Living with Labels
Part of our Real Chemistry series – connection, wellbeing and chemsex recovery.
This page introduces information about Living with Labels, which can be a difficult experience, and impact our self esteem, and may be one of the reasons for problematic chem use and chemsex engagement. After you have read through the information, and reflected on the themes and questions that resonate with you, there are some exercises for you to work through at the end. You may find it helpful to have a notebook to use as you work through the exercises, or you could use the function on a phone or tablet.
What is a ‘Label’?
We touched on Labels in the ‘How Proud are we’ workshop but put simply, a Label is:
A phrase or a name applied to a person, which is generally uncomfortable to relate to, can often be inaccurate, and can feel restrictive
Labels can also be based on ‘what we do’ rather than ‘who we really are’, they can feel judgemental, and may impact on our self worth, and self esteem, and can result in feelings of being different or being ‘othered’ from the norms of society.
Quotes about Labels
“Putting labels on people is a way of making sense of someone you do not understand”.
“The problem with labels is that they lead to stereotypes, and stereotypes lead to assumptions, and assumptions lead back to stereotypes”.
Take some time to reflect on these quotes, what do they bring up for you? What do they make you think & feel?
The Personal Impact of Living with Labels
Well, unfortunately the first hurdle of living with a label will be navigating how society views that label.
If we use a label that we can all relate to, then let's use the example of being part of the LGBT+ community. How does society view us ,or the sex that we have? What stereotypes come with the labels of ‘gay, ‘bisexual’ of ‘MSM’?
Well let’s not stop there, what about other labels we may all be able to relate to, what about being a man? Having a different cultural background? Living with HIV? Being a bottom or a top?
All in all it does seem to raise the question of what we own about these labels, and what we do not. It is also wise to remember that no one is free from labels, no matter how flawed, or functional we are, there will always be someone trying to make sense of us based on a trait or a behaviour.
Why Do We Label Each Other?
It’s probably safe to say that we learn how to label others from a young age, by our caregivers/family, and they can be useful in early development in order to make sense of the world i.e. that person is good because of this and that, or that person is bad because of this or that.
But this is also a time when we may internalise what we hear from others, and probably an example of this would be what we pick up about being LGBT+, for good or for bad, leading to these generalisations impacting on how we feel about being different.
As we grow up, and mix with others who we ourselves may have labelled, we start to see that what we think of others (based on certain characteristics) are more often than not, NOT TRUE.
Some Points to Reflect on Regarding Labels
Point one: We do in fact label people all the time, and they support us in making sense of a diverse chaotic world world.
Point 2: Labels can simply support us to think of a particular person as being a ‘something’ such as nice, not nice, funny, or serious.
However: Though a label may be a reasonable reflection of who they are at a particular moment, it also carries a belief that the behaviour reflects a person’s essence, and our view of someone can be limited, 2 dimensional, and this view can be difficult to navigate, or to adapt or change.
As well as reflecting on the labels that you may have given to others that you know, or don’t know, and some of the questions that are raised above, try and take the time to do the following simple exercise to help you explore your own experience of being Labelled:
On some paper make two columns.
Column 1: Headed with ‘Who I am’ - should contain all the labels of characteristics you carry eg; gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class etc.
Column 2: Headed with ‘Who I am not’ - should contain the stereotypes that come with each label or characteristic, which you do not own or you do not identify with.
Reflect on what you have come up with in column 2. How does it feel to carry these Labels? How do they impact your mental health & self esteem? What steps could you take to lessen any negative feelings you hold regarding these Labels?