety of talents and skills your spouse or child exhibit.
  • Third, encourage everyone in your family (including yourself) to try new things. Deliberately seek out the things you believe you are not good at and give them a try. Learn about them a little bit and enjoy the new experience. If you’re a good athlete but not so good at art, take an art class. Keep on enjoying sports, but take an art class just to try something new. Who knows? You might find a new interest and talent.
  • Fourth, our children may go through periods in which they lie more often…or constantly get under foot trying to help…or some other behavior. During those times, realize that people change and grow. Rather than attach a label, remain open to the idea that they may “grow out” of this behavior. Then, calmly address the behavior. Address each incident individually, not collectively. Become curious about the motivation behind the behavior. Discuss the behavior and identify alternative behaviors. After you have addressed the behavior, treat them “as-if” they already got it. Repeat this process as necessary…and repeating will likely be necessary.

Four actions you can take to break you and your family free from the tyranny of labels and the “pigeon-hole” confinement of superficial roles; four actions that can set your family free to grow into a well-rounded people.

One comment

  1. John Geissler says:

    Labels – our lives are spent being labeled and labeling others. Great article, applies to ALL!

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